Goal Setting: Challenges and Growth

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August 21, 2012 by Darlene McC

The advances in neuroscience and human physiological study in the last decade have made it a truly exciting time to be a Health & Wellness Coach.    We learn more about how the brain can change and grow, and how that growth affects the body, every year; and the impact of that knowledge for our clients is applied every day.

But why do you give a hoot?  Because it can help you too, silly!  Studies in the last few years support something your grandpappy told you decades ago:

Your Attitude Has a Direct Affect on Success

Whether you’re learning a new language, volunteering with a non-profit, or changing your physical self the anecdotal evidence (and a touch of science) all point the same way: what and how you think about what you are doing has a direct impact on your success.  Stealing lessons from neuroscience, behavioral research, and even some good ole yogic teachings can help you to reach your goals.  That’s because your conscious thoughts have a direct impact on your sub-conscious mind; which, other than producing your dreams, is also responsible for your metabolic processes.  Research suggests that hokie ideas such as “think yourself health” and “dream your way to success” have more power than we previously thought.  But don’t just take my word for it – try some of the techniques below on your upcoming self-improvement projects (I hate the phrase “Self Help”… I think we’re done with that, right? Right.)

Rosie's got the right idea

Rosie’s got the right idea

Positive Self-Talk

Admit it: you talk to yourself.  I do to.  But what you SAY to yourself has a direct impact on success.  No, I’m not suggesting you should take a page out of Stewart Smiley’s book

Check yourself.  If you catch yourself being actively judgmental of your own efforts you are sabotaging your hard work.  Begin by just recognizing when you’re doing it.  After awhile you’ll begin to catch yourself mid-smack-talk and cut it off… and eventually not engage in the behavior all together.

A secondary example of this is self-denial: you attitude toward your efforts directly correlates to your success.  If you tell yourself “too bad I can’t have McDonald’s tonight” you are only reinforcing your desire to have it!  But, if you say “Damn, I’m so glad I don’t eat that crap anymore!” you are training your subconscious not to want it.  Cool, huh?

Recognize the Importance of Your Efforts

Maybe it’s in our DNA (or likely our brain chemistry… or perhaps something our mothers taught us…) but all too often women will underplay their own efforts and achievements (maybe not wanting to seem vain?).  I’m not suggesting you spam Facebook when you lose 5lbs; but pat yourself on the back when you make a healthy choice or do your self-prescribed homework every day for a week.  This practice starts with recognizing the importance of what you want.  And make that importance deep.  Why do you want to save for a house?  Is it so your kids can grow up somewhere safe and happy, with a good school and a garden and a dog?  RECOGNIZE IT!  When you give your goals roots they grow even bigger in your mind.

Whatever your goal, say it aloud to your partner if you need to have it audibly affirmed:

Saving money for a new couch is more important to me than eating lunch out every day so I’m going to start making my own sandwiches.

I’m tired of the pain in my back so I’m going to do yoga every day.  It’ll be a good challenge to test my commitment to myself.

Sure, it’s hokie.  But try it before you write it off, m’kay.

Consistency is Key

You didn’t build your life in a week, your not going to change it that quickly either.  The habits you have are ingrained and you have you WORK at it to change them.  Patients recovering from everything from car accidents and heart disease to chronic Chrone’s and even cancer (to this writers own experiences with recovery) will tell you that you build each day on the next and that real progress comes with consistent work.  You can’t get results only making one deposit in your savings account; and you wont see gains from running only once a week.  It’s a grind.  And you have to want it (see the step above about importance).

See Setbacks as Growth Opportunities

What’s something CEOs, war heroes, a good President, and Tim Gunn all have in common?  When something goes wrong they don’t freak out, they “make it work”; and sometimes things end up better than they would’ve been in the first place.

Think to the last time something blew up on you, big or small.  How did you react?  Did you get pissed off & anxious?  Did you lash out?  Lets be real here: most of us do.  But the people with the low blood pressure, happy lives, and describe themselves as successful do their best to roll with the punches… and they claim that’s not all.  They look for the opportunity for growth in that moment.

When your child comes to you with a million questions, is it annoying or a chance to teach them something?  When you thought you were going to have an easy Tuesday afternoon and your boss drops a project on you, are you pissed or glad for the chance to show what you can do?  When your partner says “we need to talk about this” that doesn’t mean something is auto-magically wrong; through your conversation you get a better understanding of them, yourself, and where the two of you are on your journey together.

The next time you feel your blood pressure rise, try to find the lesson in what you’re being saddled with.

Harness a Mantra

Yogi’s know the power of words.  When they approach their mats it’s often a time to live without them; but through mantra meditation they’re able to yield the power of ancient Sanskrit phrases to help them reach their lofty goals of deeper understanding.  Personally I’ve used matras when racing to help me keep focused and not lose my pace.  I’ll sync the syllables with my foot falls – it’s less distracting than music and more like my run becomes its own prayer.


You don’t have to try it in Sanskrit to reap the benefits.  Pick a short phrase or idea that signifies what you’re trying to achieve.  “I can be more myself”.  “I’m thankful for what I have.” “Make the most of everything.”  No one has to know it but you, and when you get where you’re going pick another one.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

This one is possibly the most important, so pay attention:

You had a bad day.  You bought something when you’re supposed to be saving money or ate junk food when you said you wouldn’t.  Time to get critical?  Hardly.  There are a million people in the world who will do that for you if you let them; why add one more?

When our conscious mind scolds (see negative self-talk above) we release stress chemicals and reinforce the idea that we’re not good enough to have the things we want.  Typically the self talk sound something like “UGH!  You’re so stupid! Why did you do that!?”

Have you ever yelled at a willful 5 year old over something relatively minor? Especially if they’re tired?  Picture in your mind for a moment what happens when you tell a willful 5 year old that they’ve been bad in a voice that holds anger:

Your conscious mind is that 5 year old – Freud called it the Ego. When you yell at yourself you get willfully obstinate, the way a 5 year old would.  You stress it.  You indulge in band-aid behavior.

But imagine that same 5 year old being handled with a gentler hand.  Instead of freaking out you take the lesson described above and treat the little one with an authoritative yet loving air.  What happens?  Sure, maybe there’s still a bit of a reaction (it is a willful child, after all) but is it quite so explosive?  And over time if your energy isn’t so negative are the reactions more controlled?

Your mind is the 5 year old.  Instead of beating yourself up and yelling all the time why not recognize that you are human and sometimes you’re going to draw on the walls of your life.  If you’re able to beat yourself up less you wont be so distractingly hurt… and then you can DO more!

Rock on, Amazons.

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3 thoughts on “Goal Setting: Challenges and Growth

  1. ctminnesota says:

    I love your blog & this is just what I needed to read today. Thank you!!! An excellent reminder of just how powerful our thoughts really are.

    • UrbanAmazon says:

      Glad to help get you through on a Wednesday! How’s the 5k training coming?

      • ctminnesota says:

        I’ve got the distance, just need to work on speed. This has been an off week for various reasons, but I’m trying to fit in 2 strength workouts, 1 interval run, 1 long (slow) run and 1 tempo run each week. I have some time, thankfully – my race isn’t until the end of October 🙂

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