The discussion of goal setting is one of my favorite topics to discuss with others in the world of fitness, whether it be other trainers, clients, or individuals just looking for a place to start. While receiving my master’s degree in the field of Sport and Exercise Psychology, I have loved providing resources to others in order for them to make their own informed decisions about goal setting. At the end of the day, it really comes down to what works best for you. In this article, I am going to discuss the pros and cons of goal-setting and my tips on how to make goal-setting more effective or alternatives if goal-setting isn’t for you.
Simply put, goal setting keeps you motivated to achieve a specific outcome. The joy and confidence boost of setting a goal and achieving it is highly rewarding for many. Even more so when you can look back on your hard work and feel a sense of accomplishment from the progress you made. Goal setting is valuable for those that don’t enjoy the process as much yet but want to stay motivated to engage in a particular behavior.
Getting started in exercise can be difficult for many. The soreness, the exhaustion, feeling uncomfortable. It can be hard to enjoy that. So setting a goal for a certain look, weight, building muscle, or level of strength can make the strain of exercise worth the effort.
Different types of goals
Outcome goals look at just the end result. For example, to lose a specific amount of weight. These types of goals are good as long as you are determined to reach that outcome.
Process goals are, in general, slightly more beneficial than outcome goals. Process goals refer to what you want to accomplish in the given moment. Such as “I want to exercise for 45 minutes today and do 3 sets of 10 reps of leg press, leg extension, shoulder press, and cable rows.” These are much more controllable, meaning you can have more certainty that you will achieve the goal. Process goals are also good because finding success daily will lead to more long-term motivation.
S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time based) are more helpful to provide an outline of how you will achieve a certain goal as well. By creating a plan for how you will measure, take action, and when you plan on achieving your goal.
Finally, the most valuable aspect of goals, whether it be S.M.A.R.T. goals, outcome goals, or process goals, is that they keep you motivated to engage in a behavior or habit that you believe is healthy for you when you don’t fully enjoy the behavior yet. I highly recommend using goals as a tool to stay motivated while you learn to enjoy something such as exercise. A goal I strongly recommend to everyone I work with is to find some aspect of exercise that you enjoy so much you no longer think about when you will achieve an outcome goal but something you want to do every day simply because you enjoy it. This is the key to progress and long-term success.
Some people may view goals as somewhat stressful. Especially if you are new to exercise and are unsure how to really reach that goal. The biggest problem with goal setting is there is no roadmap on how to achieve it.
Say someone wants to lose 10lbs of body fat in 3 months. Okay, that is a great goal! However, we sometimes forget what it actually takes to do that. How confident are we in our ability to program for weight loss, eat properly, stay active throughout the day, select exercises that encourage weight loss, and be sure no events will pop up that will hinder our progress?
If we aren’t confident in our ability to achieve the goal, we may experience stress, pressure to succeed, and anxiety about the goal. Or, we may take unhealthy shortcuts to reach it.
We often forget what it takes to reach a goal, and we may pursue it ineffectively or take an undesirable course of action. It is easy to declare a goal; it is another to take action and fully understand how to reach it. And so, setting goals sometimes can provide the misconception that we can achieve something, even if we don’t know how to get there.
I want to emphasize, however, that it is more than okay not to know how to achieve a fitness goal. There is a lot that goes into fitness, and we have to start somewhere. If you fall into this category and you think goals may not be an entirely beneficial route for you to take, here are some recommendations.
Let your curiosity drive you!
Do your research on exercise! Look up different exercise modalities and how to exercise for your goals. Research effective rep and set schemes, proper technique for exercises, and so on. Learning everything you can is highly beneficial to your growth and motivation!
Your number one priority should be enjoyment!
Enjoyment = motivation. If you enjoy something, you can do it forever. In addition, you will achieve goals you never thought about! Seek out to find a mode of exercise you enjoy. Powerlifting, running, the adrenaline from intense workouts, sports, whatever it is, find something you enjoy! Exercise with friends, learn something new and teach someone about exercise. Make an effort to exercise because you want to, not because you have to.
Try exploratory goals
Exploratory goals are goals such as “I want to find what mode of exercise I like best” or “I want to figure out what routine works best for me.” Even with nutrition: “I want to find a healthy breakfast I can eat almost every day and not get tired of it.” Or “I want to figure out how I can incorporate daily walks into my work schedule”
Exploratory goals have little stress on accomplishing something or require any knowledge but just involve you finding optimal lifestyle habits. These are great for setting you up for success! The great thing about exploratory goals is you do not need to rush to accomplish them. They will take some time in order to discover. So spend time exploring your ideal healthy lifestyle.
For some, having a solid understanding of their target or goal is enough to keep them motivated. However, it can be stressful if you aren’t fully confident about how to achieve that goal in the first place. Pursuing a goal just for the outcome does not provide long-lasting motivation for many. Enjoying the process, learning the ins and outs of fitness and health, and taking control over your life does provide long-lasting motivation and health outcomes.
Whatever it may be, take the time to explore what motivates you best and find ways to enjoy a healthy lifestyle!
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