How to set goals for maximum motivation - a step-by-step process to guarantee that you achieve your targets.
1. Define Your Goal
Define Your Goal – Decide What You Want
The first stage is simple.
Be crystal clear about what your goal is.
“I want to be fitter and healthier” is not a clear goal... This could mean anything!
There are many, many aspects to health & fitness that you can improve separately. So narrow it down to what you really want... Some areas of fitness will be relevant and important to you. Others not so much.
The specific target might change in the future. But for now be clear on what you currently want to achieve.
(And write it down. More on that later).
Define Your Goal – What Is Your Starting Point?
Once you have an idea of what you want to achieve, you must be honest with yourself about your starting point.
Imagine you’re in a car and you’re using a map to find your destination. You can’t plot your route until you've found out where on the map you are currently.
Progress in fitness is the same. How do you know if you are progressing toward a target outcome, if you don’t know where you started…
eg. “How much fat have you lost?”… You can’t answer that if you don’t know how much you were carrying in the first place.
This can be difficult. It’s far easier to ignore the reality of your current situation, and just start doing something… anything… and hope that you end up where you want to be. I promise you, this will not work! You will inevitably lose focus and/or motivation.
Confront the situation head-on… take the necessary measurements and write them down (again we’ll go in to depth on why you need to write things down later).
Just remember, however fearful you are of addressing your current position – whether it’s not wanting to know your weight, not wanting to have your body fat % calculated, or your waist measured – this first measurement is the worst part. The whole point of setting your goal and working towards it, is that things will now only get better.
So, get your measurement(s) done, and write it down.
Define Your Goal – What Is Your Finishing Point?
Again, be specific... You need to know where your current plan stops.
(Of course you will need to maintain your success, but that will require a separate strategy. Worry about that when you get there).
What are you actually aiming for?
“I want to lose weight” is not specific enough.
“I want to lose 2kg of fat” is a specific, measurable goal. When you reach that target – job done… Time to assess your current situation and set a new goal, with a new plan.
It’s not unusual for the finishing point to change during the process. Obviously you don’t want to change your targets every other day just to make yourself feel better when things aren't going well. But sometimes, the reality of your results may exceed, or fail to meet, what you thought would happen.
This is especially true for weight loss. A seemingly small change (eg. 1kg) can make a significant difference visually. What might have seemed like a small step, actually provides a pleasant surprise. The initial target may now seem excessive.
Having said that... try not to be too reactive and hasty. Progress is never linear. Just because you progress at a certain rate for a week or two, does not mean that you will continue to progress at that rate long-term.
There will be ups and downs throughout the journey. If you are thinking seriously about modifying your goal, try to wait until the end of a full month (minimum). This gives you time, firstly to accurately monitor the results you are achieving. And it also allows you to account for those inevitable ups and downs. For female clients especially, Week 1, 2, 3 and 4 within a monthly cycle will all look and feel very different. Only at the end of that month will you be in a position to observe the overall trend.
Define Your Goal – Break It Up
Let’s use fat loss as an example…
You start off by measuring your current body fat %... the initial measurement is 30%.
You set a realistic target of reducing body fat to a more healthy 25% within 6 months. A total reduction of 5%.
So, you have a goal that you are motivated to complete. But as it’s a long-term one, we can break it
down into monthly stages.
A monthly average of -0.9% body fat will see you reach your overall target with time left to spare.
The idea is simply to break up your overall goal into smaller chunks. This has several benefits…
- it’s more manageable. We find it very difficult to focus on a distant target. 12 months from now may seem like a long time. And it’s easy to then procrastinate. But failing to reach checkpoints in the early stages, will see you struggle as you get nearer to the end of your chosen time-frame.
- incremental targets force you to honestly assess your progress. Fail to reach your 3 month goal, and you know you need to change something in order to ensure you reach the more important 12 month goal.
- 'voluntary pressure'. By setting mini, monthly goals, rather than just a single 12 month goal, you apply the pressure of hitting regular deadlines. Remember, you set the goal. So this should be a positive type of pressure. If these mini-deadlines seem too stressful, re-assess your overall expectations.
Remember that your incremental improvements are unlikely to be linear. That’s simply not how fitness works. Progress is likely to slow down as you get closer and closer to your full potential. This is perfectly normal, and will happen, even when you are doing everything correctly.
Define Your Goal – Understand Your ‘Why’
The assumption that some people are more “motivated” than others is largely a myth. Everybody wants to achieve something. More often than not, achieving that goal will require significant effort.
Especially with more ambitious, longer-term goals, ongoing consistency is going to absolutely crucial.
But realistically, there will be days where you just don't "feel like it". That might be a case of wanting to skip a workout, or give in to food cravings.
Reminding yourself of your goal, and more importantly WHY that goal is important to you, should be enough to get you back on track...
Do you want to get up at 5am in the middle of winter to go for a run?
But that's the wrong question to ask...
Instead, ask yourself "Why am I doing this?"
Answer this question now, at the start of your programme (write it down). Refer back to this written statement whenever you need a pick-me-up. And then get on with whatever needs to be done to achieve that goal.
This is what "motivation" looks like.
2. Maximise Motivation - Make Sure You Have A SMART Goal
You should now have a very clear picture of what your goal is…
Simply going through the process outlined above, will probably have increased your motivation already. Imagining your goal, and the steps that are required to get there, help to energise and give you a sense of eagerness to take the next step. And revisiting the goal setting process itself, as well as the actual goal, will often be more than enough to get you back on track.
Now that you have clarified, and defined your goal, we need to make sure that it meets the SMART criteria…
This may seem a little cliché and academic. But this step is worth taking seriously. The SMART method of goal setting has been proven to increase motivation and the chance of success.
It will only take a few minutes, and again, because you'll be writing this down, you will have a simple reference to return to if/when you need inspiration later.
Tip: Treat the written process of your goal setting as a 'contract'. This is your promise to yourself. Leave it somewhere easily visible as a regular reminder... eg. on the fridge door (for when you're tempted to stray from your diet plan?).
As mentioned before, your goal must be clearly defined. Without being specific about what you want, it will be almost impossible to achieve anything.
If you want to lose fat – how much do you want to lose?
If you want to be stronger – which exercises/muscles are you looking to see improvements on and how much do you want to improve by?
Being specific will help maximise motivation – it will be easier to visualise your goal and what that will mean for you when you accomplish it. It will also help you assess your progress. You can only measure 20%, 50% etc of your progress when you know what 100% looks like.
Similar to the above...
Make sure your goals and your progress towards your goals can be measured.
How would you measure “I want to 'feel' fitter”?
And after a few weeks of aimless, random training, you’ll lose interest.
Deciding how you are going to measure your progress allows you to see tangible progress (or a lack of). But the measurements must be relevant... more on that below.
Even if things are not going well, monitoring your results at regular intervals is vital, as this is how you know when to make changes to your strategy.
Is your goal realistic?
You should absolutely be setting optimistic targets. Otherwise what is the point?
But it must be achievable, based on your real life circumstances.
Think carefully about what you can achieve in a set amount of time (see below for info on time-frames).
If you’re really not sure, and you are forced to guess, make the goal relatively easy, and keep it short term, rather than risk making it too difficult. Again, this is all about maintaining motivation. Realising that you're capable of MORE than you first thought, will bring a positive response... you’ll feel great! And due to this optimistic outlook, you can reassess and make your goal more challenging.
However, being too ambitious, and failing to match your expectation, will bring a negative emotional response. Very easy to lose motivation in this scenario.
It’s worth noting at this point, the importance of patience and consistency. Most clients who feel that they're in poor shape/health, will eventually realise that they got themselves into that position via long-term habits. (Sometimes even a lifetime of bad habits).
Reversing this is not an easy journey. And the ultimate result that you may be looking for, could be some time away. (Again, see the time-frame section below... especially if that last bit sounds a bit demoralising). Accept this early on. There's no point assuming that you will flick a switch one day and fix all of your negative behaviours. This is unrealistic. And if you disagree, you are going to get frustrated when you do realise just how diffcult that is.
Instead, understand the value of long-term consistency. Forget any notion of a quick fix via extremely intense programming. Take the manageable approach, and apply it permanently.
This should be relatively straightforward… make sure that your goal is relevant to you.
Far too often, we are influenced by people around us. Media, social media, friends, family etc can easily push you into believing that you want to change something. That may be a body image issue, or a comparison to somebody else's fitness level.
(If you are genuinely motivated by the recognition of other people, that’s not necessarily the end of the world. It may well push you to work hard on achieving an objective. But there all kinds of downsides to the pursuit of external validation. And frankly, it probably isn’t going to sustain you through a challenging programme in most cases).
Far more powerful, are your own, internal motivations. These are the things that really mean something to you…
Watch somebody's health and fitness routine change 1, 2, or 3 months before their wedding…
All of a sudden, they have a very important day looming…
the most important day of their life...
they know that hundreds and hundreds of photos are going to be taken...
all eyes on them…
the dress needs to fit perfectly… etc.
So they start exercising...
frequent, intense workouts with a PT.
a 'perfect, clean diet'… no sugar, low carb etc.
...Motivation is automatically at an all-time high... Simply due to the relevance and importance of the goal to the person.
They are not doing it for anybody else. They are doing it because it’s so vitally important to themselves. This is then reflected in their effort. And ultimately the result.
We mentioned 'voluntary pressure' earlier...
Apply a deadline to your goal. Without a clear time-frame, your goal is meaningless. It becomes inevitable that you are going to procrastinate.
Put the (voluntary) pressure on... set a (realistic) deadline, and break this time up into chunks so that you can easily monitor your progress.
3. Measure At Regular Intervals
Measurements and progress checks need to be taken at regular, pre-determined intervals. Ideally a minimum of 2 weeks apart to allow for natural fluctuations. Don't deviate from this schedule. If you've had a "bad day" before a weigh-in... too bad! Get the measurement and record it. The result will reflect your behaviour during the whole period since your last measurement and now you know what (if anything) needs to be changed.
Just remember, one unexpected result does not require a wholesale change to your strategy. Be patient, wait until the next measurement. If you see an ongoing trend that you don't like, make some adjustments. But don't fall in to the trap of ripping up your whole plan... this was never about quick-fixes.
One way of making sure you remain motivated, is to promise yourself rewards for achieving success.
For many people, the internal emotions that come with achieving their targets is reward enough. (This is actually a good predictor of ongoing success).
But it sometimes helps to promise yourself an external reward too. This could be anything, but should reflect the size of the achievement. For example, if your goal was to lose 0.5% body fat in 4 weeks, while success is still commendable, this wouldn’t justify the same reward as a reduction of 5% in 12 weeks.
Again, the reward should be decided at the very start of the process and written down in your goal setting 'contract'. If you don’t follow the plan through to the end – you don’t get the reward!
(Sharing your goal and planned reward with somebody can help. Being accountable to other people is a good idea. Breaking your own promises to yourself and still rewarding yourself is shameful enough. Displaying that behaviour to other people is a different scenario all together).
It's Time to Write Up Your Goal-Setting Contract
So there is the perfect goal setting plan. Think carefully about each stage. This is worth taking your time with as it will form the foundation of any programme that follows.
Fail to complete the goal setting process correctly and you will be at risk of losing motivation and direction, resulting in failure and frustration... sound familiar?
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