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Do Goals Do More Harm Than Good?

States of mind

Brian Harward, a diet and exercise writer at the Cleveland Examiner, posted a piece yesterday in which he argues that “A finish line mindset might work for you if you have lots of willpower and only need to be thin and healthy for a limited period of time.  But if your goal is permanent change, this approach is no good.”

His article makes a great point; I’ll get to that in a moment. But he’s overstating his case in a couple of important ways. First, he describes goals as counter-productive, yet tacitly recognizes their importance when he says “if your goal is permanent change.” Second, he claims that “Eventually everyone runs out of willpower, yes EVERYONE.” And I think he’s right, but only if you define willpower as “forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do.” If you think of it instead as “getting in the habit of making good choices,” then we’re talking about changing attitudes, not struggling against an unbeatable system.

And that’s where Harward’s article really shines, in my opinion. He points out that in areas of life change, like diet and fitness, if you’re looking to simply get to some magical moment in the future rather than changing your life, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot by telling yourself that everything between you and that goal is undesirable and hard, and by not looking to enjoy it. For that reason, despite my quibbles, I certainly recommend the article.

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