It can be extremely difficult to stay motivated over the long haul and stick with an exercise program. In fact, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) says that over 50 percent of exercisers quit within the first six months of starting a program.
Exercising, just like many other long-term endeavors in life, becomes much more satisfying when you set appropriate goals for yourself. Several studies have shown the motivational benefits of setting clear fitness goals. These progressive goals give you something to continually work for and help you to challenge yourself.
But, notice that I specified “appropriate goals.” What is an appropriate fitness goal and how can you set them? What else will help you to reach these goals?
ACE advocates a goal setting model called S.M.A.R.T that lays out several principle requirements your goals need to meet. We’ll briefly consider each of these requirements.
Specific- Consider exactly what you want to accomplish. The goal should be clearly defined with absolutely no room for individual interpretation. For example, don’t say “I want to be more fit,” but try saying “I want to run a 12-minute mile.”
Measurable- It should be easy for you to track your progress and see how much you’ve accomplished. To this end, your goals should be clearly measurable. Keep a log of the improvements that you’ve experienced, whether it be your mile time or your weight. Being able to look at the positive changes, plainly laid out, will help you to realized how beneficial your program has been. ACE points out that your goal can be either objectively or subjectively measurable, meaning that you can measure your percent body fat or simply how your pants fit you. Objective measurements, however, tend to be easier to track in standard terms.
Attainable- This particular aspect of goal-setting can be tricky and requires a lot of forethought and balance. Your goal should be challenging but still something that you can realistically accomplish considering, among other things, your time frame and fitness level.
Relevant- Your goal should fit your circumstances, interests and chosen activity. While cross-training can be extremely beneficial, you don’t want to get distracted or do anything that could be counterproductive. For example, if you were preparing for a 5k walk, running quarter-mile sprints would not be the most logical, or safe, approach.
Time Bound- Set a definite deadline for your goals. This will help you to stay focused and make the best use of your time, rather than procrastinating because you have no specified completion date.
Consider, too, that smaller goals with shorter timelines can be used to help you build up to bigger goals. For instance, maybe you’ve never run before but decide that you want to run a marathon. It would be unrealistic to expect yourself to accomplish that with no preparation. Setting more achievable goals like running a 5k, a 10k and then a half-marathon will help you progress toward your ultimate goal.
In addition to the initial act of setting the goal, there are other steps you can take to help you along the way.
Before you start your program, and even throughout, it’s good to check your resolution to maintain your healthy lifestyle and continue working toward your goals. To help you build resolve, try making a list of benefits versus costs to make it plain to yourself how much you stand to gain.
Reward yourself for reaching different milestones and define these rewards when you’re designing your plan. This way, you won’t just be running to lose weight or to cut time off your mile, you’ll be running for that gift your promised yourself.
With any lifestyle change, you should never underestimate the value of a support system. Tell people who are close to you about your goals. Not only will they be able to support and encourage you, but you’ll feel more accountable once someone else knows what you’re working to accomplish.
Has setting goals helped you to make changes in your life? Please share your experience with us in the comments!