There’s an old saying that goes, “The biggest obstacle isn’t knowing what to do; it’s doing what you know.” Heck, if knowledge was all it took to reach our goals, we’d all have fired up metabolisms, zero chronic health issues, and regularly get a solid night’s sleep. But obviously, knowledge isn’t the only factor at play here.
Maybe you set a New Year’s resolution and your new habits are already starting to wane. Or you’re trying to eat healthier or get outside more or be more present…
You could be the most motivated person on the planet, but without the right tools — and the right mindset — your goals will always be just out of reach and you’ll find yourself scribbling down your hopes and dreams once again, telling yourself, “this time I’m gonna crush it!”
While I applaud your tenacity, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You don’t need to have tons of knowledge or willpower to achieve success. You do, however, need to have a proven strategy.
As a health coach, I’m trained on a variety of goal-setting methods. One of my favorites is called the GROW model, a framework influenced by tennis coach Timothy Gallwey and popularized by race car driver turned biz coach, Sir John Whitmore, and his colleagues Alan Fine and Graham Alexander.1
What’s the GROW Model?
GROW is an acronym that stands for:
G: Goal R: Reality O: Options W: Will or What’s Next
First, you select a goal. What do you want to achieve? Then, you address your current reality. What’s your situation right now? Next up, you take a look at your options. What could you do? And finally, your will or what’s next? What will you do?
Seems easy enough, right?
Initially intended to develop stronger leaders in the corporate world, Whitmore, Fine, and Alexander soon discovered that their deceptively simple approach was helping people improve performance across a variety of industries – including health and fitness.
Timothy Gallwey (who inspired the GROW model) realized that when he stopped giving instructions and started asking questions, his tennis players learned for themselves what worked and what needed to be improved.2
Physicians are applying the GROW model to help manage obesity in their patients by invoking self-efficacy and self-directed behaviour changes.3
Sports coaches are using it to improve performance in prominent golfers – some going on to win national championships.4
Why Does the GROW Model Work?
Neuroleadership experts Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and Dr. David Rock tell us that “When insights are generated from within through self-discovery, new brain circuits are created, adrenaline-like and dopamine-like substances are released, and sudden bursts of high energy brain activity are created.”5
That’s why telling people what to do to change never works. When you try to convince your partner to go low carb with you or your doctor says you need to lose weight, it almost always backfires.
The more someone tries to force a change, the more push back you’ll get. But when you’re able to hone in on your own goals and see how you can go about achieving them, given your current situation and willingness to change, it can be way more impactful.
In fact, researchers have been studying goal setting for years, learning that the structure of your brain can literally change so that it’s optimized to achieve your goal.6
When you use a framework like the GROW model, your amygdala evaluates how important your goal is to you. Your frontal lobe then defines the specifics of what’s required to achieve it. Then the two parts of your brain work together to keep you focused on the behaviours that help you achieve your goal, simultaneously helping you ignore and avoid situations that work against it.
Studies on Goal Setting
Take this study of female multiple sclerosis patients at the University of Texas. 7 Researchers had 57 MS patients in an experimental group complete a two-phase intervention that included individual goal setting and periodic check-ins. After 8 months, the participants who set wellness goals for themselves had fewer and less severe symptoms than the control group. The data proved that setting goals with incremental steps helped participants better articulate what they wanted to achieve and monitor their progress.
Another study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that when participants felt highly motivated to succeed, they actually diminished the perceived difficulty of achieving their goal(another reason to find your own emotionally driven reason or your “why”).8
My Proven Method for Getting Results
You can always hire a health coach to walk you through this process, and depending on your situation, it might be beneficial to you. But, honestly, the GROW model is so effective you can use it to coach yourself. And today, I’m going to walk you through the 4 key steps so you can finally get the results you’ve been working so damn hard for.
STEP 1 (G): Establish your goal.
Think about what you’d like to achieve. It could be to incorporate more movement into your day, make time for a sit-down, protein-packed breakfast, or get a more restful night sleep. Use the SMART method of goal setting to make it feel more tangible.
What is my goal?
Why is this goal important to me?
STEP 2 (R): Understand your current reality.
This is important because oftentimes, people start working toward their goals without having a solid grasp on their starting point. Get a clear understanding of your reality around your time, effort, commitment, and resources.
What is my current situation?
What resources do I have to achieve my goal?
Are there any obstacles?
STEP 3 (O): Explore your options.
Got your current reality dialed in? Now it’s time to figure out what’s possible as you move forward. Brainstorm all of the possible options you have for reaching your goal. This isn’t the time to limit yourself or make excuses. Write down every option you have.
What would I do if I had no fear?
What option is the most appealing?
What else is possible?
STEP 4 (W): Figure out your will or what’s next.
The final step is to commit to the specific actions you’ll be doing. This helps establish will and gives you a clear path about the steps you’ll be taking as you work toward your goal. Include a timeframe here as well and be sure to find ways to stay accountable along the way.
What will you be doing and when will you do it?
How committed are you on a scale of 1 to 10?
How are you staying accountable?
How will you know if you’re successful?
Ready to GROW?
Like I said before, the biggest obstacle to getting results is knowing how you’re going to do the things you know you should be doing. That’s where the GROW model comes in. Keep the GROW acronym in mind (G: Goal; R: Reality; O: Options; W: Will or What’s Next), then use these proven steps to put your health goals into motion.
1. Establish your goal
2. Understand your current reality
3. Explore your options
4. Figure out your will or what’s next
Have you used the GROW model? Tell me how it’s worked for you!
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.