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Effective Behavior Change as it Applies to Fitness Goals

Mindset is the set of beliefs that influence how we feel, think, and eventually behave.  

Being successful at getting and staying in shape isn’t so much about knowing what to eat and what exercises to do, as it is about having a positive mindset and changing our behaviors effectively in ways that are sustainable. 

The Right Mindset is tied to our Motivation – Why do we want to change and how does it fit in to our lives?

Mindset is the set of beliefs that influence how we feel, think, and eventually behave. Great sales people typically feel and think that the product they are selling is aligned to their morals and beneficial to the buyers. This mindset is key to their ability to match their product to what the buyer wants and needs. To make effective changes in our lives, we must also create a mindset that aligns with our goals, morals, and desires. Creating a picture clearly and crisply of what we want creates that positive mindset and motivates us to do what is necessary to obtain our goal. Motivation is the reason or reasons we have for acting or behaving the way we do. Let’s explore how to create the mindset we need and build motivation.

We are focusing on Fitness Goals. Take time to consider what being physically fit will add to your life. Do this in the context of creating a framework for your ideal life, or even ideal day. Listen for the answers that resonate and light you up inside as you consider them.

My ideal day:

  • How I want to feel?
  • Rested. Healthy. Free from pain. Strong and energetic. Looking forward to the day ahead. Happy and Content. Confident. Alert and focused.

How am I spending the day?

Make a list – suggestions and categories are below. Customize the list by adding your own and subtracting others.


  • Golf followed by dinner and drinks with friends. Being active and social with others e.g., playing volleyball, tennis, or dancing. Shopping with friends. Enjoying fitness classes like yoga, eccentrics, water aerobics or Tai chi. Spending time alone in nature e.g., hiking, running, walking, swimming, biking, or boating.

…regardless of your specific goals, break them up into small easy to do segments.


  • Lounging at the pool. Playing cards, or board games. Sharing a meal and conversation with people you enjoy. On vacation – exploring new places.

Work or Volunteering:

  • Volunteering at the food-bank, with Habitat for Humanity, cleaning up a roadway or beach or working with children. Getting stuff done at work quickly and efficiently. Solving problems. Encouraging others.

Create a grid or scoreboard to reveal which activities will be your biggest motivators. You can use our example: Motivation Chart

Analyze and Score Your Motivators
click to download
  • Match the Activities to the Descriptors of How You Want to Feel, Total the Number of Feelings That Tie to these activities. Rank the Activity Importance
  • Score the How Much the Activity will be Improved by being Fit. Rank 1 to 5 with 5 being high and 1 being low
  • Score the activities by importance to you. Rank 1 to 5 with 5 being high and 1 being low
  • Total All Three Scores to see how closely they tie to motivation. The activity importance must have a 5 or 4. In the sample below the high motivators are in gold. Other motivators are in blue and green.

Last note, once you have your biggest motivators, picture them vividly being in fantastic physical shape. How does your body and mind feel? What do you hear/see? Which of the “Ideal How Do You Feel Words” describe you in the moment? Review these motivators each day. Revise if called for. Use these motivators to strengthen your mindset and resolve.

Define What Fitness Means to You

This will feel different for everyone. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that those between the ages of 18 and 64 engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity every week. Your goals may be higher. Regardless of your specific goals, break them up into small easy to do segments. E.g., 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week could be broken up into ten 15 minute segments.  That’s less than two fifteen-minute walks per day.  Very doable!!

Woman hugging herself

Your goals may be to walk a marathon, swim 2 miles a day, golf 18 holes without pain. It can be unrelated to fun activities, and instead be related to household chores like weeding, painting, window washing etc. The goals just have to mean something to you.


SMART is an acronym for goal setting. Businesses use this to gauge performance. It makes it very easy to hold yourself accountable. Make sure each goals is a SMART goal.  It may look like this:

  • Specific: I’m going to walk daily.
  • Measurable: I will walk a minimum of 25 minutes each day and track my time and number of steps.
  • Achievable: If I miss a day, I will double up the next day. I can split the time up if needed each day.
  • Relevant: I want to become a fit, healthy, and strong person — I want to be full of vitality, energy, and excitement for life!
  • Time-bound: I will do this for at least 3 months.

Don’t Expect Perfection – Remember to Use Self-Compassion and Focus on the Positive

Having an all or nothing attitude is common. Once we miss a step, a milestone, eat something that was on our DO NOT EAT list, it’s common to throw in the hat and give up. Be kind to yourself it this happens to you. NONE OF US ARE PERFECT. Drop the “all or nothing.” Know that you will fall short.  Forgive yourself. Remind yourself that it happens to everyone – even elite athletes. Review your goals, ideal life, and original motivations.  The important component is not being perfect, it’s the ability to recover and get back on track. Patience and persistence are your friends.

Prepare Your Environment – Prepare Yourself for Tough Moments

This applies less to exercise than it does to food. There are thousands of diets out there. The best diet is the one that you can follow without feeling deprived.  One that allows you to eat a variety of foods you enjoy. In this context preparing your environment for a new eating habit, is cleaning out all the food that your diet excludes and stocking up on the foods in your new eating plan and that you like. Never go hungry. Never eat something you don’t like and preferably love.

It can be tough when you are tempted to eat something that is not part of your diet – like ice cream. I was taught the 3 D’s to handle these moments.

  • Distance – Walk away and give yourself time to decide if you really want it.
  • Distraction – Do something physical or mental that takes away from your temptation. If it keeps coming back – go on to the third D.
  • Deal – If after distancing and distracting yourself from the temptation, you still want to eat it – make a deal with yourself to negate the effect of eating it.  If it’s a 300-calorie ice cream, you will need to add 300 calories of exercise to your day. If that’s too much ask for half the amount and only work off 150. You can also consider swapping out the ice cream for frozen banana, strawberries or another food that is part of your diet plan and will satisfy your craving.

If after all this, you still want to eat it. Do it! You don’t have to be perfect! One small anomaly that happens infrequently will not make a huge difference in the long run. Changing your eating habits is a lifelong challenge. Don’t deprive yourself forever.


Write down your goals, small and large. Write down your motivations. Consult and update them at least weekly. Don’t underestimate the importance of your thoughts. Take time to be aware of your internal dialogue – If you notice negative, or defeatist attitudes, apply self-compassion.  Bring your Ideal day back into sharp focus. Love yourself as you would your younger nephew, niece, or own child. When in doubt be kind to yourself. Every human being responds better to kindness than to rigidity. Support yourself.

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Written by Robin & Heather

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