Goal Setting 101
By Todd Tampke, BSc. Exercise Sports Science
Inner Element Fitness General Manager
Goals. For many of us, they are those ideas, dreams or wishes that inspire, drive, and stretch us to improve ourselves, our work or homelife situation, or to create change when a challenge cannot be ignored any longer. They are often lofty, unattainable, thereby falling into the wish category previously mentioned. Or, they are overwhelming and riddled with challenges, and fall into the dream or idea category.
Nevertheless, we regularly think about them, like a puzzle we just have to solve. It’s that nagging feeling, that idea that won’t go away, that begs us to figure out how to get there and how to make it happen. And that is what we’re tackling in this article.
When it comes to improving ourselves, for instance, we’ve all tossed around the idea of dropping 10 pounds, or being stronger, or eating healthier, or running a race. But how many of us honestly say, “Yes, I did that. I said I wanted to do it, and I did it.”?
One study by Harris Interactive found that 73% of people who set fitness goals as their New Year’s resolutions never achieve them. They give up. But why? Is it that they didn’t commit? Didn’t want it badly enough? Care more about something else? Maybe. But more than likely it’s because the goal was unrealistic to begin with.
So, before the same thing happens to you – or in case it already has – we’re going to look at the fundamentals of goal setting so you can achieve rather than quit your goal.
First, let’s redefine what is a goal. Oxford Dictionaries define a goal as, “The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result; a destination of a journey; or a point marking the end of a race.”
“An object of your effort or ambition.” Ok, yes. So, every day you wake up with a set routine of tasks to complete. Along comes a new goal and disrupts the routine. Well, if you first accept that disruption, you will need to make room in that routine to work on it.
“A journey.” Now that’s an interesting perspective. This really encapsulates what goal setting is all about. It’s the consideration of the commitment to the end point, the time you will need to devote to reach it, the preparation, and the supplies you will need to maintain your course. Yes, considering a goal as a journey shifts your mindset and enables you to think through the checkpoints and oases you will need along your way to the ultimate destination: your goal.
How Do You Know What’s the Right Goal for You?
Ok, we know what a goal is. Now what? Well, you need a road map – a plan to follow. And, it needs to provide milestones where you can rest, reflect, adapt course and be inspired to keep going. This is where the concept of SMART goals comes into play. (We’ll expand on this in a second.)
The first thing you have to decide is what is your goal. No, really. It sounds obvious, but defining the goal involves breaking it down to the nittiest grit. For instance, “I want to lose weight” is a decent goal, but it’s not a SMART one. To be successful in achieving a goal, you first must be specific with what you want to achieve. So, instead, try “I want to lose six inches off my waist” or “I want my total body mass index (BMI) of fat to be 15.”
Pro Tip: If you want to set a weight loss goal, I encourage you to steer clear of the ideal number you want on the scale, since you could get there but still be unhealthy with too high a BMI.)
You also need to balance what you want with a good dose of reality and where you are starting from right now. If you can accept that you will have plenty of work to do and can overcome the mental hurdle to let go of what’s done as done, you’ll take your first step on the path of your journey toward your goal.
What is a SMART Goal?
Once you’ve decided what is going to be your goal, be sure to validate that it is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (SMART). To define a SMART goal, here are some of the questions to ask yourself:
- What do I want to achieve?
- Why do I want to reach this goal?
- By when?
- How will I achieve it?
- What do I have to overcome – what barriers exist for me right now?
- What other ways can I achieve this goal?
- How will I define success?
Pro Tip #2: Keep asking yourself why until you have the most specific reason for the goal. This will be a primary source of your motivation when you feel tired, frustrated or need inspiration to keep going.
With the goal example of wanting to reach a body mass index (of fat) of 15%, you have the specificity and measurement boxes ticked. Answering why you want to lose the weight will help address the relevance portion of your goal setting. Consider if you are doing this for you – or someone/thing else? Ultimately, the answer that makes for a more sustainable goal should be that you’d make the change for you. You will be the one to endure the change efforts and maintain your goal once you achieve it.
Now come the tough questions: By when do you want to finish losing 50 pounds– in the next 24 weeks? 12 months? By a specific event (e.g. wedding date, baby’s second birthday, etc.)?
Before you answer, weigh the wish you have against the reality of what you can actually attain and maintain for the rest of your life.
To be fair, this pair of questions is often best answered with the help of a health professional. Whether it’s a matter of creating a nutrition plan or an exercise program, they are better equipped to help you not only scale the length of the program, but to create secondary goals. These ultimately will keep your momentum building all the way through your finish line and into a maintenance program afterward. It’s one thing to achieve your goal and an entirely different journey to maintain it.
Map Out Smaller Goals to Reach Your Bigger Milestone
You may need to rethink what you’re trying to achieve and break it down again into another set of secondary goals. Instead of looking at trying to “lose six inches off your waist” by Christmas, try mapping out what you need to achieve today, and then by the end of this week, and then what you’ll need to complete by next week, and so on. Remember I mentioned getting into the nittiest grit? That’s what I’m talking about.
What to Do When You Have a Setback
If you create a goal and struggle to reach your milestones, pause and pivot. There’s no point trying to white-knuckle and force yourself through a painful or overwhelming effort to reach your goal if you cannot sustain it.
Take a step back and analyze what you’ve done already. Although some may be able to power through their setback, that may not work for you. There’s no harm in asking for help. Whether it’s a coach, trainer, friend, counselor – whomever you choose, they can help you see your goal(s) from a different perspective, and have ideas to help you reset, rebalance and adapt your goals to get back on track.
Pause and pivot to adjust what you need to do right now to reach tomorrow’s goal.
Keep the Momentum Going
Keep breaking down the timeline and give yourself plenty of chances to succeed in small ways. That way, as you achieve the smaller goals, you can celebrate them and continue building your momentum with positive energy toward the greater goal. Celebrating is crucial to recharging your energy and interest in achieving your goal
Tips to Successful Goal-Setting & Reaching Your Goal
- Start small, be reasonable and adapt – If you find you’ve overreached, or been too aggressive with what you can actually achieve, step back, pause and pivot to plot a new course to your goal.
- Rely on a partner/colleague/gym teammate and IEF – share your goals and be accountable – social media can help keep you accountable when you ask your friends to “call me out on it” in your post. Turn in your calendar to your trainer, and/or put a copy of the schedule on your fridge. Don’t be afraid of it – Own it.
- Show up and take action – To get anywhere on your journey, you have to make time for it. Keep looking forward and book time in your calendar to make time for you to work on the goal to better ensure you can really meet your goals. For example, can you pre-book your classes to lock in that time and effort.
- Write it down – Make a detailed description of your goal and why you’re going after it to better visualize the end game.
- Track your success – this is key to being successful with goal setting. The smallest thing – like a gold star on a calendar for every time commitment you complete – can inspire you to stay committed. It feels good to get that prize. And, when you’re having a tough day, you have a list of success points to show that your efforts are working and how far you already have come.
- Celebrate often – When you reach a goal, make the time to celebrate it. Happy dance, social media post, special treat or shopping reward – whatever makes sense to you and keeps you moving forward. Challenge yourself to not use a food reward.
Need help setting realistic goals? Not sure where to start? We can help. Contact us to schedule your fitness or nutrition assessment and planning session today!
DISCLAIMER Please recognize the fact that it is your responsibility to work directly with your physician before, during, and after seeking fitness consultation. As such, any information provided is not to be followed without the prior approval of your physician. If you choose to use this information without the prior consent of your physician, you are agreeing to accept full responsibility for your decision.