How to Set Goals You’ll Actually Stick to: Lessons from Tortoise & the Hare (Part 2)

In part 1 of this 2-part series, we learned that slow and steady wins the race, not only for tortoises, but also for those trying to improve their health and fitness habits.

In this post, the lessons we learned from the Tortoise and the Hare will be applied to setting goals that you can actually stick to! This post will cover how to:

  • Start slow – Understand that it’s okay to work your way up to a big goal.
    • Test your confidence in your ability to achieve a goal before starting it.
  • Make steady progress by focusing on consistency before performance.

Goal Setting Strategy #1: Don’t be Afraid to Start Slow!

When is comes to losing weight and improving health – everyone wants results right now – or even better, yesterday. It can be extremely tempting when starting a new goal (and motivation is high) to go from 0-60 mph right away like the Hare. Go big or go home – right?

This technique sometimes works for people who are highly motivated and have a lot of experience and skills surrounding the with the behavior to be changed (exercise, nutrition etc.). However, for the majority of people, starting out too fast is more likely to backfire.

Going slow and steady allows us the opportunity to achieve small successes and build up our self-confidence. As self-confidence increases, our motivation to tackle larger and larger health and fitness goals goes up! Whereas, if we move too fast to start with, we can set ourselves up for big failures. These failures lead to decreased self-confidence and often leads us to quit our goals, because we begin to doubt our ability to achieve them.

You-have-to-crawl-before-you-can-run-BabyA baby doesn’t go straight to running, he first crawls, then he practices walking by holding on to things, then he walks, and finally he runs. Learning a new habit is like learning to run. We can’t expect to start running right away. First we have to crawl, and then walk. We have to learn how to change our routines and build habits first – and then we can run! No one criticizes a baby for the time it takes him to learn to run. Likewise, you should not feel feel inadequate for starting with small goals – they will snowball, and you’ll be running before you know it.

Here are a few other examples of ways that you can apply the concept of starting slow – this time in relation to nutrition.

Instead of making a complete overhaul to your nutrition all at once:

  • You could focus on going from zero healthy meals a day, to 1 healthy meal per day
  • OR you could focus on adding more of one food group – say eating more vegetables
  • OR you could slowly decrease the amount of sweets you are eating.

Goal Setting Strategy #2: Test Your Confidence in Your Goal

By now, you know that it is okay, and even recommended to start slow. But how do you know if your goal is moving too fast?

When you set a goal, you want to make sure that you feel confident in your ability to achieve that goal. If you don’t feel confident, you will put less effort towards achieving that goal, and you will be more likely to give up on it when the going gets tough.

After setting a goal, ask yourself this one question:

“On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being not at all confident, and 10 being extremely confident – how confident am I that I can achieve this goal?”

If your honest answer to this question is a 7, 8, or 9, this goal is about the right size for you. If you say 10 – the goal may be a little too easy and you might be able to increase it just a bit.

However, If your honest answer to this question is less than 7 – the goal is likely too big to be your short-term goal (though it could make a good long-term goal) and you might want to start a little slower.

For example, if your original goal was to go to the gym 4 days a week, and you said that your confidence to achieve that goal was a 6, this goal might be a little too big for you right now.

The next step would be to back your goal down to going to the gym 3 days a week. Ask yourself the confidence question again – if your confidence increases above 7 – you’re good to go! If not, continue to decrease the goal until your confidence is above 7.
Summary: Rate your confidence in your ability to achieve your goal on a scale of 0-10. If your score is:Goldilocks-3-Bears-Facebook

  • 0-6: This goal is a little too big for now. Dial it down a bit and test your confidence again.
  • 7-9: This is goal is just right – go for it!
  • 10: This goal may be a little bit too small – go a little bigger and test your confidence again.

(Does this remind anyone else of Goldilocks and the three bears?)

Goal Setting Strategy #3: Make Consistency Your Goal

To address the “steady” part of “Slow and steady wins the race” – focus on consistency rather than performance. This is a great strategy to ensure that you can stick to the goals that you set and it is especially important when you’re first starting with a new goal.

For example, instead of setting a goal to run a 7 minute mile (performance), set the goal of going running X days per week (consistency).

Or instead of setting a goal to burn 1,000 calories at the gym this week (performance), set a goal of going to gym 3 times this week (consistency).

The purpose here is to avoid Harriet’s mistake of pushing too hard at first, and then quitting.

The hardest part of making a change is the beginning. This is the time where you are most vulnerable to barriers (things that come up and keep you from achieving your goals). By focusing on consistency, you allow time for the habit to sink in – you allow it to become part of your regular routine.

Once you have formed habits and routines, then you can start making incremental improvements in performance.

For example:

  • Once you have formed a routine of running (consistency) – then try to improve your 9 minute mile to 8:50 (performance).
  • Once you have formed a habit of going to the gym (consistency) – then try to gradually increase the number of calories you burn next time (performance).

The lesson here, is: If you don’t form a habit, performance doesn’t matter because you won’t be able to stick to it.


As we learned from The Tortoise and The Hare – slow and steady is the best way to make long-term changes that can last a lifetime.

It can be tempting to go fast – but remember: On the Hare’s side is yo-yo dieting, weight cycling (loss and regain, loss and regain), and inconsistent exercising.

Instead, strive to be the tortoise when it comes to adopting healthy habits – slow, but deliberate and determined. Realize that change takes time and that by making slow changes, you’ll avoid burnout and be able to continue for the duration of the race. Go slow for the win!

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop” – Confucius

Here are a few things to remember about setting goals that will increase confidence and help you stick to your goals long-term:

  • Start slow – small successes increase confidence, build motivation to take on bigger goals.
  • Set yourself up for success by making sure you are confident in your ability to achieve your goals.
  • Make steady progress by focusing on forming habits and routines before focusing on performance.

Your Turn – Please comment below to share your experiences! You never know what may help someone else achieve their goals 🙂

  • Have you ever started out too quick on a fitness or health goal only to have it backfire?
  • Is there one of these techniques (starting slow, testing your confidence, or focusing on consistency) that you think might have changed, or at least improved, the outcome of that experience?

2 thoughts

  1. In the past, I have always tried to go from 0 to 60, with exercise and nutrition goals. And, like the hair have failed to achieve my goals. Thanks for the permission to take baby steps. I feel more confident using the strategy you’ve given and focusing on routine initially instead of performance. I believe I can achieve my goals this time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Going from 0 – 60 is an offense that I’m definitely guilty of! It can be so hard to pull back on the reins, but it really does pay off in the long run. 🙂 I’m so glad you found this helpful – keep us posted on how it goes!


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