Focus On Behaviours, Not Outcomes

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While setting goals (your eventual outcomes) is a valuable and effective tool for achieving a fitter, healthier body and lifestyle, one of the most important lessons I learned with my Precision Nutrition certification is that it is even more critical to focus on behaviours along the way that will help you reach those goals.  Look at it this way – if you just focus really hard on the goal “I want to weigh X number of pounds”, and don’t change any behaviour along the way, where will you end up? It’s like hoping you’ll get to the end of a tunnel just by wishing it, and forgetting about actually taking any steps!

Action Steps

In fact, behaviours are sometimes referred to as “Action Steps” in some goal-setting literature, and it is a very apt description. You must take action (usually a series of actions), and each action will move you closer to your goals – it is a step along the path.

This can also be thought of in terms of breaking your goals down into manageable chunks. A common analogy is building a wall - it does not just come into being by you saying "I will build a wall". Instead, you must lay each brick and cement it in place, and many bricks laid one after another will eventually make a strong, solid wall. To focus on behaviours is like laying those bricks - it all adds up!

You Can't Just "Make The Goal Happen"

Another thing to consider is that you do not ultimately control the goal – I.E. you cannot just spontaneously actualize and make real the goal itself.

You can’t just say “I want to be a millionaire” and have it happen overnight. As self-reliant and empowered an individual as you may be, there are so many other things going on and other people in the world that you can’t say with 100% certainty that you know what the future holds.

What you can control is what you are doing, RIGHT NOW, in the moment - the choices you make, to sit on the couch or get to the gym, or to order your steak with the mashed potatoes or ask for extra veggies instead. What you can do is focus on behaviours!

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Difficult Choices,
and How to Make Them Easier

Sometimes, when you focus on behaviours, it involves difficult choices:

Having a rough morning? It is easy to justify “treating” yourself to that cookie in the lunch room, but is that moving you towards your goal?

Forgot to plan ahead, and now you don’t feel like cooking dinner? It is easy to just pick up the phone and order pizza, but is that consistent with the lifestyle you want to lead?

Out on the town with friends? Sure, I’ll have that chocolate cake – after all, everyone else is having dessert, and I want to fit in. Easy, right?

Understand that you must choose to behave in a way that is consistent with your goals, and sometimes those choices may be difficult.

Two strategies that can work to help you focus on behaviours are “behaving as if” and “one step at a time”.

Behaving As If

For those who are more “big picture” oriented, more abstract thinkers who are very resistant to too much structure, this strategy might work better for you. If, however, you find that you are constantly going off-track and straying back to non-constructive behaviours, or you think that you “lack willpower” or “don’t have self control”, try the “one step at a time” approach instead.

Take five minutes (really – find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed and set a timer), and vividly imagine that you have already attained that lean, healthy body you are striving towards. It took a lot of hard work and consistent effort, but it has paid off – you can now fit in that outfit you’ve been eyeing at the store, you feel poised and confident out in public, and friends and family are always saying, “Wow, you look great!” Really visualize in as much detail as possible what living in that new body is like – how you look in the mirror, how you feel, and what those around you say about you.

Picture yourself going about a typical day, and focus on how you would behave as the “new you”. What activities would you do, what kinds of things would you eat and drink, how would you deal with those daily distractions and temptations to keep that new physique you have worked so hard for? Would you just go back to your old habits and throw it all away? Of course not!

Now that you have an idea of what that new, ideal lifestyle would be like, “behave as if” you are already living it, and those behaviours will help you actually achieve it. It may help to go through the visualization exercise very frequently at first – daily, if not a few times per day – to reinforce that imagery and those feelings in your mind. Practice recalling it very briefly throughout your day, until you can “switch it on” with very little conscious effort.

Then, if you find yourself in a situation where you might stray off the path, just quickly take a few seconds to revisit that “new you” in your mind in vivid detail, and think “what choice would the new me make?” This will help you focus on behaviours that will lead you to your goals.

One Step At A Time

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For most people, this is by far the more effective strategy. You can actually use the same visualization exercise as above in the “Behave As If” section to identify the behaviours you need to emulate, or work with a coach (hint-hint!) to help you identify them, and write them down.

Now here is the crucial difference – instead of just trying to be the “new you” all at once, focus on ONE behaviour at a time, until it becomes second-nature and you don’t have to think about it anymore. Most self-help literature says that this will take three to four weeks per behaviour, for it to “become a habit” or to “establish a new norm.” Write that behaviour down on a card or piece of paper that you keep in your pocket, and whenever you are faced with a choice, pull it out, look at it, and think “what choice is consistent with that behaviour?”

Once that one behaviour is fully ingrained, move onto the next one, and so on, until you have integrated all the behaviours you need to reach your goal.

Note here that we have said ONE behaviour, not two, not three, or any other number. ONE. You have a far better chance of succeeding that way. According to author Leo Babauta in his book, The Power of Less, “in my experience there is 100% failure for forming multiple habits at once, and a 50-80% success if you do just one habit at a time…”.

Also, don’t make that one habit something huge and all-encompassing right off the bat – don’t say, for example “I will eat a healthy diet”. Instead, focus on a single aspect like “I will have at least one serving of veggies whenever I eat.” One small habit at a time will add up to big change, as long as you are consistent in your efforts!

Focus On Behaviours, and the Outcomes Will Take Care of Themselves!