This time of year, it’s very easy to get too caught up in the excitement of New Year’s resolutions and setting fitness goals for yourself that are simply unattainable. Instead of creating small, achievable goals, most people dive head-first into setting big, idealistic ones like working out every day for an hour per day, or losing 20 pounds in a month, or running a marathon after being mostly sedentary for months. While the intention is good, unrealistic goals only set you up for failure and make you feel worse about yourself when you ultimately don’t meet them.
Fitness goals are important because they can hold you accountable, help you track progress, and give you motivation to make positive changes to your health and lifestyle, but it’s important that you go about goal setting in the right way.
Set SMART goals
Setting attainable goals means setting goals that will actually work for you. Goals should be SMART:
Effective goal setting involves setting specific goals, not just writing down a vague plan of what you are trying to accomplish. A goal of “get fit in 2021” is just not specific enough. Instead, you should clearly define what you want to achieve. For example, a specific goal might be something like, “I want to be able to run for 20 minutes without stopping.” This detailed objective provides you with a focus on what types of activities and exercises you should do to reach that goal as well as clear direction on how you can get there.
Having goals that are measurable is essential so you can track your progress and know when you’ve met your goal. Your goal may be to be able to run five miles or to lose 10 pounds, for example, but each is specific and measurable. If your goal is measurable, you can set smaller goals per week that you must meet to get you to your big-picture goal.
While setting a long-term goal, such as “get in shape” or “lose 50 pounds,” can be helpful, it’s important to set smaller, achievable goals for the short-term to keep you motivated and on track. If you start small, for example, “lose 5 pounds,” or “workout three times per week,” then when you accomplish these small goals, it encourages you to keep going and creates consistency. If, on the other hand, you set unrealistic goals, such as “lose 30 pounds in one month,” you are destined to fail, and it will discourage you and make it easier for you to give up. The key is to set small goals that you can reach, and then building upon that will eventually help you reach your big, long-term goal.
Setting goals that are relevant involve the “why” behind your goals. Think about why you want to get in shape or lose weight. Do you want to lose weight to look good at a specific event, such as a wedding or high school reunion? Do you want to get into shape to improve your overall health and ward off disease? Or do you want to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol? These are all examples of goals that have relevance to the individual and help pinpoint why a goal is important. Knowing this importance can help you decide if a goal is worthy of the investment of your time and gives you more meaning when you are working hard and on those days that you are tempted to give up.
Setting a time frame to achieve your goals is also important. A deadline gives you another goal to work toward and creates urgency so you are incentivized to try to meet that goal. But don’t set a timeline that is too far in the future, or it will become too easy to procrastinate instead of doing what you need to do to meet your goal. For example, if you want to run a marathon, signing up for an event that is six months away gives you a specific time frame, and you can set smaller, weekly goals of running a set number of miles each week until you are physically ready to run a marathon.
Finally, another part of realistic fitness goal setting is to temper your expectations. Realize you may have setbacks along the way. Don’t let small setbacks cause you to lose focus of your goals. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect to make progress.