By Kendra Leigh Marley
It’s no secret that millions of people start out each year with amazing New Year’s Resolutions and a gung-ho clean-slate attitude that ‘this is their year.’ Some set new goals and some are chasing that elusive mission for the second (fifth, umpteenth…) year in a row. Either way, statistics say that about 80% of people abandon those goals sometime between January and February and less than 10% actually succeed within the year. Yikes!
So why do people fail so early into their journey?
Most people don’t struggle with setting goals (obviously, there are millions of goals set every year!), rather they have difficulty setting the right kinds of goals and supporting those goals with effective strategies that direct their attention and keep them motivated until they accomplish their objective. The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable & Adjustable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goal setting principles are the most common foundation used for setting goals, which is awesome. However, using that process alone leaves a few steps out that prepare you to stick to the process of achieving your goals once they are set and landing at your final destination. In this two-part blog series, I’ll share with you my favorite goal setting principles (Part 1) and mental techniques (Part 2) to set you up for continued success in your New Year’s Resolutions and beyond. Let’s go!
GOAL SETTING PRINCIPLES
1. Set specific, measurable goals
Specific goals are more powerful in increasing motivation to achieve a set objective, and making goals measurable provides a way to determine whether the goal is accomplished. Specific, measurable goals should emphasize both quantity and quality, if possible. Consider the who, what, where, when, and how along with any conditions and limitations you may have. EXAMPLE: improve bench press by 25 pounds in 3 months, using optimal form.
2. Set realistic and challenging, yet attainable, goals
Goals that are too easy to accomplish do not provide enough challenge or encourage maximum effort, and might lead to being satisfied with an average performance instead of reaching full potential. Also, setting goals that are too difficult and unrealistic usually results in failure, producing frustration, loss of confidence and lowered consistency and adherence. It is important to take a realistic perspective of your abilities within the context of your life and priorities to determine what you can do, and what is out of the question. The ideal balance is found somewhere between setting yourself up for failure and ensuring success with flying colors. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find a balance, but a good rule of thumb is to adjust your goal about 5%-10% above what you know you are capable of doing and aim to accomplish that with at least an 80% success rate. EXAMPLE: Eat 3 servings of vegetables daily (current consumption = 2 servings daily).
3. Set long-term and short-term goals
Most people focus on long-term goals (i.e. losing 25 pounds in 6 months, competing in a physique competition in 36 weeks or winning a regional CrossFit meet this year). However, both short- and long-term goals are necessary in order to maintain high motivation, focus, consistency and adherence. Set long-term goals first, then establish short-term goals en-route to long-term goals. EXAMPLE: If your long-term goal is to compete in a physique competition in 36 weeks, then your short-term goals may include: drinking a gallon of water daily, lifting 5 days and doing 90 minutes of cardio per week and getting 8 hours of sleep per night.
4. Set a mix of performance, process and outcome goals
- Process goals include learning the techniques necessary to accomplish a goal. EXAMPLE: If your goal is to eat more vegetables, but you don’t know how to prepare them, you might set a goal to try one new recipe that includes vegetables per week.
- Performance goals are related to execution of a goal. Shoot for at least 80% success rate. EXAMPLE: If your goal is to eat 5 servings of vegetables per day you would look at your goal in weekly terms to determine how often you have completed the goal. If you complete that goal every day, you would have a 100% success rate, if you completed your goal on 4 of the 7 days, you would have about 70% success rate.
- Outcome goals relate to the desired finish line in goal setting. This is your final destination. EXAMPLE: You set a goal to lose 20 pounds in 6 months, so you support that with your goals to eat more vegetables and learn how to cook them with more variety so that you will maintain progress.
Using all three types in goals in your goal setting process will maximize your goal-setting effectiveness and give you more specific guidance to direct your attention toward relevant tasks needed in the journey to accomplishing your goals.
5. Set goals that are positive and determine your “WHY” for each goal
Setting positive goals puts you in a mindset to think in terms of success rather than failure, and understanding why you want to achieve your goals keeps you motivated. Staying positive and motivated ensures that you will stick with it for the long haul, and keeps you focused on achieving your goals, increasing your ability to persevere through any obstacles that come your way (because there will be many!).
6. Commit to it! Write down goals, prioritize them and keep where they can be easily seen or accessed
By writing your goals down and posting them, you have given them your attention and commitment. Many fail at achieving their goals because they set too many goals to accomplish at the same time. Prioritizing goals makes it easier to pick one or two goals most important to you to focus on at a time, and keep your other priorities in line (commitments to family, career, philanthropy and volunteer work, social life, education, etc.). When you accomplish what is most important to you first, before moving on to goals with a lower priority, it will keep your motivation high, increase your confidence when you achieve them and prevent feelings of over-commitment with too many goals to accomplish, which may eventually lead to failure and abandonment of goals. EXAMPLE: Achieve macro goals within 5% daily and exercise 4 days/week.
7. Develop goal achievement strategies
Setting goal achievement strategies is usually the MOST neglected aspect of goal setting, yet is one of the key foundations in goal setting success. Not developing the “how” of achieving goals is like setting a goal to drive from Seattle to Orlando in 5 days without GPS, a map, or an itinerary. You might get there in time, you might not get there at all. Who knows?! Setting a specific plan of action of how you are going to make your goal happen, will increase the likelihood that you will succeed. EXAMPLE: If your goal is to lift weights at the gym 4 days per week, your action plan might include scheduling in when you will work out, how long your session will be and what you will be lifting, if you will be meeting a workout partner, coordinating childcare or schedules with your spouse to watch the kids, etc.
8. Determine your support team and share your goals
Your goals will not succeed unless the individuals who are paramount in your life support you, too! Also, they must support all of your goals, not just the ones they choose to. If you are focused on process or performance goals and someone in your support system only focuses on the outcome, it is unlikely that you will complete your process or performance goals and that they will change your behavior. Your support system could be your family, friends, teammates, a mentor, coach or others that share the same goal as you. It is essential that people in your support system understand the goal setting process and support it and you.
9. Seek goal feedback & evaluation
Seeking feedback and evaluation in the goal achievement process is absolutely necessary if we want to change our behavior and improve consistency. As the saying goes, we are our own worst critic. This is where a coach or mentor comes in handy, as part of our support system, to help evaluate goal performance and give us real and honest feedback. A coach or mentor can tell us how we are doing relative to what’s going on in our lives, which helps to make adjustments when necessary and keep progress moving forward.
10. Be flexible and adjust your goals or target date, if necessary
Most people believe that failing to achieve a certain goal by a set time means that the entire process has failed. Want to know something amazing?! You CAN make mistakes and ‘fail’ in your expectations and still keep working towards your goals. Failing is part of the process, and in those moments of breakdown is when we have one of the greatest opportunities to learn, which just might be the most beneficial part of the journey, if we allow it. Yes, it’s important to have a target date for goal achievement to keep you motivated, however, sometimes life happens and we can’t rush the process. Goals are not set in stone, so plan regular “check points” throughout the process to assess progress toward your goals and make changes, if you need to. It’s okay to be flexible and make adjustments, whether obstacles are expected or out of our control.
Stay tuned for Reboot Your Resolutions, Part 2 - Up Your Mental Game, where I’ll be discussing mental strategies for setting, approaching and sticking with your goals!
Kendra Leigh Marley, CPT, CES, PES, FNS, PN1
IPE Women’s Physique Pro
M.S. Sport Psychology Grad Student
B.A. Exercise Science & Studio Art
References and Further Reading: