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The 5-step plan this weight-loss coach uses to motivate her laziest clients

Follow these steps to get the ball in motion or stick with it if you’re lacking motivation.
Image: A man runs
Setting goals that are measurable and specific — like jogging 10 miles per week — increases client adherence and motivation. vgajic / Getty Images/iStockphoto

We’re more than half way through the first month of the year. How much progress have you made towards those resolutions?

If you have yet to step foot inside a gym or swap the takeout for healthy meal-prepped lunches (or started and have already thrown in the towel) — don’t panic. It may be time to switch up your approach, especially if you’re someone who frequently sets goals but doesn’t often reach them.

Many of my clients set goals that are too lofty. While it’s great that people feel a surge of motivation in the new year, I see firsthand how these types of goals can leave people feeling intimidated and unmotivated a couple of weeks in if things don’t go according to plan. One of the most common complaints I hear is that they know what to do, but the goal seems so faraway that they don’t get enough gratification early on and their motivation wanes. I work hard to break down their goals into bite-sized chunks to overcome these mental obstacles. I call it the “lazy-man's plan” to get the results you want, without being discouraged or overwhelmed by the amount of effort needed.

It’s time to hit rewind and start fresh. Whether your goal is losing 20 pounds, eating healthier, dropping a pant size, or getting more sleep, we’ve got a clear cut formula that will actually get the ball in motion — and keep it moving as your motivation ebbs and flows.

Gaze into your crystal ball

See it, believe it, achieve it. But first we have to know where to look. Too often I see clients setting goals based on other's expectations or what they think they should look like or weigh, but if your goal isn’t meaningful to you, you’re never going to follow through. That’s why the most important first step is to identify what goal has personal significance to you. Ask yourself: "What I you want?"

You can do this first step wherever you are parked right now — yes, even lying in bed or on the couch. Simply close your eyes and imagine that you have a crystal ball that you can shake and make your health wish come true. What comes to mind first? Is it about weight, fitness, sleep or maybe a combination of all of these? What would that wish be? It could be a vision of you running around with your grandchildren without getting out breath, feeling confident in a bathing suit on the beach, or crossing the finish line of a race. This is your end goal. When I start working with a client, I ask them to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths to feel relaxed. From this relaxed, calm state, I ask them these questions and have them make wishes for themselves. This allows my clients to tap into their feelings and emotions, and come from a positive place rather than a frustrated or stressed place.

Dumb it down, but make it smart

Now, back to earth! The ideal end to your journey is important to visualize, but to get there, we have to focus on what’s right in front of us. And that means breaking your goal into bite-sized chunks that we can track and measure against.

Setting SMART goals is a widely accepted practice by fitness professionals that is believed to increase client adherence and motivation. The process ensures that the goals people are setting are: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

We’ve ensured that the goals you set are relevant to you, now it’s time to break it down into more manageable chunks that we can easily measure. To start, I’d recommend taking your goal, and cutting it in half. For example, if you’ve set a goal to run a marathon, break it in half, or even into a quarter. Commit to a 5K or 10K in six months (depending on your current fitness level). Then, once you tackle that, you can move on to a 10K or half marathon, and so on. If your goal is to become a vegetarian, start with 3 or 4 days a week, instead of going cold turkey.

The same goes for a weight-loss goal. Most people pick an ambitious number (or don’t set a number at all), and then find themselves discouraged, even if the number on the scale is slowly creeping downward (but not as quickly as they would like!). Let’s take the weight loss goal of 20 pounds as an example. The healthy way to lose weight is 1-2 pounds per week. Of course you are going to feel discouraged losing one pound a week when you’re focused on losing 20! Instead, let’s make your goal 1.5 pounds per week, which would be 6 pounds per month. You have now given yourself a specific, measurable and attainable goal to work towards each week.

Develop an actionable plan — and write it down

Now that you’ve created a smart goal that is meaningful to you, it’s time to take pen to paper. As a weight-loss coach, I always have my clients write down their goals in their own handwriting; it can help it feel more personalized instead of typing out text a phone or computer. One study found that those who wrote down their goals (and sent a weekly progress report to a friend) were more likely to accomplish them than those who simply thought about them. I’ve found this to be true with my own clients.

So with your pen in hand, write down your goal, followed by a list of five things that will set you up for success each week. For example, grocery shopping on Saturday, meal-prepping on Sunday, working out on Monday and Wednesday, and making sure to go to bed by 10 p.m. every night to get more sleep. These are all specific actions you can commit to taking that will help you make steady progress towards a goal of losing 1.5 pounds per week.

Now, you don’t only have a goal, but a concrete plan on how to actually start working towards it. Mentally, it is going to be much easier to motivate yourself to grocery shop for healthy ingredients, or head out for a walk around the neighborhood then to “lose 1.5 pounds," which is more abstract.

Identify speed bumps ahead of time

If any of the action steps you’ve written down cause immediate bells to go off in your head, it’s time to address them now. What obstacles could get in your way of grocery shopping? What could derail you from meal-prepping on Sunday? What might get in the way of heading to the gym after work on Monday? Where are the weakest links in your actionable plan?

We all have certain times of day, situations or environments in which our willpower or attention to our health can waver or be less powerful.

By thinking about these possible obstacles ahead of time, you’re taking steps to avoid them instead of dealing with them on the fly. Establishing a game plan to combat setbacks is a major piece of the work I do with my clients. We all have certain times of day, situations or environments in which our willpower or attention to our health can waver or be less powerful. Pinpoint those situations, and write down your action plan, so that you’re more aware and able to combat them when they pop up.

Do you get overwhelmed shopping for healthy food? Pick two recipes for the week and make a succinct grocery list. Do after-work plans often tempt you to skip your workout? Schedule a class before work and get it out of the way.

Celebrate small wins every single week

The great thing about breaking your goal up into smaller chunks is that you have more opportunities to celebrate.

After reaching each mini milestone, give yourself a pat on the back (literally!) or look in the mirror and pump your fists in the air. At the end of each week, take the time to tell yourself that you’re proud of the effort and commitment you’ve made to yourself.

Research shows that cultivating more self-efficacy has a positive correlation with success in personal endeavors, like weight loss. So at the end of each week, after completing your action steps (and hopefully reaching your mini milestone!), reward yourself. Even small rewards can keep you motivated. Maybe it’s a more expensive salad from your favorite restaurant or a workout top you’ve been eyeing. It could even be something as simple as a bubble bath or an hour of quiet time to watch your favorite show. Using weekly rewards as your personal celebration will renew your commitment to your resolutions and help create another boost of motivation.

Finally, plan a big celebration or reward to enjoy once you reach the ultimate goal that you saw in your crystal ball. It could be a stay-cation where you block off an entire weekend to relax and pamper yourself, a vacation to flaunt your new figure on the beach, or a celebratory dinner at your favorite restaurant with the people closest to you. When your motivation dips, dreaming about that end reward may just help conjure up enough willpower to push you through the next workout.

More advice for setting (and achieving) your goals

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