Goal setting can be an important part of making lifestyle changes. You know how excited you are when you first start something new? The excitement generally doesn’t last for long and sometimes you find yourself back where you started, without the motivation to maintain the path set by that initial excitement.
Setting goals is the same as establishing priorities for your life. When you set a goal, you become attuned to what it is you are desiring to achieve. The goal stays close to your consciousness; you remain more mindful of your intention. Like building a home without blueprints or navigating without a map, exercising without goals can leave you aimless and feeling like you are pursuing meaningless activity.
- Establish long range goals. What do you really want out of your exercise program? Do you want to keep up with your children, run a marathon, or gain muscle mass? There are no wrong answers here. You need only remember that it is all about you at this point. Be as specific as you can and establish a time line for your goals. You may need assistance in establishing specific goals. A doctor or a personal trainer may be of great assistance in this regard. Do some research and make sure your goals are realistic, otherwise you’ll be on a path to disappointment. Challenging goals are not the same as impossible goals. Make yours demanding but not beyond reach.
- Having figured out where you want to be, now it is time to map out how you are going to get there. Intermediate, or short term goals, will allow you to achieve important milestones towards your ultimate goals. These are akin to stepping stone goals. Break down your long range goals into manageable — and measureable — pieces. Then figure out how to accomplish each step. Smaller, short range goals can be very motivating. If you are looking to run a 10k in three months, you might want to set weekly distance and frequency goals. As your fitness levels increase, make sure you adjust your goals accordingly.
- Pat yourself on the back. You very well might find reaching intermediary goals a reward in and of itself. Watch for signs of progress. Can you walk further this week? Are you able to increase the weight you are moving in the gym? Can you get up the stairs without being winded? Have your sleeping patterns improved? These are the most powerful motivational signs you’ll find. However, if you find a treat or special reward is worth working toward, go for it! Don’t allow the reward to undermine the goal, but a movie night or a special purchase can be just desserts.
- Don’t give up. You might not get to your goals in a straightforward, linear progression. Contrary to popular belief, life is not linear, it occurs in more organic patterns — meandering, spiraling, dancing. If you don’t meet your goals all the time, be loving and forgiving with yourself. This is called being human. Sticking with it, having intention, is the bottom line.
- Keep track. Having something in place to record your goals and your progress can be helpful and motivating. It can be as formal as a journal, as laidback as stickers on your calendar, or more publicly accountable as on a weblog. The better you keep track of your activity, remember, the easier it will be to identify patterns, see what is working and what is not, and to revise or update goals.
Goals can help keep you on track when life wants to throw you for a loop. Don’t allow a hectic schedule or a change in routine throw you off course. Stay focused on the reasons you are exercising, affirm your intention, use your intelligence. Before you know it, you’ll be knocking off one set of goals and setting up the next.
One guy who knows how well goals can work is my friend Steve. He recently set up a goals challenge, focusing on establishing and being accountable for activity, nutrition and lifestyle changes. If you want to get a better understanding of goal-setting and staying on track, head over to his blog and check out how the challenge participants established goals and are tracking their progress. It is a great on-line community of achieving health and wellbeing.