Setting Goals to Increase Happiness, not to change your body.

It’s that time of year when many people reflect on the past and set goals and intentions for the coming year. At Ascent, we think goals are great! Goals are what guide our purpose for showing up to the gym on a regular basis. Goals, when done right, can increase motivation and happiness.

I also think that setting authentic fitness goals can be one of your greatest defenses against getting wrapped up in diet culture and body transformation media. When we don’t take time to figure out why fitness is important to us, as a unique individual, then we start doing it because of outside influences. These outside influences are often centered around weight loss and have shown to only create short term changes and are often associated with lower self-esteem and decreased satisfaction.

Ascent family on Mount Adams

Try using our tips to set goals that increase happiness – and don’t make you feel bad about yourself.

  1. Set PERMA goals.

We’ve all heard of SMART goals, but have you heard of PERMA? PERMA (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement) is an acronym that stands for the five elements developed by Martin Seligman that account for what makes up the “good life” – an authentic and sustained happiness and well-being. No one element defines well-being, but each contributes, either subjectively or objectively.” 

When setting big goals, I like to follow the PERMA guidelines first. Once you have established your permanent goals you can create intermediate goals using the SMART framework.

P – Positive emotions. Good goals help us experience positive emotions like excitement, satisfaction, pride, awe, hope, and optimism. Set a goal to do something that excites you, or see a place that would make your jaw drop. Then reflect on these positive emotions along the way.

E – Engagement.  Make time for the activities that keep you immersed in the present moment. Engagement is an experience in which someone fully deploys their skills, strengths, and attention for a challenging task. This produces an experience called “flow” that is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, rather than for what they will get out of it. The activity is its own reward. What activities give you the ability to be blissfully present while challenging yourself in some way? Don’t have one? Set a goal to find it.

R – Relationships. The experiences that contribute to well-being are often amplified through our relationships. Support from and connection with others is one of the best antidotes to “the downs” of life and a reliable way to feel up.One great way to connect with others is to share a goal you have with others. Now, you have a built-in buddy for working toward that goal!

M – Meaning. Understanding why we do things, and how they are part of a bigger picture, nurtures a sense of fulfillment. Find time to explore your values and how your choices and goals support them.

A – Accomplishments. When you achieve a goal, don’t move on immediately to the next one. Consider the personal strengths it took to achieve it and the obstacles you overcame. Reflect on your successes. Remember the story lasts a lot longer than the accomplishment.

  1. Forget Benchmarks. Stop making goals around arbitrary benchmarks. Goals will be much more satisfying when there is value and meaning in the destination. For example, a goal of lifting 100lbs or making $100k do not mean much on their own. Instead, work backwards from the goals that support your values and bring you joy to set benchmarks that make sense for you. Using the PERMA-nent change framework can help a lot with this.
  2. Focus on the journey and the destination. The happiness we feel when we accomplish a goal is fleeting and can sometimes feel far away, but the stories we create and experiences we have along the way can last a lifetime. Try finding ways to enjoy the process of working toward your goals so that both the journey and the destination bring you joy.
  3. Small wins. Break your goals down into small easy to achieve steps. This is when I like to use the SMART goal framework. But, think small. You want to be able to check these off your list and build momentum. 
  4. Get Help. Having someone to chat with and be a sounding board can help you find the goals that matter to you. Plus, these people can help with accountability when needed. As a member of Ascent, you can schedule a free quarterly goal session with a coach. Or, sign up for our goal workshop to get help and meet others with similar goals!

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