Don’t pledge to lose ten pounds. Don’t determine to close your diastasis recti or to flatten your belly. Don’t aim to fit into a pair of pre-pregnancy skinny jeans.
These are bad goals.
Why? Because these goals aren’t in your control. Sure, you can commit to activities that may result in those outcomes, but physical outcomes aren’t goals.
I realize my stance against outcome goals is akin to fitness heresy. So be it. Personally, outcome goals made me feel miserable, mostly because I tried my hardest and still didn’t get the blasted outcomes I wanted. This is because my goals were foolish, not because my efforts were.
If outcome goals are bad goals, what are good goals?
The S.M.A.R.T acronym is thrown around a lot. It’s clever, and mostly helpful, but a bit imprecise. I can picture the person coming up with the acronym. Smart goals! Eureka!
According to the acronym, S.M.A.R.T goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Many people use this acronym to set physical outcome goals; however, I would argue that no outcome goal is truly “attainable” and “realistic” because outcomes are products rather than inputs. Instead of “lose ten pounds,” a better goal would be “keep a food journal.” Although keeping a food journal can lead to losing ten pounds, you can only control your actions, not the results of them.
Similar process goals include “resistance train 2x a week,” walk 10,000 steps,” “train for a 5K,” “follow through with the Motherfigure checklists,” etc.. (These are just examples, not a list of must-dos). If you get really meta, I suppose you could argue you can’t control how many steps you take or if you finish a 5K, but this is splitting hairs, and you’ll go crazy if you overthink it (like that kid in your philosophy 101 class).
Rather, focus on the difference between physical outcome goals and realistic process goals. Closing a diastasis and fitting into a pair of pre-pregnancy jeans are outcome goals. Performing daily exercises and keeping a food journal are process goals.
Preferences Versus Demands
Let me be clear. Wanting to lose 10 pounds, wanting to close a diastasis recti and flatten a belly, wanting to fit into a pair of pre-pregnancy jeans — those wants aren’t a problem as long as you recognize them as preferences only. Indeed, those wants can be incredibly motivating.
However, a want is different from a goal.
This is not picky semantics. The distinction is crucial.
Many therapists note that outcomes are demands, even if we don’t realize it.
For example, add the word “must” (or “have to”) to the outcome goals from above:
- I must lose the pregnancy weight to reach my goal.
- I must close my ab gap to reach my goal.
- I have to lower my body fat percentage to reach my goal.
Often we think demands show great commitment, like hanging a picture of our former self in a bikini to remind us of our goal (a postpartum fitness book by a respected author actually recommends this).
Don’t hang that picture. This is an unconscious demand. It is also hubris. We can’t control the outcomes of our actions (like getting a specific body). We can only commit to the actions we hope lead toward these outcomes.
Look at your answers from the ABOUT ME page you filled out in Week 1. You should have a copy saved to your email inbox. In the form below, you will rewrite your goals to focus on what you can actually control.
Many moms answer “What are your body goals?” with a variation of
I want to narrow or close my diastasis recti.
Some fitness professionals will claim this is a motivating and realistic, specific desire. But ask yourself if “want” really means “need.”
What will happen if you don’t narrow or close the diastasis recti, despite all your hard work? Will you have failed to reach your goal? Will you say…
Oh, well, it was only a preference and no biggie about it not working out.
Or, will you say…
What did I do wrong? What is wrong with me?
This goal rewritten might be
My goal is to complete all the exercise SETS from the Motherfigure Program and to refrain from activities that make my diastasis recti larger. I would prefer my diastasis recti closed, but I recognize I cannot control the results of my actions.
The rewritten goal is less direct, less exciting, but more realistic.
One mom answered “What are your body image goals?” with
To love my body and teach my daughter to love herself without worrying about weight or dieting.
This is awesome, but unfortunately not a great goal. How will she have reached her goal of body love? How will she know that her daughter loves herself without worrying about weight? She can’t control another person’s mind.
This goal rewritten might be
I want to dedicate time every week to evaluating my thoughts on my body.
I will actively pay attention to my negative self body talk around my daughter.
I will complete the Motherfigure Body Image Exercises.
The iterations of this goal are endless, but they have to be actions. Love is as love DOES.
Remember, goals are not the same as wishes or best hopes. Hopes and wishes are essential, but when we call something a wish, we recognize it as out of our control. We expect goals, however, to be attainable. Therefore, write goals that are actions, not wishes.
Personally, this single shift in the way I evaluate my progress toward goals revolutionized the way I talk to myself.
It doesn’t always come easy. You’ll probably notice you are surrounded by online magazines, by personal trainers, by friends on Facebook and Twitter who live and breathe outcome goals, but this doesn’t mean you need to. We can go against the grain with our own less sexy, but healthier goals.
Return to Week 2