Bit of a delay between articles, but here it is. Today we will be discussing goals. How to choose them, define them, and stick to them. Goals are like destinations on a vacation. They help keep you focused and on the right path. They keep you looking forward to arriving at a specific destination. And you can always look back on them once you’re on to the next one. Without goals, it is easy to continue aimlessly and lose sight of what we have actually accomplished.
Regardless of who you are, and where you are on the wonderful spectrum of health and fitness; there are goals that you can set for yourself. You may be after after weight loss or muscle gain, running a 2.5 hour marathon or going around the block for a walk, quitting smoking or adding two servings of vegetables every day. No matter what you’re setting out to accomplish, there are a few considerations that will help give your goals meaning and increase your success. The time tested SMART principle:
Jack and Jill set a goal for themselves; in three months they both want to be healthier and more fit. Jill cleans up her diet and goes to the gym five days a week. Jack buys $300 worth of Lulu Lemon clothing and wears them every Sunday for their traditional 2 km. walk. After three months, they revisit their goal sheet. Jill feels better than she did, but the scale is telling her she weighs two more pounds than when she started! Jack takes a look at his shrink wrapped body in the Lulu’s, and gives himself the old gun and wink. He thinks he reached his goal, she does not.
Had they been more specific with their goals, they probably would have come to different conclusions.
Jill could have set and succeeded in any of the following goals:
– I want to feel less tired throughout the day
– I want to go to the gym for at least 4 hours every week
– I want my waist circumference to go down 3 cm’s
– I will only eat junk foods on the weekends
Jack, on the other hand, may not have been as optimistic about reaching his goals had he been more specific. He didn’t make any lifestyle chages to activity or diet. He maintained his 2 km walk every Sunday, but it was the magic of spandex that gave him the illusion of being healthier.
When setting your goals, try to get as specific as possible. This may lead to more items on your goal setting sheet, which is never a bad thing.
One trick to keeping your goals specific, is making sure they are measurable. You should be able to measure/record your baseline when you set your goals, then re-measure periodically until you’ve reached your goal. The advantage to measurable goals, is there is much less room for interpretation/subjective clouding. It is important that the same standards are used from one measurement to the next. I was in a local gym a couple weeks ago where a trainer was measuring the circumference of a client’s thigh (he was trying to increase his muscle mass). The trainer randomly chose a spot on the client’s leg, no landmarking whatsoever. Obviously surprised by the measurement, the trainer told his client his leg must be swollen because of how big his thigh was. I suppose this could have been the case… or the trainer measured a couple inches higher on the client’s thigh, which would drastically change the circumference of the leg.
If you are taking circumferences of your hips/waist/limbs/etc.; use a bony protusion as a landmark. Our bones don’t move, so you’ll have a more accurate measurement the next time through.
If your goal is centered around diet; be sure to be specific and measurable here as well. “I will clean up my eating” is neither. Try putting a specific quantity to the foods you will be restricting or adding to your diet. You can also set goals based on times of day, or days of week.
Your goals should be appropriate. I like to clarify this as being safe for your mind and body, and for the right reasons. Many goals based on weight loss are appropriate, unless the intention is to lose the weight in an unhealthy manner (dangerous supplementation, starving the body, reaching an unhealthy body fat %). There are also inappropriate ways to gain muscle, such as steroids. I also mentioned setting goals for the right reasons. You should be motivated by staying healthy, and feeling good about yourself. Ask youreslf why you want to accomplish your goals, and you should feel in control of whether or not you pursue, abandon, or modify the goals.
This is definitely the principle that most people struggle with. I’m sure you or someone you know has looked frantically for a 5-day/week bootcamp because they have a weeding coming up next month. As a trainer, I love these clients, because they are highly motivated. However, I do have an obligation to explain to them that our body has limitations, and timelines for adaptations. So losing 15 pounds in one month may not be a realistic goal. Is it possible? Sure it is. Can it be done safely? With enough effort and managing every aspect of your life, yes. Would I recommend this to anybody? I’d rather see you make manageable changes over a longer period of time, and turn that temporary 15 pounds in one month, to a sustainable 40 pounds in a year. But I digress.
If our goals are not realistic, they will not accomplished, which esily demotivates and discourages us to start anew. Ideally, our goals should be based on a lifelong commitment to ourselves to live within a healthier body. If this is the approach we take, there is no need to rush our goals and set unrealistic timeframes. I highly encourage my clients to make short term goals that address lifestyle changes (specific diet and physical activity changes) and long term goals that address body composition measurements (weight, waist circumference, etc). First, lifestyle changes are generally needed before seeing body composition changes. Second, we have conscious control over lifestyle habits, whereas we don’t always know how long it will take our bodies to put on muscle or lose fat.
Most people don’t know what is a realistic amount of fat to lose in a month, so they guess, or avoid making the goal altogether. Guessing can lead to unrealistic goals, but avoiding it doesn’t keep us accountable to reach the goal. I could tell you that 1-2 lbs. of fat per week is a safe rate for fat loss (which is what research tells us). But keep in mind that diet, stress, and physical activity must all be managed on an ongoing basis for this to become realistic. Many of us have schedules, commitments, and lifestyles that do not cater to this rate of fat loss. If you make weight loss a long term goal, and start with short term lifestyle changes, would you not be happy with accomplishing your goal of 40, or even 30 pounds in one year? In that one year, you would adopted healthy habits, lost approximately 15-20% of your body weight (I’m averaging here), and done so safely. 30 pounds in one year is only 0.57 lbs/week. That’s much lower than the 1-2 lbs/week research recommended. But you would have made it realistic and sustainable.
All goals should have timelines associated with them. Short term goals can be anywhere from 1 week to 6 months, or 1 year. Timelines help to remind us that we can’t keep putting our goals off until we get back from the family vacation. Keeping track of your progress along the way is also very helpful. You may realize in February that you’re not going to realistically attain your April goal. Nothing wrong with adjusting timelines when we see we’ve over or underestimated the time needed to accomplish a goal.
Not many of us use goal setting as a tool to help us get where we want to be. It takes very little of our time, but can help keep us organized and headed in the right direction. You would never plan a European vacation without a map and schedule of destinations. So why not take ten minutes to frame out the map that will help you become more fit?