On your marks, get set, GOALS!

This week, we would like to talk about goal setting.  Goal setting is an important part of just about everything you do: finances, family, career, etc.  This post will focus more on fitness goals but you can apply this to anything in life.

What is really important to understand is that saying, “This is my goal” but then not have any plan set to achieve that goal is not helpful.  I read a quote quite some time ago that I thought put this into such great perspective:

A goal without a plan is just a wish

I am not sure if there is an original author of that but it has stuck with me.  I use it to help patients, clients, my family…anyone who is trying to figure out how to reach their goals.

Let’s start with motivation.  People can set all the goals they want, but without knowing what it is that is driving them to achieve these goals it is destined to fail.  If you have a goal, let’s say run a marathon.  The first question you want to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to do this?”  When I started swimming as my primary fitness exercise, my motivation was my health.  My dad had passed away from congestive heart failure a few years prior.  With a simple look in the mirror, I knew I was heading in the same direction.  Lucrecia loves dancing and needed to find a way to keep dancing after an injury.  So, she and her husband choreographed some Latin-style dance routines to several songs and she uses that to keep herself and our patients moving while having fun!  It is one of the classes that the patients here just love!

So, why do you want to do the marathon?  It can be something like, “I love running but I need to have something to strive for.”  Or it could be that you really like a girl/guy who runs a lot and you want to have an activity you can do together.  The first example is considered an intrinsic motivator while the second is extrinsic.  Maybe both are striving for that medal at the end of the marathon that says, “I did it!”  That, too, is an extrinsic motivator.  The point is, ask yourself why you want it then use this motivation to push through the hard days.

Now, let’s talk about your goals.  We can build on the marathon goal.  To say you want to run a marathon is a great start., but not enough.  Your goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Challenging
  • Realistic
  • Quantifiable

Two things to tack on are: KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) and Set Dates!  Do not have goal that gets too elaborate.  Specific yes, elaborate no.  Marathon = Simple…in the strict sense of it being the goal.  It is definitely not a simple task!  This marathon is now your long-term goal.  And this is where you start with your actual goal setting.  You know you want to run the marathon and what is motivating you to do it.  Now, how do you reach that goal?  How do you keep yourself from burning out or saying, “This is stupid,” ”I will never get there,” “This is too hard,” etc.?

Let’s look at each of the four goal setting rules above.

Specific

I have already touched on this but I will explain further.  To say, “I want to run for fitness” is a good goal but not a specific goal.  To say, “I want to lose weight” is a good goal but not a specific goal.

To be specific on the running, we have set a marathon goal.  You need to be able run 26.2 miles consecutively to complete a marathon.  That’s pretty specific.  But what about losing weight?  When I have clients who want to lose weight, I ask them to stop stepping on the scale and start watching what happens to their clothes or how well they are sleeping or how much energy they have during the day.  However, if weight loss is your goal, how much weight do you want to lose?  What is your ideal weight?  Exact number.  That is how you set a specific, long-term goal.

Challenging

The goal you set should not be something you can already do.  The goal should be something you have to work for.  This will help you feel accomplished and want to set new goals once you reach this one!

Take the marathon example.  What if you can already run a marathon?  Does this mean this goal is not good?  No, it does not.  How about you set a goal of completing the marathon in a certain time?  Or run a very specific marathon that requires an invite or proven times?

For the weight loss example, do not set a goal of losing 5 lbs. in 6 months.  That would not be challenging you.  2-3 pounds per week is ideal and the safest.  Thinking in these terms, set your goal.

Realistic

Going to the other end of challenging, do not set goals that will be too difficult to reach.  If you have never run more than a 5K and you set a goal to run a marathon within 1-2 months, that’s very unrealistic and this can cause you to feel as if you have failed.  To set a goal to lose 50 pounds in 1-2 months is, again, unrealistic.

Quantifiable

This means you want to be able to measure your progress.  The marathon has a specific distance you will need to cover, so you can measure how close you are getting with your training runs.  You can use times to find out how well you are doing in terms of minutes per mile.

For weight loss, having a specific number in mind will allow you to track how close you are getting.  Or, you can set a goal to reach a specific dress or pant size.  Or even a specific number of inches off your waistline.

There are many ways to make this measurable.  Set your long-term goal in such a way that you are able to measure your progress.

Feeding off of those rules are “KISS” and “Set Dates.”  Don’t think too much about your goal.  When I started swimming for fitness, I needed something to strive for.  Striving for fitness is great but it is not really measurable and not all that simple.  I decided to swim the Alcatraz Invitational.  This is a 1.25 mile swim from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park in San Francisco.  It was a very specific goal that was not hard to identify what I needed to do to complete the swim.  Even better, it had a specific date set.  I did not have the opportunity to say, “If I don’t reach the goal by this date, I’ll just do it later.”  No, the swim was on that specific date, far enough out that I could build up my abilities to accomplish the swim.  Setting dates keeps you accountable and gives you a plan.

Ok, great.  I have a specific goal that is challenging, realistic and quantifiable.  I’m all set, right?  Well, not yet.  Let’s break it down further.  You have taken those first steps:

  1. You know what you want to do
  2. You know what your motivation is to complete it
  3. And you have set a specific goal to get you there

Now, from that specific goal, called your long-term goal, you can set a mid-term goal and milestone goals.  So, you have set your long-term goal with a specific date and now you need to find where the mid-term of this stretch is.  If the long-term goal is 6 months out, then the mid-term will be at 3 months.  Give yourself a reward at the mid-term: new running clothes, new shoes, etc.  This goal has to follow the same rules as the long-term goal: specific, challenging, realistic, and quantifiable.

From here, set milestones.  These should have dates close enough that you are reaching milestones often enough to see progress is happening but far enough that there is progress.  Two to four weeks is usually pretty good for these.  You can reward yourself for each milestone as well, but it should be something smaller.  As you reach each milestone, remember to look back at where you were and how far you have come rather than forward at how much you still have to do.

One thing I like to tell clients and patients is to put each goal on a sticky note and put them along the top of the bathroom mirror.  The long-term goal at the end on the right, mid-term in the middle and milestones where they belong filling in.  As each milestone and goal is achieved, take that sticky off.  This will let you see that progress is being made.

Lastly, do not get discouraged if a milestone is not reached on the specific date.  Things come up in life that will cause a bump.  You may need to work a little harder to get back on track but you will make it.  Keep going forward!

We hope this helped everyone set goals!  If you have any questions or would like some advice on specific goals, please feel free to comment below.