Self-Hacking Behavior Change: Goal Setting Guide

As a Functional Medicine Nutritionist, I understand that it’s important to support clients in implementing diet and lifestyle changes. Plans with no action means that nothing actually gets accomplished! Many of us understand WHAT it is that we need to do to improve our health (drink less soda, exercise more, etc.), but we struggle with the HOW of turning it into a habit. Often, we struggle adhering to good habits with consistency and can become discouraged or frustrated in our efforts. How many of us have felt defeated and given up on our goals to improve because of repeated attempts that have failed? When surveying those who made New Year’s resolutions, it was determined that less than 10% of people end up keeping them!

My mission as a coach is to Energize, Educate and Empower you on your wellness journey. I want to give you the inspiration and tools you need to experience wellness every single day – not just in your time working one-on-one with me. I have developed the below Goal Setting Guide for anyone (which, let’s face it, is most of us) who has struggled with consistent behavior change. It combines multiple coaching modalities and various resources that I have found to be invaluable for myself and clients alike. Consider this your guide to self-hacking for behavior change!


Goal Setting Guide

What Is Your Motivation?

There’s how things are, and then there’s how you would like things to be. For a change to be permanent and become a habit you need to first determine your WHY. This ‘why’ is your motivation, and it is what will keep you energized and focused as you pursue your goals. Ask yourself the below questions (preferably in a quiet space as a journaling activity) and answer them honestly to uncover your motivation for pursuing change.

  1. What values are most important to you?
  2. What specifically about that value(s) is exciting to you?
  3. How would you like things to be in the future?
  4. What don’t you like about how things are now?
  5. If you could change just one thing, what would it be?
  6. Why would you want to make this change?
  7. What do you think could be the best result if you did make this change?
  8. How important/serious/urgent is it for you to make this change?
  9. What is your ideal solution?
  10. What is holding you back?
  11. What ideas do you have for how you might be able to change?
  12. How does that solution(s) feel?


Cultivate Self-Awareness and Compassion

When deciding whether to believe they’ll be successful with new goals, clients often create a story about their abilities using their previous experiences. I say that this is a ‘story’ because what you think will happen in the future is not a fact (you don’t know what will happen), its just an opinion (something that you are creating in your own mind). Evolutionarily, there is an aspect of our brain whose function it is to keep us alive and it prompts us to act exclusively on self-preservation. It identifies anything in our environment that it considers to be a threat and discourages us from taking risks. In goal setting, it’s crucially important to separate yourself from this aspect of our brain (often called the egoic brain) and recognize that we don’t have to believe everything it says. We can question our thoughts and reject what the egoic brain tells us. In his book The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer explains:

In case you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops. It just keeps going and going. Have you ever wondered why it talks in there? How does it decide what to say and when to say it? How much of what it says turns out to be true? How much of what it says is even important? And if right now you are hearing, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a voice inside my head!” – that’s’ the voice we’re talking about […] In fact, the only way to get your distance from this voice is to stop differentiating what it’s saying. Stop feeling that one thing it says is you and the other thing it says is not you. If you’re hearing it talk, it’s obviously not you. You are the one that hears the voice. You are the one who notices that it’s talking.

Create space between you (the one that hears the voice) and the discouraging thoughts that speculate on whether you’ll be successful in your goals (the voice that’s talking).

Judgements are when we qualify something as good or bad, weak or strong, positive or negative, etc. Nothing is safe from our scrutiny or internal criticism and these often occur without our conscious notice. It’s important to create awareness of judgements you make of yourself and your capabilities when goal setting because often these judgements are very limiting and can sabotage our efforts for growth and expansion. Perhaps you have heard the Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Judgements that we hang onto long enough can become limiting beliefs and the way that we show up in the world becomes a product of our perceived limitations. Ultimately, our thinking around our ability to change and follow through on our goals can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that we can’t do something, it’s more likely that we will fail. The good news is that the inverse is true as well! Be mindful of your thoughts and distance yourself from the negative judgements you may form about your abilities.

Maintaining an objective and judgement-free mindset when goal setting is very important for our success. Objectively, we all have unique needs around which tools will help us be most successful. Rather than comparing yourself to someone else and then passing judgement on your own abilities, it’s much more useful to grow your self-awareness in a way that will enable you to approach your goal setting more strategically. Maybe you’ve thought, “My co-worker is so disciplined and goes to the gym every day. I can’t do that because I’m a procrastinator and can’t stick with my goals.” A more objective way to look at this would be to say, “My co-worker has found a system that works for her to go to the gym. I just haven’t found the type of workout that I would enjoy enough to make it a priority.” In the second scenario, there is no judgement about your capabilities and you have left yourself room to set about accomplishing your goals.

According to author Gretchen Rubin each of us falls into one of four tendencies. These tendencies express how we respond to internal and external expectations. Through understanding which tendency we are we can cultivate an appreciation for what makes us unique and create a tailored system to accomplish our goals. Here is the summary of the tendencies that can be found in Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Four Tendencies:


There is a free online quiz that you can find HERE where you can determine your tendency.


Create a System

After establishing your motivation, identifying limiting beliefs, and expanding self-awareness, the next step in goal setting is to create a system. This part of goal setting is focused on shaping a plan to achieve the desired outcome. When working towards a larger goal, clients often find they can be more successful when they divide it into smaller goals. For example, let’s pretend that your larger goal is to lower your cholesterol to be within the normal range. The recommendations about diet and lifestyle changes that would facilitate this are very different than your current habits, and there are a lot of changes you are trying to integrate. Breaking this larger goal into smaller ones might look like increasing fitness level from 0 minutes per week to 45 minutes, and decreasing carbohydrate intake from 75% of your daily calorie intake to 40%. Based on your The Four Tendencies quiz results (above), you learned that you are an Obliger meaning that you find it easy to meet outer expectations, but find it hard to meet your inner expectations. As part of your system, you have integrated accountability (outer expectation) in the form of weekly check-ins where progressively challenging goals are set until you have fully integrated the health recommendations and are able to experience the clinical results you desired.

Part of planning is to anticipate failure points. Think of this as a system-test where you can brainstorm about all the potential ways that your system could be challenged, and then craft how you will respond ahead of time. Going back to the example above, a potential challenge to your system could be holiday meals. As an Obliger, you may find it more difficult to refuse food offered to you at a holiday party for fear of offending someone (or, not meeting that outer expectation). Anticipating that this could be a challenge for your goal system, you could devise solutions ahead of time that would increase your success in sticking to your goals.

Hopefully this Goal Setting Guide helps you to achieve the changes you desire – New Year’s resolutions, or otherwise. If you find that you still need support in integrating wellness goals into your life, you may benefit from one-on-one coaching. Head over to the Work with Me page to learn more!


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