Better goal setting means more goals achieved, period. Although goal setting is a powerful way to achieve your biggest health and fitness goals, it turns out that most of us were never taught how to make our goals work for us. This is why so many people set body image, strength, skill, and other fitness-related goals, only to end up giving up before they even have a chance to see progress.
Luckily, learning to set and achieve big fitness goals is a skill that you can learn, and the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it. Before long, you’ll realize you can do nearly anything you put your mind to, given enough time and perseverance.
Here’s how to achieve any fitness goal, no matter where you’re starting from.
Set High, Hard Goals
It seems logical that if you set fitness goals that are just slightly out of your comfort zone, you’d be more likely to achieve them (versus setting goals far outside of your wheelhouse).
But the research on goal setting actually shows the exact opposite. If you want the biggest increase in motivation and long-term achievement, set your goals high. Ideally, your goals will both excite you and scare you a little.
Examples of high, hard fitness-related goals could be to work toward being able to do a handstand, to run a half marathon, or to work toward a goal of 10 pull-ups in a row when you can’t currently do a single one.
The reason you’re more likely to achieve harder goals versus smaller ones is that having a big challenge forces you to focus on your goal. Not only that, but it forces you to be more consistent.
You can’t try to squeeze all the work in right before the deadline—you have to work on it consistently over time. And that’s the key to making long-term progress.
Make Your Goals Clear
One of the main reasons most people fail at reaching their health and fitness goals is that they start out with too general of a goal. The most fitness-related goal people make is to lose weight. This also the goal that most people fail at most often. So, why don’t general goals like “I want to lose weight” work? For many reasons:
- General goals don’t set you up for clear ways to track your progress. A key part of successful goal setting is knowing when you’re making progress toward your goal and actually keeping track of it.
- Without specific markers along the way, you’re unlikely to feel like you’re making progress, even when you are—meaning you’re more likely to quit sooner.
- Without a clear vision of your goal, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or discouraged before you even start.
To avoid this, make sure your goals are both clear and measurable. For example, rather than making a goal to lose weight, instead aim to reduce your current body fat percentage by a certain percentage amount and be able to confidently wear a specific pair of jeans.
Better yet, for even greater sticking power and lasting motivation, make your fitness goals non-appearance related. Strength, performance, and adventure-related goals take your focus off of appearance alone, and as research shows, are more likely to lead to a lifelong consistent fitness habit.
Chunk Down Your Bigger Goals
So, how do you go about working toward your big fitness goals without getting so overwhelmed you never actually start?
As you might have personally experienced in past goal-setting attempts, it simply doesn’t work to just set a big, far-reaching goal and try to achieve the whole thing right away. High, hard goals require time to pursue, and if you’re always just thinking of that one big goal, you’re probably going to get discouraged and maybe even quit before you really get started. The key to making a high, hard goal less overwhelming is to break it down into chunks that you can chip away at.
Ideally, these include:
- Small, action steps you can take on a daily basis
- Short-term goals you can work toward on a weekly and/or monthly basis
- Mid-range goals you can aim for on a half yearly and yearly basis
The bigger your goal, the longer you’ll need to plan for, and the more you’ll need to break your larger goal down into smaller action steps you can follow now and in the near future.
For even better results, attach your chunks to a timeline, so that you feel a sense of urgency. These deadlines can be external (a race you sign up for) or self-imposed (to do your first pull-up in eight weeks). And, if you want to up the stakes even more, tell someone you know about your goal so they can help keep you accountable.
Pull-Up Goal Example
Here’s a breakdown of how you would chunk down a big goal of being able to do your first pull-up if you have zero pull-up experience:
Step 1: Building strength using exercises like dumbbell and body weight rows
Step 2: Start incorporating flex hangs on the pull-up bar
Step 3: Add in slow negative reps to your training
Step 4: Do partial pull-ups (jump if needed) and finish with slow negatives
Step 5: Do a pull-up!
As you start to practice these goal setting techniques, you’ll find that you can apply this chunking down process to anything, fitness-related or not. The key is finding the smallest, most doable place to start, then taking daily, consistent action steps toward your goal. Before long, you might start to surprise yourself with just how much you can achieve.
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