This post is a little broader than just fitness, as it can – and should be – applied to many areas of your life. I’ve touched on the importance of keeping your goals fixed in your mind numerous times on the blog, and today we’re going to talk about why. Additionally, we’ll look at some tools to help you plan your goals, and ways that you can measure your success.
Why Is Goal Setting Important?
It may go without saying, but your goals are your roadmap to attaining the things you want in life. In the case of this blog, you may want to lose some weight, strengthen a muscle – or your whole body, or maybe run a marathon. These are all wonderful things, to desire, but it’s easy to dream big and perform small. Turning these desires into actual goals is something else entirely.
Turning a desire into a goal is akin to giving yourself a plan or roadmap to achieving the goal. Many people mistake a desire for a goal, but there’s a difference. A goal is a concrete plan that has benchmarks for you to measure your progress, a desire is more aloof. Think of it this way, a desire is wanting to take a road trip to the west coast of the U.S. A goal is having a concrete plan to take you to Los Angeles from New York City. Taken a step further, goal setting will include the roads that you’ll take to get there, how long it will take, where you plan to stop for the night, what kind of car you’ll drive, how you’ll pay for the trip, and maybe even what you plan to do once you’re there. Goal setting ensures that you make if to L.A. and you don’t end up in Seattle, or out of gas somewhere on a roadside in Nebraska!
The difference between a desire and goal setting kinda explains why goal setting is so important. But secondarily, and probably the drum I’ve beaten the loudest on the blog is that having goals allows you to re-center yourself when the tasks of achieving your goals begins to be less enjoyable. Simply put, wanting a stronger body is an easy desire, goal setting to achieve that strength isn’t all that difficult, but putting in the work? That’s the hard part. That’s the part where most people fall of the wagon. Having goals and a plan to get you there helps you to remember why you’re doing the work and enduring the discomfort. Having solid goals with a foundational setting can be the difference between success and failure.
Goal Setting 101
OK, enough of the pep talk, let’s get down to the details! How do you go about creating goals for yourself with a clear path to success that you’re likely to stick to when it gets tough? In my opinion, there are several steps involved in the process and the planning can be fun and exciting! Get a sheet of paper for this, we’re going old school here! In fact, I’ll get you started, print out a copy of the BBF goal setting tool here.
1Set your goals clearly. This first step is what most people think of when they decide to undertake something new, so this is the time to dream big. What is your DESIRE? I don’t care what part of your life you’re planning at this point – Want to get stronger? OK, great! Want to learn to play piano? Cool, we can work with that too. Determine your goal, and be as clear as possible. Don’t say “I want to lose weight” say “I want to lose 50 pounds”.
Write this goal down at the top of the page. This is important, It’s what you’ll refer to during the rest of this process.
2Next, make 2 columns under this goal, in the left column, write down WHY you want to achieve this goal. Is it to be healthier? Is it to prepare for an event? For your kids? For yourself? put down all the positives you can think of here.
In column 2, write down the negatives. What will be difficult about this goal? Maybe you’ve tried before and it hasn’t worked out – write down why. What challenges do you think will be particularly difficult about this goal? What changes will you have to make in your life to attain your goal? Maybe you want to run a marathon, but you hate to run – write that down.
Now, review both lists, and be honest with yourself. Is this goal something you really want? Are the negatives just too much? Are the positives just not strong enough? Are you willing to make the necessary changes the goal requires? If the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, maybe consider a different juice. This mental exercise is very important to your long term success.
If you’re sure you want to undertake this goal, GREAT! you’re on the right course, the why’s and this mental conversation is what you’re going to rely on when it gets hard to stay on task (and it likely will get hard at some point!)
Was the answer no to the goal? If so, that’s fine too, but do something – take this “goal sheet” and put it on your fridge with a magnet. Leave it there for a week, and every time you head to the fridge, take a look at it and re-ask yourself the “is it worth it?” question. If the goal was worth it for you to take it to this point, then it’s worth making sure you really want to abandon it prior to doing so. You owe it to yourself.
3Underneath these 2 columns (you may be on another sheet of paper depending on how detail oriented or uncertain about the goal you are!) begin listing the steps to get you there. While listing the steps, make sure to write them as mini-goals that will take you to your desired outcome. For example, list your weight loss in 5 pound increments, or your goal to run a marathon in 1, 5, 10 and 20 mile increments.
These are your mini goals and they’re important to making sure you stick with it and will ensure that you don’t give up on your way to your goal. Treat these milestones as important steps! Write down how you will celebrate each one – maybe you’ll get a massage when each is completed, or go see a movie with a friend. Whatever you enjoy (as long as it doesn’t conflict with your bigger goal!). These progress points will help keep you motivated when things get tough because they’re a lot easier to attain. For example, losing 50 pounds is a lot of work, but losing 10 is a lot more achievable. If you’re counting the pounds lost because you know in just 2 more pounds, you get a massage for hitting a mini-goal, well, it’s a lot more exciting and you’re likely to stay on track. Video games and social media use this trick to keep users engaged all the time. You rarely head in to a really tough battle in a game before a few milestones along the way, and social media uses the like button to keep you coming back and clicking it in the hopes that someone else has returned the favor on one of your posts. If they can use these psychological tricks to keep you engaged, then so can you!
4Set a time frame. You need to hold yourself to some sort of timeline to achieve your goal. If you don’t, then you’ll let things take forever – or set yourself up for failure by expecting too much, too fast – be realistic with your time frame. No-one’s ever added 50 pounds to their lifts in a week (unless they were sandbagging it to begin with!) so be realistic. Do some research on your goal, it’s likely other people have undertaken and completed this goal – how long did it take them? Give yourself the same amount of time – and maybe some grace time as well – you’ve never done this after all.
5Don’t beat yourself up if you falter or backslide! These setbacks are completely natural. Rather than punish yourself for failing, recognize that they’re just a part of the process. Swear a little bit, be upset, sure, but then forgive yourself and re-commit to your goal, recognizing how far you may have already come! Remind yourself WHY you’re undertaking this goal, and recommit to success.
How Can I Quantify My Success?
So how do you quantify how you’re doing in achieving your goal – the most obvious is – have you achieved your goal? good! ring the bell, you’re done. However, what most people think of when this question is posed is measuring their progress on achieving their goal. The good news is, there are a few ways you can track your progress:
The first is something we’ve already covered – set realistic mini goals for yourself. The more of these you’re able to tick off of your list, the closer you are to achieving your goal.
The next example would be via daily tracking. This is one reason I mentioned in the definitive guide to weight loss that I’m a fan of the scale. devices like scales allow us to track daily our progress. So if your goal involves something measurable – like weight loss, or adding weight to a lift in the gym – or running further, track these progress points each day – or each time you work out. Over time, you should see a steady progression towards your goal. Get creative here, what are some ways you can think of to track your progress daily toward your goal?
Other Helpful Tips
- Shout it from the rooftops! Once you’ve decided to commit to a goal, tell your friends and family what you’re undertaking. This accountability will add positive pressure to you and help make it easier to accomplish your goal.
- Don’t be afraid to re-assess your goals. If your goal seems to difficult to achieve after you’ve begun, don’t be afraid to re-asses it. Look at your action steps, maybe you’ve set unrealistic mini-goals for yourself? Maybe you’ve set an unrealistic time frame? If all else fails, maybe this goal just isn’t right for you. Maybe it just isn’t right for you at this point in time. You can always try again later, but at the same time, don’t give up just because things are a little tough. Be honest with yourself and live up to your commitments if they’re really something that you can do.
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