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emotionally connecting to your goals

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As you can probably tell, I’m a huge fan of goal-setting. I always have been. I was the kid in middle school that got excited when our guidance counselor asked us to come up with our five-year plan. Goal-setting gives me a direction and a path in all areas of my life and I think being so goal-orientated has helped me become the person I am today.

That all being said, in the past year or so, the method for my goal-setting has changed dramatically. I truly believe that the moment you set a goal is the first step in achieving that goal. And you really want that path to success to start off on the right foot. If you don’t set the goal in the right way, you are setting yourself up to fail before you’ve ever even started.

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What do I mean by setting a goal the right way? Well, the big motivational speakers will tell you that goals need to be five things: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted (or S.M.A.R.T.) And while I think that list is great (you can read more about my goal-setting basics over on Anytime Health), I think it is missing one giant part. I believe goals also need to be emotional.

The emotional aspect of goals is what drives us to choose going to the gym over sitting on the couch. Or overpowers our desire watch hours of Jersey Shore (for example) so we can submit resumés for our new dream job. I don’t care how realistic and measurable a goal is, if you aren’t emotionally connected to achieving that goal, you aren’t going to accomplish it.

In the past year or so, I’ve really been working on emotionally connecting with my goals. It’s harder than it sounds. Take for example the #1 New Year’s Resolution: “I want to lose weight”. It can be easy to have that in your mind. I want to lose weight. Sometimes people will even go all S.M.A.R.T. on it and say, “I want to lose 50 pounds in a year” and that’s great! But if they stop there, they are setting themselves up for failure. After setting a S.M.A.R.T. goal, it’s important to examine the motivation and drive that fires that goal and harness that emotion to succeed.

So how do you do that? Well, for me, I just ask one question: why? And I keep asking it. Let’s take the weight loss example again.

S.M.A.R.T. Goal: I want to lose 50 pounds in a year.
I want to be healthier.
I want to live a long life.
I want to be around to see my kids grow up.
I want to meet my grandkids.
Because my grandparents were important in my life and I want to provide that for my future family.

Bingo. Isn’t that last “why?” a heck of a lot more motivating than just saying “I want to lose weight”? You now have something to picture when you don’t want to be on the treadmill for another second. Or when you are desperate for another serving of dinner. Instead of trying to convince yourself to persevere because you cognitively know it’s what you need to do, you now have the tool of tapping into your emotional motivation. Carry around a picture of your grandparents. Write down the age you want to live to. Picture what your life will be like at 100. Do whatever it takes to emotionally connect with the goal. Does that mean you necessarily have to lose weight to live a long life? Heck no. But it means, for this person, that is the emotional kernel of their goal.

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The great thing about emotionally connecting with goals is that it is inherently personal. You can line up 10 people who all have the same exact goal and after asking the “why?” repeatedly, they will all come up with a different emotional kernel. And it doesn’t matter what the emotional kernel is. For some people, it’ll be something big and life-long, like being around for their grandkids. For others, it might be something more superficial. Neither are wrong or right, because both are personalized. Take the weight loss example, here’s another way it could go:

S.M.A.R.T. Goal: I want to lose 50 pounds in a year.
I want to be smaller.
I want to shop in regular stores.
I want to be more fashionable.
I want to feel more confident and sexy.
I want to feel more confident in dating situations.

That’s it. That’s not saying everyone needs to lose weight to feel more confident, but it is saying that to this particular person, that’s the emotional kernel. And it’s just as valid and right as the other emotional kernel, because it is totally personal. You have to figure out what emotionally connects you to your goal. If it’s feeling sexy in a new dress on a date? That’s awesome! Use that as your motivation the next time you can’t peel yourself off the couch.

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Of course, this method applies to all goals, not just fitness related. I just chose the weight loss example because it is relevant and something almost everyone has struggled with at one point or another in their life. Try applying the “why?” technique to every goal you set in your life. Finding your emotional kernel gives you just one more powerful tool in your path to successfully completely your goal.

What’s your current “big” goal? What’s the emotional kernel behind it?

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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14 Responses
  1. You are so right! The emotional connection to a goal is so important to success. I also think that when it comes to those big goals the “emotional kernel” behind is can change over time.

    For me weight loss, or more specifically reaching my goal weight, is one of my big goals. When I started losing weight, it was to be healthy. I didn’t want to be 25 with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. I didn’t want to end up on a bunch of medications by 30. Now, the driving force is simply that I want to be able to say I did it. I want to say I didn’t give up and I reached my goal. I am one of those people who often sets goals and then forgets about them so to be able to say “I reached this major life goal” is a big deal for me.

    1. Cassie

      You are definitely right that it can change over time! It can even change from day-to-day and there can definitely be more than one at a time.

  2. Thanks for this post. I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting going with my weight loss goal this year. So I just attempted this “why” exercise, and realized that I’m having trouble because I’m *not sure* why I want to lose weight now. I’m all waffle-y about it. I’ll have to take time to really examine my heart before I go any further.

  3. My big goal has been to get to a healthy weight…so I can live a long and healthy life. Seeing my father die suddenly at age 52 from various obesity related medical issues really made me realize I was on the same path…and I want to be around for MUCH longer than that!

  4. This is so true Cassie! I’m taking a year-long class at my church right now, in which we’re really digging into the depths of ourselves, and this week my small group discussion went somewhere very similar to what you’re saying in this post. Ultimately, we have to find within ourselves the reason that our goals and dreams ARE our goals and dreams, and let that drive us to success.

  5. This is such a great post, and I LOVE the photos!!! Especially the first one.
    My big goal is to “figure it all out.” I’m in a transitional phase with my life- work, family, body image… etc. I just want to get to a place where I can be stable. But really, I want to be happy and comfortable in my skin (which requires losing a few lbs) and not think about it so much!

  6. Great post. Definitely not something most people think about! As an RD I often feel I talk so little about food, because finding a persons motivation is so much more meaningful. Most people know what they need to do, but it’s finding out how to actually do it. I certainly struggle with it myself, so it was nice to actually get the reminder I usually give. Thanks. 🙂

  7. This is so great. I was actually making a “why” list last night, so it was so weird that I woke up to read this post. There has to be some kind of emotional motivation behind yours goals, or else, what is the point, right? 🙂

  8. GREAT post. I agree with everything you say and you just said it in a way that really connected with me (and I’m sure others too!). Having an emotional connection to why you are spending time on something that will take work (no matter what it is) really is the key to reaching that goal. Love reading your blog–it seems like you really put 100% into your post ideas and I for one am grateful for your inspirational words.

  9. This is a really great post, but it’s also a difficult one for me to read. I’m mentally struggling with myself and my weight gain right now, so it looks like I need to do some serious thinking.
    I just want to say that I love reading your blog! It always strikes me how your posts apply to everyone – young, old, big, small, or somewhere in between. Keep up the fantastic content! 😀

  10. This post was great! I have been having a difficult time with weight loss for years & recently I started thinking about WHY I always sabatoge myself in this area! It’s so frustrating. But it’s because I haven’t figured out my reason why yet. Something to examine for sure!

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