Goal Setting – Writing Your Roadmap
Whenever people discuss their fitness approach or dietary adjustments they tend to do so with reference to a goal – you go to the gym to get stronger, they eat better to lose body fat, etc. When talking to a coach or Personal Trainer for the first time, they will also ask you about these hypothetical future achievements – “What’s your goal?”.
Pause for a moment and reflect on this, and when you have an answer keep reading.
Goals are often poorly defined. Many of you reading this will already know where I’m going with this, but stick with me because I’m going to take a different angle than most, and for those that have never really thought about this before, consider this:
Is your goal – the thing you currently have in your head – USEFUL? Is it something that, through virtue of thinking about it, is able to help you achieve it in any way? (And I don’t mean in some woo-woo law of attraction “think about it and The Universe’ provides” kind of way). Chances are that it isn’t.
When most people think about goals they think in fact of things that would be nice to have. It would be nice to lose weight, or to be fitter, or to build muscle, or whatever – it’s a vague concept towards which you’d like to progress, but it’s not actually helpful. To make a goal helpful, you need to go through two steps, and in this short blog, I’m going to help you take those. After reading this you will have a tool that will genuinely help you achieve whatever it is you want to achieve – it won’t make it EASIER – but it’ll make sure that any ounce of effort you make will be rewarded, and that you won’t waste any effort – and that’s kinda the same thing.
First, we need to write out your goal in a properly defined manner, so grab a pen. This process may seem a little bit like unnecessary paperwork – you already know what your goals are so what’s the point of writing them down? – but the document you’re about to create (which will amount to a couple of sentences) serves several purposes, namely:
- When writing you are able to think more clearly. To write your thoughts you have to put them into words and the act of doing that allows you to actually ‘hear’ them – this affords you an opportunity to pay attention to your own reaction. If you write your goals out and they don’t excite you, they don’t really mean anything or worse; you already don’t think they’re possible, then you can change them. Setting goals you don’t believe in is a waste of time and energy, and setting goals you can never achieve is equally pointless – you need some self-honesty and writing things down is a fantastic way to achieve that
- Writing your goals out and really taking the time to formulate them properly as opposed to either keeping them in your head or scribbling them on a post-it note feels like a commitment. You’re actually doing something and taking meaningful steps towards success, and that can be highly motivating.
- Writing goals in the format below will allow you to methodically point to the destination and then map the journey in a granular, step by step manner. It becomes a blueprint rather than a wish list, and that’s powerful.
There are multiple ways to set goals and so I’d urge you not to think of this as the final word on the matter. This isn’t the way to set goals, but it is an effective method, and I hope you both enjoy the process and reap the rewards. With that out of the way let’s look at step 1:
Finding your aim
This is the easy bit because it’s probably the way you think about goals already. It’s vague and more of a North Star to head towards than a goal, something like ‘lose weight’ or ‘get stronger’; the general direction in which you want to move. Write it on your sheet of paper, but make sure it’s only ONE thing. There are some situations in which you can set more than one goal at once but for now, just avoid things like “Get stronger and leaner” or “increase my bench press and improve my 5k time”. A person that tries to ride two horses will get a face full of dirt, so stay focused. Incidentally – don’t skip this bit.
Now you have an aim it’s time to put it into the SMART format, meaning that your goal will be written out in a way that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. This is a thing you’ve probably heard before, but I’d bet my left shoe that you aren’t using it right now, so let’s go step by step (note that these aren’t in the SMART order – rules are meant to be broken and this method is easier).
Specific and Relevant
The first step is to make your aim a specific thing. Above you may have said lose weight, for example – do you mean you want to lose kilograms? Or are you wanting to lose inches from your waist, or dress sizes, or something else? If you said to get stronger, are you wanting a bigger deadlift, bigger powerlifting total, bigger clean and Jerk, or a larger Turkish Get Up? What EXACTLY do you mean when you think of your aim? (don’t add numbers yet, that’s the next step). This, of course, needs to be relevant; if you wanted to lose weight, don’t put increase squat strength or reduce 500m row time. Without this step you have no means of determining progress – if you decide you want to lose weight and you step on the scales and don’t, then you’re already going to feel down about your progress even if people are telling you that you look leaner and you have to use a different belt hole…
Have a think and write it down.
Now that’s done let’s look at a timescale. I’d suggest making it 12 weeks for the time being – setting 12-week goals is great because it’s long enough to make lasting and meaningful change, but short term enough to be motivating; the end is in sight already!
Of course, if you want to go a little longer or shorter than that because you have an event coming up then that’s fine but use 12 weeks as an approximate for this first goal-setting exercise. Add your timeframe to your sheet.
Measurable and Achievable
Now that’s done we can look at putting an achievable number on it. This number MUST be achievable in the timeframe – if you set goals that aren’t possible in the timeframe you have set then you are, of course, setting yourself up for failure and that’s NOT a good thing! As a guide, 0.5-1.5% of body weight per week is a good weight loss speed, and the same amount per month is a good rate of muscle gain. For athletic goals (improved time/weight lifted) you’ll have to use your best judgement at this point in the goal-setting process. Once you have this, write it out as a sentence in big letters at the top of a new sheet of paper, this is where things get interesting.
An example would be: I’m going to lose 14lbs in the next 12 weeks.
What you have set above is an outcome goal. That’s a great way to really isolate what it is you want to achieve but it’s not really a roadmap just yet – sure, you might want to lose a dress size in the next 12 weeks, but how exactly are you going to manage that? The answer is by changing your current habits in some way, and that means you need to DO something day to day or at least week to week. This is a process goal – this is your map.
Process goals will change and be built upon over time and so you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) lay out everything you’ll need to do in the next 12 weeks, or whatever your timeframe was, right now. Instead, think here about the first steps. Think of 2-4 habits in which you’ll need to engage over the first 2-4 weeks; these need to be things that you can and will change, of course – if you write that you need to cook every meal you’ll eat but you hate cooking or don’t have time to, then that’s not going to happen, so keep it real.
For example; you might think to eat 5 portions of vegetables per day, or have protein with each meal, or walk 10,000 steps, or do three classes at the gym. Again, be realistic here – start small, start simple. This is the bit that EVERYONE overshoots – if it’s something that will bore you in a couple of weeks time then it’s no good. Take your time
Whatever your process goals are, write them on your sheet. It’s at this point that you would ideally tell someone – your partner, your friend, your kids, whoever you think will be supportive and keep you accountable.
All you now need to do is check in with that person (or yourself) every day. Have you adhered to your process goal? If so, great, and if not, why not?
Does the goal need to be changed in order to be more realistic? Or do you just need to pay more attention or think of a better strategy to achieve it? Whatever it is, act accordingly, and keep an eye on your SMART goal by regularly checking in on the ONE factor you have decided you care about. If you elected to look at belt size and it’s going down, you aren’t allowed to be upset if the scales don’t move – you didn’t care when you were setting your goal, so don’t worry about it!
By the time 1/3 of the time has passed (i.e. 4 weeks if it’s a 12-week goal) you should be roughly 1/3 of the way there. If you aren’t, adjust either your SMART goal or your process goals and keep going, and if you are, set some new process goals and start the process again.
Once you have a map, you just have to follow it…