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Step 2a: Build commitment - How important is your goal?

Commitment helps you stick to your goals during the good times and the bad times.

Source: Health Services

A crucial factor that separates those who successfully achieve and maintain health goals from those who don’t is commitment. Commitment helps you stick to your goals during the good times and the bad times — when barriers get in the way.

Two factors contribute to commitment: importance and ability. For a person to commit to a goal they need to see it as important and they need to believe that they are able to carry out the behaviours/tasks that are necessary to achieve it.

The following exercises help you:

a) identify how important you see your goal, and
b) identify how capable you believe you are at achieving it

How important is your goal?

The following exercises help you identify and/or build the importance of your health goal.

(Note: Download the interactive workbook and complete these exercises in it)

Exercise 2.1: Tie the health goal to your values. A value is something that is important to you; something that has worth. A health goal that is consistent with the values you hold is more important than one that doesn’t fit with your values. For example, setting a goal to engage in regular physical activity fits well with the value of adventure since regular physical activity increases fitness, and fitter people are better prepared to be adventurous. Setting a goal to get 7 hours of quality sleep each night fits well with the value of energy, since a regular sleep schedule is associated with more energy. Setting a goal to eat according to Canada's Food Guide is consistent with valuing the environment since a healthy diet is a plant-based diet, which is better for the environment. If you have difficulty identifying your values, review a values checklist.

Exercise 2.2: Tie the health goal to your other goals. We all have goals in life. These include such things as being financially secure, working in a rewarding job, meeting a partner, having children, living a long and healthy life, travelling to Europe, starting a business etc. If you identify that achieving your health goal will help you achieve other life goals, then you are more likely to see your health goal as important and commit to it.  

Exercise 2.3:  Examine the pros and cons of changing. A person is more likely to evaluate a goal as important if the benefits (i.e. the “pros”) they expect from making changes outweigh the consequences (i.e. the “cons”). For example, the benefits of engaging in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week include: more energy; more stamina; greater muscle tone; greater flexibility; better balance; better mood; better sleep; better sex and a reduced risk of many illness including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression and some cancers. On the other side of the balance sheet, some of the “not-so-good” things (i.e. cons) to becoming more physically active may include: less time for rest and relaxation; getting up one hour earlier and, therefore, going to bed earlier; experiencing soreness; and costs associated with a gym membership, shoes, workout clothes or a new bike.  

Putting it together: The importance of your goal

The goal of the previous three exercises is to help you identify how important your health goal is. Remember, in order for you to commit to that goal, you need to see it as very important. Take a few minutes to review your answers to the exercises above and then complete the following exercise:

On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 representing "not important" and 10 representing "extremely important") rate how important it is for you to achieve the health goal you have identified.

If you rated the importance of your goal as low, you likely will not wholeheartedly commit to your goal. After all, why would you invest time and energy into something you don’t see as important? Before you move ahead with this process you will benefit by giving more thought to the importance of your goal. Below, we have listed some things you can think about that can make this goal more important on your list of priorities. Think about these and then rate the importance of your goal again.

Review each of the exercises. Did you capture all the values that are important to you? Did you identify all the ways your values and this goal fit together? Did you list all your life goals, and think of all the ways achieving your goal can help you achieve them? Can you think of more pros and cons of changing?

Do some research to identify more pros. Get on the Internet, consult a health care professional or talk with someone who has already achieved the goal you have set to find out more good things about it. The more pros you have on your list, the more likely you will see your goal as important.

Identify your needs. Many behaviours are attempts to meet basic needs. For example, a person may realize that they use unhealthy snack food to wind down at the end of the day. Happily, there are many strategies that can meet our needs more effectively, with fewer adverse effects and more benefits!

Think critically about your belief in the likelihood that the pros and cons will happen. When you selected a number indicating the likelihood that one of the pros or cons would happen, you were rating your belief that this will happen (not the actual likelihood). If you evaluated many of the pros with a low likelihood and rated many of the cons with a high likelihood, you probably won’t see the goal as important. Was your rating of the likelihood accurate? If you have worked towards this goal in the past, think about all the good things that happened. Think about how you felt. Think about how your level of energy increased. Even think about how relationships with others changed for the better. Also, take a look at the cons. Are you overestimating the likelihood that not-so-good things will happen? Do you have evidence that these things will happen? What about others who have changed? Have they experienced these negative effects? Are the not-so-good things really all that bad? (For example, if a con is that you will have less time to watch television, can you see this as a good thing?)

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