While it’s important to stay motivated in your health, the mindset behind it is what keeps you going. Understand the difference between setting goals and values, and how it can change your perspective.


I’ve always had trouble with the concept of goals. Don’t misunderstand, I’m a very driven and motivated person, and I like routine and structure. But, something about the idea of goals has always rubbed me the wrong way.

Maybe it’s the continual cycle of setting goals, being motivated, forgetting or losing focus about the goal, recommitting, and starting over.

To me, this cycle feels exhausting, discouraging, and not very productive.  Then I was finally able to pinpoint why target goals always seemed to be a moving target.

When most people set goals, they’re really talking about values.

Here’s the distinction between goals and values, and here’s why it matters when it comes to setting them for your nutrition and health.

Goals are things you can cross off your list; goals either will or will not be completed. You can set a goal to run a race in October and when October rolls around, you can cross that off your list.

You ran the race! You completed your goal.

But values—unlike goals—are things you nurture. The very nature of values is the inability to ever cross the finish line with them.  Values are things you can do right now; values are always available to us.

But, the nature of values is that they can never actually be achieved.

We’re never done working on values, but they give us direction in how to live our lives. And, most of the time, the things we value elicit certain desired behavior.

For example, it would be silly to have a goal be honesty, and then tell the truth one day and cross off honesty from your list. The problem here is that honesty is something you value; it isn’t really a goal, and you can never actually be done with it. Honesty is something you continually work on, consistently making efforts to be truthful and forthright.

So here’s how this connects to nutrition and health: health isn’t a goal.

It’s something you might value, though. And, because you value it, it’s something you can work on and nurture right now. We can’t just eat a carrot one day and cross off “health” from our goals list. Valuing health and nutrition is more complex than any one food.

So, just like it would be silly to say you’re done with health when you eat a carrot, it’s also really silly to say you’ve ruined your health because you ate a cookie. The way you care for yourself over time with sleep, nutrition, movement, rest, self-care, and mental health is what helps you move towards your value of health.

And because health and nutrition are things you value, they’re available to you right here, right now.

By understanding the distinction between goals and values, it can be helpful when you’re thinking about what you want to do or work on. It will help you identify whether it is something you can cross off your list and be done with (a goal), or if it’s something you’ll never be done with, but can continually nurture (a value). Recognizing this distinction can help you avoid burnout and frustration as you continue to foster a positive relationship with the things you value most.

And it can be a game changer in making progress in your relationship with health.

Adapted from the original article.

Paige Smathers, RDN, CD is a nutrition therapist based in Salt Lake City who helps individuals find positive ways to overcome struggles they experience with food and body image. She specializes in practical, down-to-earth solutions for those in eating disorder recovery and chronic dieting through a weight-neutral positive approach. Paige hosts the popular Nutrition Matters Podcast and runs her private practice, Positive Nutrition.