When the Goal Isn’t the Goal

In one google search you can find a plethora of strategies to reach your weight goals. You can find out how to break past plateaus, change parts of your body, and reach optimal health. What if you find yourself at a place where the goal isn’t the goal anymore?

I recently had a conversation with a nutrition client about this. She shared that she always had a goal of reaching a certain number on the scale. However, she was feeling really good about where she was currently at. Her clothes were fitting well, she was performing well and seeing improvements in her workouts. She was happy with her food choices, and didn’t feel restrained like she was on a diet. And I can clearly see in her progress photos that she is leaner and fitter. She hadn’t yet hit that perceived ideal number, yet was very happy with both her physical and mental progress. 

Can you cancel the goal? Is it ok to be happy with where you are? Yes and yes. 

Sometimes we need to evaluate the tradeoffs and decide if it’s worth it. That’s where our conversation led. She reached a point where she was physically healthier, fitter, leaner and stronger. She also had a healthier relationship with food. So basically, kicking butt. That elusive number hadn’t yet been reached. And she didn’t know if she really wanted it anymore. She didn’t know if she wanted to push for it when she felt so good already. She is healthy, fit, and happy. That doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Sometimes the tradeoffs aren’t worth it. You don’t always have to be in pursuit of changing your weight or your body. You don’t have to live in restriction. You can take a break from reading the endless tips and tricks online. You can have flexibility in your diet and still be healthy.

That’s where she found herself. In a place where she ate healthily most of the time and is consistent with her workouts. She is taking it day by day. Focusing on doing these practices each day and not worrying or stressing about a big goal. 

Exercising regularly, eating mostly nutrient rich foods, and getting plenty of rest and recovery is living a healthy lifestyle. Even when you aren’t trying to achieve the next thing.

PS: In the months since we talked about this, she’s now moved quite close to her original target scale weight. But that didn’t happen until she became more relaxed and started focusing on each day instead of the finish line. 

I will leave you with a couple strategies to organize your efforts in the pursuit of health and fitness. These will help you plan and build skills without getting confused, overwhelmed, or worrying about details that don’t really matter.

Outcome Vs Behavior Goals

Outcome goals describe what we want to achieve at the end of the process. There is nothing wrong with seeing the finish line. But we shouldn’t only focus on that. Outcomes are affected by external factors that we don’t have control over. You might miss workouts due to a sickness, your work has you traveling more, or you don’t have the opportunity to eat at home most of the time.

We can control what we do. That’s where behavior goals come in. You focus on the things you have control over and commit to doing those practices regularly.


Outcome goal: I want to lose 10 lbs 

Behavior goal: I will eat slowly and until satisfied at each meal

Outcome goal: I want to PR my deadlift

Behavior goal: I will Deadlift 3 times/week 

Both goals are trackable. But the behavior goals give you daily practices to do and track, making them more likely to be successful in the long run. 

How to set behavior goals.

  1. Write down the outcome that you want to achieve.
  2. Write down some skills you need to achieve that outcome. For example: if you want to do more meal prepping, maybe you need to learn to grill or try new ways to prepare veggies.
  3. Write down a few behaviors that will help build those skills. Going back to the meal prep example: This can be really basic like writing out a meal plan or making a grocery list.
  4. Lastly, do these behaviors regularly. Daily where it applies. Think about what behaviors you can do today, this week, and this month.

Approach vs Avoid goals

Avoid goals are the things we vow to stop doing.

Stop drinking soda. 

Stop eating sugar. 

Stop stress-eating. 

Doing this is pretty straightforward. Just stop, right? However, most of the time this is mentally counterproductive. The more you tell yourself not to or you can’t, the more you want to. Then when you slip, and you will, it feels like a failure and all the wheels fall off. 

They are also exhausting. You end up spending a lot of mental energy thinking about what you can’t do anymore, how to keep avoiding, and beating yourself up for not moving on.

Approach goals are adding in the good things we know we should be doing. Adding these things in, sneakily leaves less room for the things you want to avoid. Approach goals feel good. You get to focus on adding in good and healthy practices rather than taking away and feeling deprived. 


Avoid goal: Stop eating sugar

Approach goal: have fresh fruits and vegetables on hand ready to eat

Avoid goal: stop drinking soda

Approach goal: drink at least 100 oz of water each day

Avoid goal: Stop stress eating

Approach goal: Create a list of stress relieving strategies to use in stressful situations

How to set approach goals:

  1. Write down the bad behavior you want to change.
  2. Write down a relevant good behavior to replace it. For example: If you usually have an afternoon cookie, have fruit or yogurt instead.
  3. Write down an “approach” goal that supports the new behavior. Using the same example: make plans and preparations to have this ready for you.
  4. Consider all the benefits that this new approach goal offers you.
  5. Find what works and repeat!


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