We all have goals when we are improving our health and wellness, but oftentimes these goals can be overwhelming, leading us to postpone starting a healthier journey, or giving up prematurely. Goal setting is about more than what we want and who we want to be. Goal setting is about setting steps along the way to inspire and motivate you to keep working, even when things become challenging. As a NASM certified personal trainer, one of the best things I learned was about setting SMART goals. Smart goals are goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Setting SMART goals leads to better adherence and long-term progress.
One of the biggest reasons we may fail at reaching our goal is that we set a vague idea for what we want and how to get there. Well vague ideas rarely lead to success, so the idea is to be as specific as possible. Know exactly what your long-term goal is, know what you will do daily or weekly to reach that goal. A good example is someone who wants to become better at running. A vague goal would be: “I want to run faster.” Not exactly a clear picture of where you are heading. A specific goal would be: “I want to go from a 12 minute mile to a 9 minute mile in the next 3 months by running 4 days a week for 30 minutes and improving my mile by 1 minute each month or cutting off 15 seconds of my mile a week.”
With a specific goal there’s no guesswork on if you are making progress and no struggle to know how to reach a long term goal that may seem overwhelming. Thinking about cutting off 3 minutes on your mile feels very difficult, but eliminating 15 seconds off your mile a week is a manageable goal to keep in mind.
Having a way to measure your goal is also key. With the running example, you would simply be timing your mile to look for improvement. With other goals like weight loss, stepping on the scale, progress photos or doing measurements may be best. The reason it’s important to have a way to measure your goals is so you can decide if the specific goal you set is still attainable for you, and if it is not, a change must be made and a new specific goal set.
After you’ve measured the progress of your goals against the specific task set, you have to know if it is attainable. Setting a goal of cutting 3 minutes off your mile in a week is not attainable. This is a common issue people have with tasks like weight loss, as well. People will often set very hefty weight loss goals that are just not possible. Unfortunately, trying to lose 50 pounds in 3 months just isn’t an attainable goal. This is when it’s important to understand how the body works and know what is possible to set yourself up for success.
We often set unattainable goals, and when those goals can’t be reached we give up on them and often feel bad about ourselves. It’s not actually our fault, though. Some goals simply are just not possible and we can’t beat ourselves up for an unrealistic goal!
When you set goals, you have to know your lifestyle and if you have the time to put into the specific goal you’ve set. If you’ve set a goal of running 4 days a week for 30 minutes, but you are getting ready to have a huge job at work, traveling, or something else that will be pulling a lot of your time, do you actually think you’ll have a spare 30 minutes 4 times a week? Only you know for sure and you must be clear and realistic in what time and energy you know you’ll have, and set your goal based on that.
Similar to attainability, timeliness is important. Is 3 months enough time to cut your mile by 3 minutes? In this case it is! Again time is an important factor in setting weightloss goals and understanding how fast the human body can actually lose weight. Typically 0.5-2 lbs a week is what we expect.
Time is also an important factor to consider for long-term success. Fast weight loss from things like detoxes rarely lead to long-term success. The weight will typically spike back up quickly. So it’s important to remember not only how fast the body is capable of losing weight, but how quickly the body can lose weight that will lead to you keeping it off. Same with the running example. You could run for hours a day and try to cut your time down drastically in a week, but more than likely you'll cause an injury that will force you to stop training completely, and you’ll have to start over.
Quick Tips for Keeping Goals
1) Exercise Journal
An exercise journal is a fantastic way to track your overall progress. In this journal you’ll be tracking the exercises you’ll be doing, timing and weight involved. It can also be good at setting up tasks you’ll enjoy. We all have specific exercises or activities we dislike, these are things you’d make a note of. Then you can continue doing the activities you enjoy. Finding things you enjoy over exercises you have to force yourself to do, will inspire you to keep working.
This journal is also helpful at tracking how quickly you are improving. Keep in mind every body works differently and you may find it takes longer to increase strength or speed, so you’ll want to adjust your goal accordingly. Also, you’ll notice a pattern of how much you are challenging yourself and if you should be trying to push harder.
2) Accountability Partner
Accountability partners can be a game changer for those who are new to exercise or have some big long-term goals. Or for anyone who doesn't want to work solo. This could be a family member, friend, coworker, etc. You could both decide you want to cut those 3 minutes off your mile and train together 4 days a week. If we know someone is waiting for us, we don’t want to let them down and this can push us to make sure we keep our scheduled workouts. You both can also discuss your struggles and successes. It can also be a mini-competition between you two, and sometimes that can be very motivating!
3) Progress Photos
For those with aesthetic goals like weight loss or toning, progress photos are a good way to monitor progress. While a lot of people will use the scale, the scale isn’t necessarily the best way to track progress. Your weight can fluctuate throughout the day and is also heavily impacted by hormones. You may find one day that your weight shot up. This could simply be because you are close to your period, or you had a lot of sodium the day before.
Also, if you’re building muscle, you may not see that linear progress as you are gaining muscle mass which could increase the number on the scale. Progress photos will show you exactly how your body is changing without the pressure of the number.
4) Progress Journal
On top of an exercise journal, you could also keep a journal that goes more into the emotional side of training. In your progress journal you can put down exact exercises if you want, but my recommendation is to also track how you feel. This includes daily check-ins on your mental and physical health. Oftentimes people will have increased self-esteem and overall improvement of their mood. It’s helpful to track how your mindset is improving the more you work towards your goal. You may also notice pains and ailments improving as well, or them worsening and know it's time for rest. Sometimes we forget to do frequent check ins and note the immediate improvements in our life, even if they don’t necessarily impact reaching our long-term goal, they will inspire you to keep working!
5) Celebrate Your Success
With your progress journal and noticing your growth, it makes it easier to find times to celebrate yourself. These frequent victories will lessen the likelihood of you giving up on your goal. This is why small goals are so important. If from day-to-day all we are paying attention to is if that long-term goal is met, that leads to months of what feels like losses. You actually aren’t losing, though, you’re just putting too much pressure on yourself.
All-in-all, goal setting is about setting yourself up for success and avoiding the negative feelings that come with hyperfocusing on big changes. You must practice patience and always be applauding your progress. Don’t forget that just because you may not have succeeded last time, that doesn’t mean that if you set yourself on the right path, that you won’t succeed now.
Always remember you can reach out to me with any questions!
Until next time… and remember success is for all!