What You Say To Yourself Matters – Goal Setting Tips

Years ago I took a professional development course in goal setting tips and how to set yourself up to achieve your goals. One of the themes of the classes was using positive language and positive self-talk. It was referred to as positive reframing and it meant not only to seeing negative experiences in a positive way, but also becoming more aware of the language we use when talking about our goals and how we want to achieve them. What you say to yourself matters – your brain is the organ that delivers messages on how to move, react and respond to outside forces. If your brain is delivering those messages with negative phrasing, what do you think is the likelihood of success?
What You Say To Yourself Matters - Goal Setting Tips
Since I consider myself an optimistic, positive person in general, I felt like I had this positive self-talk thing down pat. Then it came time for an exercise in positive reframing. We were all asked to write down our goals in detail and our plan for reaching them. The instructor came around one-on-one to read and offer feedback. She got to me and suddenly it was clear how much work it takes to reframe your speech and your thought patterns away from the negative. My writing included phrases like,
“I don’t want to…”
“I need to stop…”
“It seems impossible, but…”
We did some more work and when we did the exercise again, I was able to replace the negativity with positively phrased intentions. Over time, using the techniques we learned in the course, I realized that while it may be difficult at first to eliminate negative self-talk, practicing positivity actually leads to a shift, where eventually it just becomes the norm for you to be more positive in your speech, thoughts and approach. I’m not perfect and I still catch myself reverting to negative phrases, but just making the effort and recognizing the pattern helps make it easier to turn my thinking around.


When I ask new potential clients to share their training goals with me, I now hear those same negative patterns I didn’t use to realize I was using, either:
“I’m so weak! I need to build some strength.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do a pull up, but it’s my goal to try.”
“I need to lose weight, because I’m unhappy with my body right now.”
The key words are negative, and no matter the overall message of having a goal they want to work toward, subconsciously they are asserting those negative phrases and words. Weak. I don’t think. Try. Unhappy. How could these be reframed into positively phrased goals?
“I will increase my strength and overall fitness with a personalized strength training program.”
“I will achieve my goal of completing pull ups with a focused training plan.”
“I will make positive changes to my fitness and eating habits to achieve a happy weight for me.”
I will. I will. I will. Increase. Achieve. Positive. Happy. If you can recognize the difference in those words right now and how they make you feel, you know your mind was internalizing the message you were giving yourself with the negatively phrased objectives.
It’s not just goal setting that can be reframed positively. Start analyzing the thoughts you have and words you use when you’re looking at an upcoming workout on your training plan. What are you telling yourself? What words are seeping into your subconscious? If you’re like me when I see a particularly nasty interval workout or a tempo run, it takes some willpower not to think things like, “This is going to hurt! How am I going to get through this? It’s going to suck.” Try the positive reframing exercise – look at those intervals and think, “I’m strong and determined, I will feel powerful when I’ve finished this workout successfully.” Even if it seems awkward at first, you will be surprised how those positive words and phrases become your first instinct after you’ve been practicing for a while.
Have you ever evaluated what you say and think when you’re goal setting, or attempting something challenging? 

Looking for more posts about the power of mind over matter? Try this guest post about training your brain to overcome mental ruts, or the interview I did with the sports psychologist author of “The Runner’s Brain.”


  1. I think it is something that is good to do on a pretty frequent basis. I am a huge believer in visualization and a part of that is the words we use. Sometimes it feels silly but I do try to pay attention to how I phrase things. Even when I talk about food instead of saying “I don’t like that.” I teach my kids to say “it’s not my favorite.” Great post. Thanks for sharing!


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