5 Proven Strategies for Setting Successful Weight Loss Goals

Most of us understand that setting goals leads to future accomplishments.  The link between goal setting and future achievement was made famous by a survey of Harvard Business School students.  This survey asked students if they had written goals, unwritten goals, or no goals at all.  Ten years later, it was found that the students with written goals earned ten times as much money as all other students.  This survey underscores the importance of writing goals down but does not define how to set goals, which plays a crucial role in goal achievement. 

Like the Harvard students, many individuals attempting to lose weight do not set goals, and those who do often do not understand to create a successful weight loss goal.  More often than not, this ends up being a recipe for failed weight loss attempts.  


As a health coach and behavioral health doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, I always ensured that my patients considered specific essential strategies when setting weight-loss goals.  As a result, these patients lost, on average, 150% more weight than those who worked on weight loss goals with their primary care physician.1  Many of which lost over 100 lbs.  The 5 proven strategies for setting successful weight loss goals that these patients used were: 

Strategy # 1: Connect Your Goals To Your Personal Values

Strategy # 2: Envision Success 

Strategy #3: Identify Your Stage of Change 

Strategy #4: Set Positivity-Based Goals 

Strategy #5: Make Your Goals S.M.A.R.T. 

In this article, we will dig into each of these strategies so that you will be able to fully understand and implement each one when setting your weight loss goals.  You will also learn why setting goals is imperative to achieving significant and sustainable weight loss results.  

Why Goal Setting is Imperative to Achieving Significant Weight Loss Results

Setting goals pushes us to move away from the status quo.  Edward Locke, a leading researcher in goal-setting theory, found that setting goals increases people’s energy levels and creates higher sustained effort.  Sustained effort is important to anyone looking to lose significant weight as successful weight loss plans require months of continued follow through.  Setting weight loss goals also pushes us to develop new habits and strategies to ensure that we reach our goal.  

As humans, we are most comfortable within a state of homeostasis.  Continuing with comfortable patterns and familiar routines is where we like to spend our time.  However, living in this “comfort zone” leads to complacency.  Setting goals forces us from a place of comfortability into a state of action.  Furthermore, if we achieve our goals, it can lead to feelings of extreme satisfaction and increased levels of motivation.  While on the other hand, if we fail to reach our goals, it can cause us to become frustrated and less motivated.  

If implemented, the 5 proven strategies for setting successful weight loss goals that you will learn about throughout the rest of this article will allow you to experience extremely high goal achievement rates.  The first strategy you will learn about is how to connect your weight loss goals to your personal values. 

Strategy # 1: Connect Your Goals To Your Personal Values

Your personal values define what is most meaningful to you in life. These values should guide where you invest your time, energy, and resources.  Since your personal values reflect what is most important to you in life, identifying how your weight loss goals are connected to your values can bring great meaning to your weight loss.  

Determining how your personal values are connected to your weight loss goals will help you understand how your life would be altered for the better if you were to reach your weight goals.  Making this connection will help you stay motivated and inspire you to keep moving towards achieving your goals, even when the going gets tough.  

To make the connection between your personal values to your weight loss goals, write down a list of the things you value most in life.  Next, narrow this list to 3-5 personal values.  For example, my personal values are family, health, and helping others. Then, ask yourself how would achieving your weight loss goal enhance your personal values?  Sticking with me as an example, by maintaining my goal weight, I can spend active time with my young daughter.  It also allows me to stay healthy and help others in many ways, like helping a friend move or by having the ability to rake leaves for my dad.  

Making the connection between your weight loss goals and your personal values solidifies the importance of achieving your goals.  It also starts the process of envisioning how your life would be enhanced if you were to achieve your goals.  This leads us to the next strategy; envision goal attainment.  

Strategy # 2: Envision Goal Attainment

The act of creating a mental image of a future event or scenario is known as visualization.  By envisioning a mental picture of the future, you are causing your brain to interpret this image, in the same manner it would if you lived the experience.  

When you practice visualization, your brain creates a new neural pathway, clusters of cells in your brain that work together to develop learned behaviors. Building a neural pathway gets your body ready to carry out the activities that you envisioned.  As a result, by imagining yourself having achieved your weight loss goals, you are priming your brain and your body to turn this mental image into a lived experience.    

By visualizing what you and your life will look like, feel like, and be like after achieving your weight loss goals, you are paving the way to goal attainment.  To increase the likelihood of achieving your weight loss goals, make sure to visualize your future reality before setting out to work on your goals.  For even better results, take the time to write down what you envision or create a vision board.  

Neuroscience has proven that when you detail a vision in writing, your brain reacts by regenerating the image you’ve created, etching it more deeply into your memory.  The act of writing down your vision helps you retain the mental picture of the future state you are working towards, which will help you to stay focused and motivated to achieve your weight loss goals.  In addition to writing down your vision, creating a vision board of your future desires can also increase your goal achievement rate.  

A vision board is created by turning the mental image of your desired future reality into a visible collage.  Vision boards incorporate words and images that are representative of your goals.  The positioning of the vision board in a well-traveled area will provide you with a daily reminder of how your life will be enhanced if you reach your weight loss goals.  Of course, there will be many steps that you’ll have to take between setting weight loss goals and achieving your desired future reality.  A strategy that has been shown to help you take these steps successfully is to set goals in the correct “stage of change.”  

Strategy #3: Know Your Stage of Change 

The tricky thing about setting successful goals is that they need to hit that “Goldilocks sweet spot.”  Setting goals that are too ambitious can lead to failure and a desire to give up.  Creating goals that are easily attained can lead to boredom and subsequent apathy.  For these reasons, you must set weight loss goals for yourself that are achievable and push you to become better.  A strategy you can use to establish “just right” goals is to make sure you set goals in the appropriate “stage of change.” 

In the late 1970s, researchers Prochaska and DiClemente developed the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change.  This model was created after their research showed that people change behaviors by following a gradual process rather than making quick and decisive changes.  Prochaska and DiClemente mapped this behavior change process into five stages of change; precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance, to create the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change.

To create successful weight loss goals, determine which stage of change you are in for each behavior you intend to change.  Here is an explanation of each stage of change: 

  • Precontemplation You do not intend to take action within the next six months.  If you are in this stage of change, you’ll find yourself using phrases like: “I won’t or I can’t.”  If you are in this stage of change, it is best to put off creating goals until you feel more ready to change. 
  • Contemplation- You intend to take action within the next six months.  In this stage of change, you’ll hear yourself saying the term “I may” often.  If you are in this stage of change, you should set “thinking” or research-based goals. 
  • Contemplation- You intend to take action within the next six months.  In this stage of change, you’ll hear yourself saying the term “I may” often.  If you are in this stage of change, you should set “thinking” or research-based goals. 
  • Preparation You intend to take action within the next 30 days.  In this stage of change, you’ll hear yourself saying the term “I will” often.  If you are in this stage of change, you should set “preparation” goals that set you up to take action.   
  • Action You have taken action in the last six months and plan to continue to change your behavior.  You’ll hear yourself saying the term “I am” most often in this stage of change.  If you are in this stage of change, you should set goals that exhibit actionable behavior. 
  • Maintenance  You have made and sustained a behavior change for at least six months.  You’ll hear yourself saying the term “I still am” most often in this stage of change.  If you are in this stage of change, you should set “continuation” goals that prevent you from relapsing into old behaviors.  


To understand how to set goals within your correct stage of change, I will provide an example.  Let’s say that your goal is to lose 50 lbs.  To achieve this outcome goal, you plan to walk five days a week for 30 minutes, track your food intake using an app, and drink at least eight glasses of water a day.  

Now let’s imagine that you haven’t started walking yet but are interested in starting to walk in the next 30 days.  This means your first goal related to this behavior change should be a “preparation” goal that sets you up to take action.  Examples of preparation goals related to starting a walking routine could be to purchase new sneakers, signing up for a gym membership, or getting permission from your boss to walk during your lunch break.  

By understanding your current stage of change, you can create goals that land in that “just right” sweet spot.  By doing this, you’ll achieve your goals and feel excited about the progress you are making.  As well as setting goals in the appropriate stage of change, ensuring that you set positivity-based goals will help you to realize your goals.    

To learn in detail about how integrating the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change can help you reach your goals and your ideal weight, pick up a copy of Weight Lost: 5 Steps to Achieving Your Ideal Weight and Gaining the Life You’ve Always Wanted by clicking here.  

Strategy #4: Set Positivity-Based Goals 

How you feel about a particular goal will impact whether or not you achieve it.  If you are excited about a goal and feel that you can achieve it, you are more likely to succeed.  On the other hand, if you set a goal that you’re not looking forward to working on or feel negatively towards, the likelihood of you failing to reach your goal will significantly increase.  Therefore, it is imperative that you set positivity-based goals. 

Positivity-based goals are set using positive or “approach” language.  These goals are written to inspire positive action rather than to create deprivation.  For instance, let’s imagine that your goal is to reduce your cereal intake by eating more protein for breakfast.  

A goal written in positive/approach language would read something like:

“Eat at least 15 grams of protein for breakfast at least 3 days a week.” 

While a deprivation-based or “avoidance” goal would read like:

“Avoid eating cereal for breakfast 5 days a week.” 

Although each of these goals, if achieved, will help you eat less cereal and more protein for breakfast, your interest in putting the goal into action will be vastly different. The positivity-based goal will leave you feeling motivated to try new breakfast foods. In contrast, the deprivation-based goal will leave you longing for cereal and feeling grumpy that you are holding yourself back from eating something that you enjoy.  Setting goals that use positive language will undoubtedly help you to succeed at losing weight, especially when combined with the technique of S.M.A.R.T. goal setting.  

Strategy #5: Make Your Goals S.M.A.R.T. 

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for specific, meseasurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  Creating goals using the S.M.A.R.T. criteria will allow you to set goals that will produce meaningful results.  The S.M.A.R.T. goal setting method helps bring clarity and urgency to your goals, which increases goal achievement; because of this approach’s effectiveness, it has become widely adopted by corporations and individuals.  

To set a S.M.A.R.T. goal, write out your goal and revise it until it meets the following criteria: 

  • Specific- Your goal should be clear and concise.  The more detailed your goal is, the more likely you are to achieve it.  
  • Achievable- Make sure that you can realistically achieve your goals.  Use your experience and research to set achievable goals.  
  • Relevant- If your goal is relevant, it should align with your personal values and vision.  Each goal that you set should, if achieved, bring you another step closer to your desired future reality. 
  • Time-bound- Your goal should have a target date.  Without one, there is no sense of urgency to achieve your goal. 

To better understand how a goal is written in the S.M.A.R.T. format, let’s compare an example of a non-S.M.A.R.T. goal and then turn it into a goal that is S.M.A.R.T.  

Non-S.M.A.R.T. Goal: 

“Pick a gym to start exercising at.”  

S.M.A.R.T. Goal 

“Visit the YMCA and Planet Fitness on Wednesday, January 12, and enroll at one of the gyms by Friday, January 14”.  

As you can see, creating a goal that is S.M.A.R.T. helps to instill a sense of urgency.  By combining S.M.A.R.T. goal setting with the four other strategies mentioned above, you will be able to set successful weight loss goals for yourself. 

Summary

Setting goals is essential to achieving weight loss; however, the quality of the goals you set can determine whether or not you are successful.  To create goals that will generate significant and sustainable weight loss, you should follow the 5 proven strategies  revealed in this article: 

Strategy # 1: Connect Your Goals To Your Personal Values

Strategy # 2: Envision Success 

Strategy #3: Identify Your Stage of Change 

Strategy #4: Set Positivity-Based Goals 

Strategy #5: Make Your Goals S.M.A.R.T. 

By enacting these strategies, you will be able to set goals that will lead you to your ideal weight.  I’m convinced that you can use these strategies to set impactful goals. Still, if you’d like to explore these strategies in greater detail, you can do so by reading Weight Lost: 5 Steps to Achieving Your Ideal Weight and Gaining the Life You’ve Always Wanted, which you can find on Amazon.  

 References:

1. Sherman, R. P., Petersen, R., Guarino, A. J., & Crocker, J. B. (2019). Primary Care–Based Health Coaching Intervention for Weight Loss in Overweight/Obese Adults: A 2-Year Experience. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(4), 405-413.

we want to write about what matters most to you.  Please share your questions and ideas to help us create meaningful future content.

related posts


In a perfect world, we would stay on top of our eating and excise game year-round and enter into summer feeling confident and bathing suit-ready.  But in reality, it can be challenging to remain consistent with healthy-weight-producing habits year-round.  This conundrum leaves many of us wondering how we can lose a few extra pounds in


Perimenopause is often accompanied by weight gain and is always accompanied by shifts of fat stores from the hips, thighs, and buttocks to your mid-section.  To add insult to injury during perimenopause, changes to your metabolism and your personal life can make it extremely difficult to lose weight.  This combination frequently leaves women feeling frustrated


I’m sure most of us can agree that there isn’t much better than enjoying a fresh blueberry muffin for breakfast.  Unfortunately, blueberry muffins are often high in fat, calories, and added sugars, making it a food that you probably shouldn’t eat regularly if you want to maintain your waistline and health.  This conundrum is what


Many of us have the knowledge we need to change our habits.  We often know what types of food to eat, how much sleep we should be getting, and what types of exercise we should be performing.  However, we aren’t applying our knowledge in a way that generates a lasting lifestyle change.  This discrepancy between


I’m sure most of us can agree that losing weight requires making changes to our diet and exercise routine.  However, it can be challenging to implement these changes in a way that sticks long-term.  Attempting to launch a new diet or exercise program over and over again can be physically and emotionally draining.  As a


I think we can all agree that shopping and preparing our own food is more effective at promoting weight loss than eating out.  However, even if you are grocery shopping regularly, it can be challenging to know what types of foods you should be purchasing to promote weight loss.  Clients often tell me that they