Many people, in fact I might even say most, who begin an exercise routine have a hard time sticking to it. According to the American Council on Exercise, over half of people who begin a fitness program quit within the first six months, for a variety of reasons. In my personal experience working with clients, I most often see people become discouraged with a perceived lack of results and subsequently, exercise becomes a lower priority.
Fortunately, there is one simple step that can remedy this problem: Setting Proper Goals. Several studies have been conducted to test the efficacy of this seemingly simple mental preparation and come up with overwhelmingly positive results. A review of these studies, conducted in 2004, concluded that goal setting was a promising way to promote healthy lifestyle change.
The reason for this is simple and can be illustrated this way: Imagine that you were given a gun, assigned a sort of vague target and fired in the general area without aiming. You would get some effect, maybe not the desired one, but you would waste a lot of time and resources on guesswork. That’s essentially what happens when someone start exercising without a goal – you’ll accomplish something but it may not be exactly what you wanted and you’ll spend a lot of time fiddling with trial and error.
Setting an appropriate goal gives you something to work for, and a sense of empowerment when you reach it which can give you the confidence to gradually set more and more challenging goals.
But notice that I specified that it should be a proper, or appropriate, goal. To explain what that means, the American Council on Exercise uses the acronym S.M.A.R.T.
What’s A SMART Goal?
Specific – Define exactly what you want to accomplish by exercising. The goal should have no room for individual interpretation so, if a complete stranger were to read your goal he would knew, without any doubt, what you meant. This means that you shouldn’t use vague statements like “I want to be more fit,” but should same something like “I want to run a 10-minute mile.”
Measurable – In order to really be able to track your progress, your goal should be easily measurable. Keep a log of your improvements over time, whether it be weight, measurements, speed or mile time. While these objective measurements tend to be easier to track, you can also use relative things like how your pants fit you or how you feel.
Attainable – These aspect of goal setting takes some real thinking and balance. Your goal needs to be challenging enough to make you push yourself but also realistic so that you don’t get discouraged. This will depend heavily on your time-frame and beginning fitness level. For example, if you’ve only just started running you shouldn’t expect to run the New York marathon in a month.
Relevant – Your goal should perfectly fit your fitness level, interests and sport of choice. Remember that, while cross-training has its place, don’t get distracted and do anything that can be counterproductive.
Time bound – Having a definite deadline will help you stay focused and make good use of your time.Without a specified completion date, you’re likely to procrastinate and lose focus.
Remember as well that smaller goals can be used to lead you up to bigger, more challenging accomplishments. Maybe you would like to be able to run a marathon but have only been running consistently for a month. Setting small goals of running a 5k, 10k and half-marathon using these same SMART guidelines will help you to progress gradually towards your ultimate goal.
Have you been able to use goals to change your lifestyle? Please share your experience with us in the comments!