How many times have you rolled over after a big night at the bar, or a big night at Denny’s, or after pulling your head out of a bag of buttered up movie popcorn and said to yourself, “That’s it! That’s enough! I’m mad as hell and I cannot take it anymore!”
In a post-binge flurry of rage you write out a list of fitness goals for yourself:
I’m gonna workout every day. I am going to be bench pressing 300+ pounds by the end of summer. I’m going to live on a diet of quinoa, protein shakes and fish oil.
With good intentions in tow, you march off to the gym stock up on healthy food, and for the next two weeks you absolutely kill it at the gym. You stick to your exceptionally challenging diet plan for a while. You feel pretty darn good about yourself, and the first few returns are dazzling.
You miss a session. You miss a meal. And soon enough, that one missed workout or planned meal turns into a couple, which turns into a few, and then not long after, you wake up after a night of drinking, with Denny’s barbecue sauce on your shirt and a crumpled, butter-soaked bag of half-eaten popcorn next to your pillow.
Fitness Goals Are Not Created Equal
Goal setting is a skill, and one that we aren’t really taught that well. (Sure, we learn about SMART goals in high school career planning classes, but that is just barely scratching the surface.)
Here are six powerful tips for how to set fitness goals that don’t stink:
1. Be Realistic About Time Frames and Deadlines.
Have you ever seen a home reno be completed exactly on time, and on budget? Or how about the friends that say they will be there in ten minutes, only to have them arrive a solid 35 minutes later (guilty as charged)?
It’s not necessarily that the contractors suck, or that your friends hate you, it’s that they underestimated completion time. And due to its commonality I’m afraid this is just a part of human nature.
It is discouraging to see things take longer than you imagine they should, but this is reality; things will come up, and life will simply happen.
Easier said than done, right?
This is has been a bitter pill that I have had to learn to swallow over the years; that I am, quite frankly, not that great at estimating how long it will take for me to achieve a goal. The answer to this for myself has been to literally double the amount of time I allow myself.
Now, I know what you might be thinking; but you’re just giving yourself an easy way out. By loosening your deadline you’re giving yourself a great reason to procrastinate.
Au contraire, mon frere.
Being more realistic about deadlines means that I don’t beat myself up and getting discouraged to the point of quitting when I don’t hit my targets.
2. This Is Your Goal… Right?
Examine your motivations for achieving your fitness goals. Is it wellness? Is it to inspire others? Is it complete vanity?
List them all out on a piece of paper – the difference between thinking about them and putting them to paper is immeasurable, and will help you separate the motivations that are intrinsic (good!) or extrinsic (not the best).
In other words, are you committing to these fitness goals because they mean something to you, or do they mean something to someone else?
3. You’ve Got the Goal… But where do you start?
Setting goals is the fun part. Chasing them down is the messy, difficult part. Make it a little easier on yourself – and not so overwhelming from the get-go – by breaking it down into smaller, manageable chunks.
Having measurable goal posts along the way gives you the opportunity to celebrate mini-victories along the way, further stoking the fire and keeping your motivation levels simmering.
The most important part here is having something you can do today. Not tomorrow, not next week, and for heavens sake – not when you “feel like it.”
Today, right now, right this moment. (Well, after you finish reading the rest of this article obviously.)
3. Survey, Review, Assess
Give yourself a little state-of-the-union every so often to get an idea of where you are at. Doing so will give you an idea of how realistic your goal was, whether you are on track, and whether or not you need to change your deadline up.
Also, and perhaps most importantly, periodically stopping what you are doing to assess yourself and your results is that you are given a great opportunity to see what is working, and what is not.
Midnight pancake runs? Yup, probably not helping.
Getting a full eight hours of sleep every night? Yup, seems to be a positive.
Things like this aren’t always readily apparent until you step back and get a bird’s eye view of your progress.
4. Turn Setbacks on Their Head
Achieving something without having to go through a period of trial-and-error sounds lovely, doesn’t it? No hurt feelings, no damaged pride – just a long, smooth glide towards our goal. But we both know that this is not how it goes down.
You’re gonna stumble. You’re gonna fall. You’re gonna fail – perhaps miserably. In the ocourse of these setbacks you will feel a little demoralized, a little discouraged, and that negative Nelly inside your brain will go into overdrive with the awfulness that is negative self-talk—
See, told you that you couldn’t do it.
I knew it was too difficult.
You’ll never be able to achieve it in time.
It’s bad enough that things don’t go our way, but to pile onto ourselves doggy-pile style is a massive disservice.
Here is a little something-something I want you to have, and it has served me well in the years in the moments where things haven’t been the greatest; from break-ups, to job strife, to family drama, and it goes like this:
“How can I make this the best thing to ever happen to me?”
Reframing the negative thing/stuff in your life, and putting it into a position where it is a catalyst for positive and upward change is an awesome way to take control back.
Take it for a spin, and after you have signed up for my weekly newsletter (yes, it be free), let me know how you have used it in your own life.
5. Quantify Your Goal
One of the problems of the boozing-Dennys-movie popcorn example I provided above is that these types of scenarios elicit a very strong emotional response. After all, you are fed up with your diet and lifestyle, and you are ready to make some drastic changes.
Often the result are goals and statements that are big, sweeping, and open-ended. You find yourself saying things like: I want to get into the best shape of my life. I am going to be the strongest guy at the gym. I’m never drunk-dialing my ex-girlfriend at 4am ever again.
Although the intention behind those statements is good, having open-ended goals like that are an almost guaranteed sign of future disappointment and relapse.
Let me explain what I mean, with two examples of goals, one of them good, and one of them stinky:
Goal 1: I want to get jacked. Goal 2: I want to be at 8% body fat by December 8
The first goal blows. Not only cause it makes you sound like a bit of a dummy, but because it is vague and impossible to measure. What does “getting jacked” mean exactly? How will you know when you have attained the point of “being jacked”? That term means something different to everybody, so when you tell people this goal they look at you, shrug and say, “good luck with that.”
The second goal, on the other hand, is the clear winner in this goal-off. It gives you a clear, tangible target, with an equally clear deadline.
Simple as that.
6. Focus on the Couple of Things That Will Make the Most Difference
People crave complicated. Not sure precisely why – I imagine that if something is complicated we think that it must be good. Not the case. Keep your goals simple, the process simple, and it removes a lot of the clutter and nonsense that keeps us from focusing on the couple of things that really matter.
There are really only a couple things that will make a massive difference to your results. What are they? Hone in on those couple of things (a.k.a. keystone habits), and be ruthless with them, and you will find that the rest will fall into place.
Goal setting is a process and a skill, and something that we get better with the more we do. Think of it as a muscle – if you’ve never really worked with goals before, odds are you are going to be a little shaky with them the first time around. You’ll set goals that are too realistic, too unrealistic, have crazy deadlines, or simply are goals that someone else wants you to achieve.
Have fun with the process, cause once you learn how you – yes, you – set and work towards goals in the best manner which is relevant to you and peculiarities, than you can extend those new-found goal wrecking skills to achieve stuff well outside of just your fitness goals.
See you at the gym,
photo credit: Flickr