December 11, 2023

The Secret to Setting Goals You’ll Actually Stick to

photo of Allie Baker

Written By

Allie Baker

photo of Russell Van Maele, DO

Medically Reviewed By

Russell Van Maele, DO

Lifeforce Physician

photo of Susan Grabowski, DO

Medically Reviewed By

Susan Grabowski, DO

Lifeforce Physician

The Secret to Setting Goals You’ll Actually Stick to

When most of us set health goals, we think about what we want to achieve, how we can do it, and when we’ll be able to accomplish it. But the most important question is the one you’re not asking yourself — yet. Why is this goal important to you? Why do you want to lose weight, run a marathon, cut down on sugar, get more sleep, or whatever your aim may be? 

Your ‘why’ is your secret weapon to crush your goals. It can be the difference between making long-lasting change or giving up after a few weeks. 

“Establishing your 'why' is crucial because it adds emotional weight to your goals,” says Lifefore Health Coach Kelly Lynch. “It's not just about following a plan; it's about fostering a mindset that aligns with your health goals, laying the groundwork for ongoing success.”

To set you up for success, we asked our Lifeforce Health Coaches for guidance on how to harness your ‘why.’ 

What Is the ‘Why?’

The concept of ‘finding your why’ can feel abstract and tough to translate into real life, so let’s break it down. 

"We talk about your ‘why’ a lot in coaching and it really boils down to your core values and inspiration. What makes you get up every day — besides the alarm clock?” says Lifeforce Health Coach Sara Ramirez. Ideally, the answer should be more meaningful than ‘I have to wake up for a meeting” or ‘I have a 7 am workout on my calendar.’  

“The ‘why’ in goal setting is all about getting in touch with the deeper motivations and reasons behind what matters to you. It's about understanding the purpose and significance of what you're aiming to achieve,” explains Lifeforce Senior Health Coach Patrick Doyle. “This is an exploration of your driving force, the emotional fuel that keeps you motivated and committed when faced with challenges.”

Another reason to get on board with the ‘why’ philosophy: “Consider your goals as a lengthy train, where the ‘why’ acts as the engine cars positioned in front of and behind all the cargo (representing your goal),” Doyle explains. “These engine cars play a dual role — they not only push you forward, but also pull you along the journey as you move closer to your ultimate target. Simply put, the ‘why’ helps keep you motivated, focused, clear, and resilient.”

Why does your why matter

Why Does Your ‘Why’ Matter?

Keep in mind that your brain is built to respond to your ‘why.’ In his book, Start With Why, author Simon Sinek explains the biology behind this phenomenon. The limbic brain is responsible for behavioral and emotional impulses. It’s where your gut instincts come from. On the other hand, the neocortex takes the lead on logical thinking. The limbic brain is powerful, and can often override your rational mind. That’s why it’s so important to create a ‘why’ that is connected to emotion. If your goal instinctually feels important, your brain will help you act on it. 

Having a personal ‘why’ also helps. Research shows that you’re more likely to achieve your goals when you have an internal incentive fueling you. The result of five experiments found that people felt more motivated when their goals were about internal attributes and self development, rather than impressing others.

How to Define Your ‘Why’

The most important aspect of your ‘why’ is that it’s yours. “‘Why’s can vary greatly from person to person,” Doyle notes. Still, our health coaches have spotted some powerful patterns when working with members to cultivate their ‘why.’ 

Lynch notes that motivations can fall into several categories, including family well-being (for example, ‘I want to be healthy to go on adventures with my kids when they’re 6, 15, and 30 years old’); personal fulfillment (‘I’m learning to surf because I want to try something new and feel accomplished’); and improved quality of life (‘I want higher energy levels so I can feel more present for activities I love’). 

To hone in what matters most to you, start by picturing the life you want to live. “Visualize your desired health outcomes, whether it's reaching a specific weight, having more energy, or improving overall well-being,” Lynch advises. “Visualization can provide clarity and enhance motivation to reach your goals.” 

Try practicing visualization during meditation. The act of tuning into yourself can support intention setting. A 2020 study in the Journal of Research in Personality found that mindful individuals are better at creating relevant and meaningful goals. 

You can also journal to help you express your ‘why.’ Doyle suggests starting with broad topics such as, ‘What do I love to do?’ and ‘When have I felt real contentment?’ Then, as you become more familiar with what drives you, start to get more specific. Journal on prompts like, ‘What would my life look like if I could do what I love doing all the time?’ and ‘What do I need to do now so that I can start or continue doing what I love?’ 

Whether you choose to meditate, journal, or talk it out with a friend, Doyle says, “Ultimately, it comes down to asking yourself a lot of questions and having the courage to answer some of the more difficult ones honestly.”

5 Tips to Harness Your Why

5 Tips to Harness Your ‘Why’

Once you’ve answered those tough questions, the next step is working your ‘why’ into your everyday life so you can make it work for you. “The more actively you integrate your 'why' into your daily life, the more it becomes a guiding force in your decision-making and actions,” Lynch says. Here’s how. 

1. Break it down into action items.

“Break down your 'why' into concrete steps,” Lynch says. For example, if your ‘why’ is to feel fit and energized to be active with your kids, your action item could be to start exercising consistently. Make sure your objectives are specific and measurable, such as strength training for 30 minutes three days a week, aiming for five daily servings of vegetables, or going to sleep 30 minutes earlier every night. 

Start small and work your way up to more. Studies show that having narrowly defined, short-term process goals can boost your motivation and help you reach long-term ambitions. 

2. Write it out. 

Grab a pen and paper. Lynch suggests writing your ‘why’ like a mantra on a Post-It note or vision board. Place it where you’ll see it regularly, such as on your bedside table, on your bathroom mirror, or on your fridge. You can also keep it as a note on your phone for a digital reminder. Lynch says, “Regularly revisiting and reaffirming your ‘why’ can help it stay at the forefront of your mind.” 

3. Track your progress and share your wins. 

“Routinely monitor and celebrate progress to reinforce the connection between your actions and your ‘why,’” Lynch says. You can track your workouts, meals, hydration, and other habits in a journal or with an app. (Our health coaches recommend the Greatness Daily Habit Tracker and the Carbon Coaching apps.) 

Then, tell a trusted friend or coach about your plans and your progress. Research shows that people who wrote down their goals and actions and shared them with a friend were 33 percent more likely to achieve their objectives. 

Gratitude Journal

4. WOOP your goals. 

Doyle is a fan of the WOOP method, and suggests using it daily to reinforce your goals. “This is a clinically-studied approach that has been shown to be effective in helping people make behavior change long lasting and effective,” he says. “WOOP takes only five to 10 minutes of uninterrupted time each day.” 

To do it, answer the following questions in order with three to six words each:

  • W - Wish. What is your most important wish? Make sure it is a wish that is challenging, but one you can fulfill. Imagine your wish fully.

  • O - Outcome. What would be the best outcome about fulfilling your wish? How would fulfilling your wish make you feel? Imagine your outcome fully.

  • O - Obstacle. What is it within you that holds you back from fulfilling your wish? What is your main inner obstacle? Imagine your obstacle fully.

  • P - Plan. What can you do to overcome your obstacle? Name one action you can take or one thought you can think to overcome your obstacle. Put this in the format of an “If/then” statement. If (obstacle happens), then I will (plan to address obstacle). Then, slowly and intentionally repeat your if/then plan.

You can find guided audio and video WOOP practices here

5. Seek out support. 

You don’t have to go on this journey alone. “If you have found your ‘why’ but don’t know where to start, ask for help,” Doyle suggests. “If you want to lose weight, talk to a personal trainer and a registered dietitian about how to begin that path. If you want to have more energy, get your bloodwork done through the Lifeforce Diagnostic so you know where your baseline biomarkers are. Lifeforce has a robust team of clinicians and health coaches to support you with exactly this part of the journey. You did the hard work of finding your ‘why.’ Now it’s time to partner with a team of experts that will help you design a road map of how to get where you want to go.” 

Your team of dedicated experts is waiting in the Lifeforce Membership. Learn more and get started working toward your ‘why’ here

This article was medically reviewed by:  

  • Russell Van Maele, DO, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine

  • Susan Grabowski, DO, ABAARM Board Certified in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine

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