Goals vs Choices

“In the new year, do not make goals for your health but rather understand your choices.”

I had a great conversation with a patient recently about how people set resolutions and goals at the beginning of the year. We were trying to understand the logic behind these projections and why it actually aids in failure more than success.

When one sets a goal there is an anticipation that it needs to be achieved and if success is not created then failure ensues.  I believe that this type of thinking will only enable individuals to continue down the road of suffering, and this is independent on whether the goal is or is not achieved. There needs to be a paradigm shift as it relates to our assessment of what success means to us with regard to our health. The most obvious place to start with this is in the weight loss department. I believe that our culture is so preoccupied with how much we weigh that it distracts us from our self care. You believe that if you could “just” lose 40 pounds (or 30, or 20, or 10, or 5…), then everything would change for you: you would feel better, you could fit into your favorite jeans, you could find a partner. This is where the illusion begins around goal-oriented thinking. When you create a goal–by default–you will fail at some point. You will work towards something with effort and energy, and then what happens when you achieve it? What happens if you DON’T achieve it?

If you achieve it, you celebrate: “I have hit my goal of losing 40 pounds.” Now, what typically follows is a return to the choices that caused us to gain the weight initially. You justify that now, “I deserve a reward for hitting my goal,” and in my experience this sets up the cycle all over again.

If you do not achieve your goal and you do not lose the 40 pounds,  you believe that you are incapable of creating what you want in your life. There is a feeling of failure and a re-association with the concept that things cannot change for you.

Goal setting is a lot like creating expectations. If your expectation is not met, then something did not happen as you had hoped and this is a level of failure. If your expectation does get met, then you assume going forward it will continue to happen and inevitably when life shifts and things change, you again are left with a feeling of failure (this failure can be directed at yourself or directed towards someone else). You are setting yourself up for failure either way!

What I believe you need is more of a systems-based approach when working on making choices and decisions that pertain to your health. Given the fact that your life is dynamic and not static means that you cannot create finite decisions around your health, such as “I want to lose 40 pounds.” Rather, you need to understand how every choice you make impacts the systems within your body and the effect those choices will have on the results you are looking for. For example, if I go on a walk today this will contribute to the result of improving my health… which in turn will have a positive impact on my weight. On the contrary, if I drink this warm vanilla latte today, this will contribute to the burden that my body has to endure, which in turn will have a negative impact on my health.

Awareness of choices is the foundation by which you begin understanding what your health potential capacity is. Begin each day by visualizing yourself at your best. Understand that you already have the tools you need to begin feeling better. Take the time to assess whether your decisions are moving you towards your potential or away from your potential.  Move away from creating goals. Let go of expectations.  Stay in the present and make choices that are congruent to your vision.


Naturopathic physician who is educating people about their health in order to empower them to practice self care.