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How to set fitness goals

How to Set Fitness Goals You Will Actually Achieve

January often brings out reflective thoughts of the year just passed, but also arouses a refreshed optimism for the new year ahead. New ideas for self-improvement spring up, and conversations turn to New Year’s resolutions that often incorporate an element of improved fitness.

Psychology Professor John Norcross has published extensively in the area of self-initiated behavior change and found that approximately half of the population make New Year’s resolutions. Unsurprisingly, recurring themes include exercise, weight loss, smoking, and managing money more effectively.

But why do New Year’s resolutions often fail after a relatively short period of time and become a distant memory before February is in full swing?

But why do New Year’s resolutions often fail after a relatively short period of time and become a distant memory before February is in full swing?

Professor Timothy Pychyl says that resolutions are a form of motivation, but the reason for such a high failure rate is that he believes people aren’t actually ready to change habitually bad habits. Another reason which many will be able to relate to and often cite is that the goal is simply unrealistic.

So, how exactly do we set fitness goals and then follow through and achieve them for ourselves?

The Science of Setting Goals

Before looking at the components of a good New Year’s fitness resolution, it’s important to think about what a goal actually is:

Goal setting can be defined as “the process of establishing an outcome (a goal) to serve as the aim of one’s actions” (Turkay, 2014).

Understanding that there are different types of goal will also help when laying the foundations for the New Year:

  • Outcome goals
  • Performance goals
  • Process goals

Outcome Goal

An outcome goal is focussed on the end result, or as the name suggests, the outcome. This type of goal is dependent on the performance of others. An outcome goal in a sporting context would be winning a race, or finishing on the podium of an athletics event.

Performance Goal

A performance goal sets out a certain level or specific benchmark to attain. A performance goal would be running 10K under 50 minutes, or being able to do 25 press-ups in one go without stopping. Unlike an outcome goal, a performance goal is independent of the performance of others which means there is considerably more control over its success.

Process Goal

A process goal, as the name alludes to, focuses on skill execution and/or technique. How an action is performed is the primary improvement area and is not associated with the external performance of others. A process goal would be for a golfer to hold the correct level and position of their shoulders during a golf swing or improving the position of a swimmer’s hand as it enters the water prior to the pull element of freestyle swimming.

All these different types of goals have their time and place, but a word of warning with outcome goals: they can place too much emphasis on the end result and make you overly obsessed about getting to the destination while forgetting to enjoy and learn on the way there.

Oddly, the outcome that was the original, primary motivator becomes the cause of negative behavior and mindset.

Focusing too much on the distant outcome can prove to be incredibly divisive, as your attention may turn to what you don’t have and the goals you haven’t achieved, encouraging unconstructive behavior. Oddly, the outcome that was the original, primary motivator becomes the cause of negative behavior and mindset.

In addition, proponents of process goals would say the process is about doing the right thing rather than focussing on the end result because the right behavior will lead to the desired outcome.

The structure of goal setting

Understanding how to differentiate between the types of goals will definitely help you to formulate your plan for the year ahead, but also adding an element of structure when learning how to set fitness goals will create a type of checklist and element of accountability.

The acronym SMART is widely used as an incredibly effective way of defining goals in a clear, objective, structured, detailed way. A SMART goal must conform to the following criteria Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

S – Is your goal specific – what exactly is it you want to achieve? How, when and where will it happen?

M – Is your goal measurable – what will it look like if you achieve your objective? What evidence will show you have been successful?

A – Is your goal attainable – can you realistically reach your goal? The whole point of a goal is to be a challenge and something that will push you but shouldn’t be impossible.

R – Is your goal relevant – is it personal and why do you want to reach it?

T – Is your goal timely – when will you achieve it? All objectives need a deadline, which will hold accountability to your actions and progress.

How To Set Fitness goals you will achieve

If your goal is SMART, can be categorized as one of the three types of goal and you understand the potential advantages and disadvantages that follow, you have a good chance to actually achieve your goal. It will be challenging, but keep in mind that in the end, oh so fulfilling!

So, how to get started?

  1. Take some time to reflect on what you’ve achieved so far and what you want to accomplish within a set time period.
  2. Choose a goal that matters to you and ensure your fitness goals have a positive spin – don’t let yourself be deterred by setback.
  3. Ensure your goal is SMART and that you know the type of goal you’re after and how that will affect the outcome.

Remember: When it comes to fitness you really can achieve anything you want. Just be courageous, be strong, be clever, be confident in your own ability and be the hardest working person in the room – and you will be successful.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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