Why set long-term goals for your health?
How healthy are you? How healthy will you be in 5 years? 10? The rest of your life?
Your health will always be tied with you. You should think about it in the years ahead - the time you have left, the quality of that time, and the lifestyle you aim to live.
Setting goals that are too ambitious can lead to negative feelings as you’ve set yourself up to fail. Equally, goals that are too small won’t get traction nor change what you do on a day-to-day basis.
Good long-term goals fall between these two; they aim at a version of yourself that is both aspirational and realistic. Plus, the only difference between where you are now and that ideal version of yourself is what you do every day.
These are the keys to achieving long-term health goals: Shift your identity, aim to build habits instead of outcomes, and make small, incremental improvements, consistently.
Let’s get started.
How to Set Yourself Up For Long-Term Success
Establishing a long-term health goal requires a combination of introspection, research, and planning. A successful long-term goal requires a change to your perspective, mindset, and even your identity.
Begin by identifying what genuinely resonates with your life vision. Are you aiming for longevity, better mental health, or perhaps a particular physical milestone?
Write your goals then refine and strategize. We recommend that you split this into multiple days to give yourself a chance to sleep on your thoughts and make the necessary changes. Remember, this is a long-term change so take your time.
Aim for a Target by Goal Setting
Start by writing down your goals. Consider the people you admire, things you could do better, your educational and career goals, what habits you would like to improve, your family life, your social network, and your leisure activities. The more detailed the goal, the easier it will be to break down. But if you don’t have a specific one, don’t force it. Feel free to expand outside of health, although the examples we use in this article will stick with health as a central theme.
Your goals can look like this:
- I want to lose weight and look good
- I want to get good at running
- I want to have more energy so I can be more productive
- I want to be the kind of person who workouts at 6 am
- I want to have the stamina to play with my grandchildren
Understand your Why: Increase your Willpower
Once you've pinned down your goals, write down why you want to accomplish these goals. This helps you refine the goal. Really dig deep. Ask yourself “why does this matter” multiple times until there is no longer a deeper reason.
This process should look something like this:
- I want to have more energy so I can be more productive. Why does that matter? >
- Because being more productive allows me to get more work done. >
- Because getting more work done means I’ll make more money. >
- Because making more money means I can give my family a better life. >
- Because giving my family a better life means they grow up with better experiences, opportunities, and security. >
- Because I didn’t have these as a child so I must give them the advantages I never had. >
- Because I am capable of doing it, so if I didn’t I would be letting them suffer unnecessarily. >
Understanding your why gives you perspective. When things get hard, you’ll be able to refer back to the why and keep going.
“A person that has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Visualize and Manifest Your Desired Future
Now that you understand your goals and why you want to achieve these goals, visualize what will happen when you get there.
Start by freely writing about your ideal future.
If you achieved all the goals on your list, what would your life be like? What would your day look like? How do you feel when you look in the mirror? What pants size do you wear? How does your spouse look at you? How does your kids? What do your coworkers say to you? What kind of foods are you eating? How do you feel when you eat this food? What do you think when you look back on the progress you’ve made?
Be very specific with this exercise.
This is like time traveling and borrowing the positive feelings from achieving your goals in the future and using them as fuel now.
Now Flip the Script: Visualize the Worst Case Scenario
Now do the opposite of what you did above. What would your life be like if you changed nothing at all? What if you took worse care of your health? Ask yourself the same questions from above. Write freely, and don’t be afraid to hit the lowest, deepest thoughts of your mind.
Again, be very specific.
Time traveling to a future where you haven’t changed and seeing how bad things got will terrify you. Most importantly, it shows you a snapshot of not only your life but how everyone else’s life has been impacted because of the decisions you’ve made.
This may be uncomfortable but that’s the point! The most important thing is to understand that there’s still time to end up in the ideal desired future that you wrote.
The key is to understand the impact of your day-to-day actions amplified across time. Remember it every time you’re deciding on your long-term health goals.
Shift your Identity to your Long Term Health Goals
People that make major changes to their lives, don’t wake up one day and become that person. But they do wake up one day and decide to become that person. The difference is the identity they tell themselves and the votes of action they cast.
Look at the response between Larry and Dave who are both quitting smoking but are offered a cigarette by a coworker.
Larry: “No I can’t I’m trying to quit smoking”.
Dave: “No thanks I don’t smoke”
Who do you think has a higher likelihood of accomplishing their goal? Who do you think believes it more? Who would you bet on?
I’d choose Dave.
Sure, each time Larry or Dave rejects a cigarette, it moves them toward their goal of quitting cigarettes. But Dave casts a vote towards the identity of being a non-smoker. Whereas Larry could be acting for all his brain knows.
The difference is Dave has embedded his long-term health goal into his identity. This is a key shift in mindset and is a big reason why a person achieves or fails to achieve their goals.
Now adapt your written goals to your identity:
- I want to lose weight and look good > I am a healthy person and I look good.
- I want to get good at running > I am a runner.
- I want to have more energy so I can be more productive > I am an energetic person.
- I want to be the kind of person who works out at 6 AM > I am a 6 AM workout phenom
- I want to have the stamina to play with my grandchildren > I am a fun and energetic grandfather
Tell yourself this every day and ask yourself, what would a person like this do? Every action you perform in favor of your goal is a vote towards this identity. Cast enough votes and eventually you will become this person. For real!
Don’t believe it yet? Don’t worry. The next section is how you can start to strategize hitting these long-term goals and becoming this person.
How to Achieve the Goals You’ve Set for Yourself
So how do you achieve these seemingly difficult goals? It may be overwhelming when looking at a goal and not knowing how to get started.
This can be broken down into 5 steps: Research, Be Realistic, Break it Down, Have Accountability, and Regularly Review.
Understand Your Goal with Research
If you don’t know how to achieve your goal, it becomes really hard. Start your journey by deeply researching the goal. The more information you have on your goal, the easier it will be to create a plan that will help you achieve it.
Look for information from experts, medical sources, articles like this one, YouTubers, and local fitness trainers. Remember, check the information and only consume from reputable sources.
Be Realistic about Your Goals
The key to making these goals achievable is to make them realistic. You don’t want to make the goals so ambitious that you won’t achieve them.
For example, if you want to build lean muscle as a beginner, set a goal to lift weights and learn the foundations in 4 weeks rather than trying to learn everything all at once.
This is important both in the macro long-term goals and the short-term broken-down goals as we go over the next step.
Break Down Your Goals into Actionable Steps
When you set a goal, it's important to break it down into smaller, actionable steps to ensure you don't feel overwhelmed and can track your progress. Let's use a common health goal like weight loss as an example to demonstrate how you can break down a long-term goal down to daily tasks.
Long-term health goal: Lose 50 pounds and keep it off
This is your main objective. It's broad, and at first glance, can seem daunting. To make it manageable, you can break it down further into yearly goals.
Annual goals: Lose 50 pounds this year
By focusing on a year, you've now made your goal more immediate. However, a year is still a long time, and to maintain motivation and check in on progress, it's important to segment this yearly goal down into monthly milestones.
TIP: Don’t make this too difficult for yourself. Unless there’s a reason to rush, it’s better to take the low-and-slow method.
Monthly goals: Lose 4 Pounds a Month
With a monthly goal, you now have a clear, short-term target to aim for, which can feel more achievable than the long-term goal. But to meet this monthly goal, you’ll need daily actions to guide you.
TIP: You could break it down further into a weekly goal if applicable.
To set a daily goal, you can now ask what are the things I need to do to lose 4 lbs a month?
You can use tools like this calorie calculator, or ask a licensed dietitian. Remember to consult your doctor before starting.
Daily goals: Eat 200 Calories below maintenance per Day, Walk 10,000 steps, go to the local gym 3 times a week, drink at least eight glasses of water, and avoid sugary beverages and high-calorie snacks.
(this is just an example and is not meant to be weight loss instructions*)
The key is to get your daily actions to be specific and clear.
By achieving these daily actions, you're continually making progress toward your monthly target, which moves you steadily towards your annual and, ultimately, your long-term goal.
Get Support with Accountability
Accountability is simply a force that holds you responsible for your goals. At Fit Results, we practice three layers of accountability, social accountability, mentor accountability, and expert accountability to help our clients hit their fitness and health goals sustainability.
Social Accountability is accountability from a group of people facing the same struggles and obstacles as you are. These relationships are crucial as you help encourage each other.
Mentor Accountability is accountability from a group of people or a person who has accomplished the goal you are aiming to achieve. This is crucial in giving you insights and encouragement when you’re in a tough spot.
Expert Accountability is accountability from an expert who has helped countless people through the same process. This person knows the nuances and details and can guide you when you reach a plateau or get stuck.
Find people at all three layers of accountability and they can not only help keep you on track, motivate you to keep going, and guide you when you lose sight of the goal. But don’t worry, if you can’t find accountability yet, we have more tips that can help you further down the article.
Regularly Review your Goals and Adjust when Necessary
The last step is to track your progress and review during a designated time period (e.g. 1-month goal). Write it down and keep it organized. For example, you could use an app like myfitnesspal to track your weight loss progress.
If you find yourself not hitting the short-term goals, then make them easier. This avoids the negative lumping effect, where not hitting your goal makes you feel bad about yourself.
It’s better to make smaller, incremental short-term goals and hit them than to be super ambitious and not hit the goal at all.
Having this kind of goal structure lets you:
- Make the goal realistic and measurable
- Celebrate regular milestones
- Keep the motivation alive
- Receive support
- Remain focused
This dramatically increases the chances of achieving your long-term health goals. In the next section, we’ll go over habits, consistency, and strategies to make long-term health goals easier to achieve!
Bonus Tips to Maximize the Likelihood of Success
Here are some tips to help you achieve your long-term health goals!
Consistency Beats Intensity
The most important thing for long-term health is understanding that consistency beats intensity.
This is why ‘fad diets’ and ‘crash diets’ are never effective – you know you could get into amazing shape if you ran a marathon a day and ate only chicken breast and broccoli, but is that sustainable or realistic?
The heart of consistency is discipline and discipline is a skill. Like any skill, it gets better when you practice it and build it over time.
This is why the #1 hack to getting consistent at a new action or behavior is to break it down to the easiest, simplest action and just start there.
Example Goal: Go to a gym and work out for 30 minutes after work.
- Day 1 - Change into gym clothes.
- Day 2 - Change into gym clothes & get into the car.
- Day 3 - Change into gym clothes, get into the car and drive to the gym.
- Day 4 - Get to the gym and workout for 5 minutes.
- Day 5 - Get to the gym and workout for 10 minutes.
Adjust your daily actions until it’s challenging but not too difficult to maintain. By performing this action consistently, regardless of how much “progress” you perceive to make, you’re making massive gains.
TIP: This is the most effective way to change your sleep routine. It’s significantly easier when you change 10 minutes a day over 18 days, rather than 3 hours in one day.
Automate your Goals by Changing your Habits
It takes, on average, 66 days to build a habit, or for a behavior to become “automatic”.
You should aim to automate your day-to-day actions into habits. This removes the energy and willpower usually required by your brain to perform this action.
The hardest part is reaching this stage. But by having clear goals, understanding your why, breaking it down into small tasks, having accountability, and reviewing and adjusting these actions, it should make it easier to hit that 66-day mark.
Remember to only focus on one habit at a time to avoid overwhelming yourself. Also, 66 days is an average, so it may be longer or shorter for you. But you’ll know once you feel like the action that used to be difficult (e.g. going on a run) becomes second nature and easy. When you hit that point, feel free to move on and develop the next habit that moves you toward your long-term goals.
Make Small Improvements on the Process
A 1% improvement, every single day, leads to you being 3,678% better over the year. This is the compound effect or compound growth.
When you combine consistency and the power of habits with making small improvements daily, you’ll unlock a secret that makes your journey towards long-term health success, all the more likely.
For example, if you want to become a faster runner you just run daily right?
But what if you also get better running shoes…
Then you add on eating more complex carbs for fuel…
Then a coach gives you exercises to improve your ankle weakness…
Then a running partner that keeps you accountable so you miss fewer days…
Then a health tracker that shows you your progress over time…
Then go to a physical therapist to work on your joints and reduce inflammation…
You get the point.
Investing in the process of getting better by making choices toward your goal, learning more about the activity and yourself, – and building up those improvements in multiple areas will lead to massive improvements over the long term.
Find What Works Best for You
Exercise and nutrition for long-term health are about consistency and the easiest way to do that is by finding what you like. This makes exercise and dieting infinitely easier since you’re going to like what you’re doing.
For example, if your fitness comes in the form of Kayaking, you won’t struggle to get out of bed on a Saturday morning to get a workout in. You’ll be excited about getting out onto the water, and then all of the supporting stuff – the strength and conditioning and/or cardio – is in service of getting better at Kayaking.
You won’t necessarily know what’s for you until you try it. So explore and try more things!
The most important part is finding something that fits your lifestyle and that you enjoy. Everything will fall into place naturally.
Be Around Others Going Through the Same Battle
Being around other people with similar interests or struggles will make it easier for you to keep going. Join groups, classes, clubs, gyms, programs, and other group-related activities around your long-term goal, and find people who can carry the load with you. This fuels long-term consistency, happiness, and camaraderie to make long-term health goals much easier.
Don’t Stress the Small Slip-Ups
It’s normal to slip up on your pursuit of long-term goals. The most important thing is to avoid the ‘All-or-Nothing Mindset. Missing a day or two doesn’t mean failure. Resume where you left off and keep going!
Conclusion - You’re Not as Far Away as You Think
Long-term health goals are the most important goals you can have; health and wellbeing happen on a timeline of months, years, and decades. Long-term health is going to define how your years look – not just old age, but how you feel next year, and for the rest of your life.
You won’t see all of the benefits, in fact, you won’t see the majority of them– maybe you avoided catching an illness, or you didn’t have an emergency room visit, or you didn’t break your ankle when you took a tumble. Instead, you were healthy for 10 more years, avoiding a steeper decline in health during later years.
You’ll never know all the unnecessary suffering you avoided by investing in your long-term health. But you will 100% benefit from it!
If you need more help with reaching your long-term health goals, feel free to reach out to us here, we’re happy to help!