Goals Shouldn’t be Your Key Focus
For many people, when they start getting into nutrition and thinking about how to lead a heathy lifestyle, they often set goals, but then miss the most important step.
Imagine the scenario. You read some articles about a new diet and it sounds cool, so you set a goal to lose x kilos in y weeks, and make a plan to do that. Then you start, full of energy and enthusiasm.
However, a few weeks later you lose focus, get tired, crave your old diet, finally give up the plan and then return to your previous way of eating. You’re back at the start; no weight lost, no healthier. You may then discover another diet and give that one a go, because that one promises that, ‘it really does work’.
Whilst setting goals, then making and following plans is a good idea, they are not the key issue.
The Learning Cycle and Change
Let’s just step back for a moment and see what it’s really happening here.
Rather than hijacking you into my story without your permission, let me pull in an imaginary friend, who I will call Susan. Susan is health-conscious, a little concerned about her weight, and not always sure whose advice to follow.
Now let me go into analysis mode. Susan reads a couple of Internet articles about a new diet (new information), she thinks this can make her healthy (gets an idea), she then sets a goal, and makes and implements a plan (acts on the idea).
This is a classic ‘learning cycle’ leading to change, even though Susan is probably completely unaware of it.
Now look at what happens as the cycle finishes. Susan realises that the diet does’t work, so she finds a new diet to try, and so starts the cycle again.
However, she is not getting the results she wants. Clearly, learning and change are good things, that’s how we ended up with i-pads, computers and apple pies, right? So what’s going wrong?
The Missing Piece
The problem is that Susan is missing the most important part of the learning cycle that will lead to the change she wants. Actually, it’s the part most people skip.
The piece that is missing, is ‘reflection’. This is the key to effective learning and change.
At the end of the cycle, Susan needs to stop and ask herself,
‘Why didn’t this work?’
She needs to reflect on what has happened, and use this reflection to guide her next action.
With this missing piece she can learn not only what the new diet is, how to follow it and the fact that it doesn’t work for her (even though it may work for others), but also why it didn’t work for her.
She may reflect that it was too restrictive, not allowing her to eat meat which she absolutely loves, maybe she couldn’t find the support from others she wanted, maybe she felt the identity of the diet and its followers (young activists or sport enthusiasts) didn’t sit well with her own identity.
The important thing is to reflect. Otherwise, she will bounce gleefully on to the next silver bullet diet, and her ‘learning’ (and reaching of goals) will have been totally ineffective.
With reflection, she is in a stronger position to make better decisions for her next move towards reaching her goals of healthy eating.
Well almost. There is just one more thing.
What’s Blocking You?
As well as now understanding how to make the learning cycle effective for change, the other essential thing that Susan needs to be aware of is that there are certain things that can either block or help the cycle flow. If you get them right, the learning cycle flows smoothly, if not, you unwittingly block the cycle and make it extremely hard to each your goals.
The most important influencing factors are habits, belief, identity, and motivation. Let’s look at just one of these here, habits, and why they are important.
When we decide what to eat each day, we have to think about so many things; whether we eat in or out, what we have in the fridge, how much time, energy and money we have, and many other factors. That’s a lot, even before we start counting calories; if you’re into counting.
That’s why habits (at least good ones) can facilitate the whole process. In effect, habits take thinking out of the decision-making process. They put you on automatic pilot. That’s great, assuming the habit is a good one.
An example could be, on Friday afternoon, on the way home from work, I stop off at the supermarket, buy some salmon filets, go home and cook them with a glass of wine. Maybe two glasses, one for the dish and one for me to drink!
What’s happened here, is we have created a ‘cue’, in this case marked by time (on the way home from work on Friday), that leads in to a ‘routine’ (go to the same supermarket and buy salmon). The habit has it’s own ‘reward’ (my family and I get a healthy dose of fish), and an extra built-in reward (a glass of wine at the end of the week) to reinforce the habit.
All habits need a cue, a routine, and a reward, in that order. What’s more, the stronger you can make the cravings for the reward, the stronger the habit will be.
With healthy eating habits, the more decisions you need to make, the more likely it is that you will fall by the wayside.
‘I’ll grab a burger and coke, it’s quick and cheap’ is an easy decision to make most days, but may not be the best one.
If you can take decision-making out of the equation, then you are more likely to stick to your goals. That doesn’t mean everything has to be on automatic pilot though.
It’s best, to start with a narrow focus, choose one habit and start building it. Just focus on that one. Then when that is in place, start on another. Never start more than one new habit at a time, or you risk being overwhelmed and distracted.
The good news is as you build up one good habit, it tends to positively affect the rest of your life, as you feel good about what you are doing. It then gets easier to introduce more new, good habits; one at a time.
The Big Take-Away
So in summary, if you were to just take one thing away from this article, ok, let’s make that two things, they should be:
- The key to reaching your goals is reflection
- Creating habits will help you reach your goals
If you want to find out more about how the learning cycle for change can be applied to help you reach your healthy eating goals, check out this article, and listen to the Seriously Fun Food Podcasts that use the learning cycle.
You can also read more about all the factors that can block or facilitate the learning cycle in a free guide given when you sign up to the Seriously Fun Food Newsletter at www.seriouslyfunfood.com