10 Steps for Successful Fitness Goal Setting

If you’ve ever set any goal, you’ve probably heard the term S.M.A.R.T, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely. While all of these factors are important, there’s a lot more that goes into goal setting.

Pull out a pen and paper and go through each step with me. You’ll set a specific goal, ask important questions, and pave the road to success.

Step-by-Step Guide to Setting and Reaching Your Fitness Goals

Step 1: Ignore Instagram

Everyone sets goals and they all sound the same—especially on Instagram, where it seems like the only real goal is to post a before and after photo. Instead of setting the same goal as everyone else (lose weight, get healthier, work out more), choose one that’s unique to you. While this sounds like a no-brainer, it’s easy to gloss over the details and choose something that “seems like a good idea.”

The end game might be the same as a generic and typical goal, but the way that you get there is far from it.

Step 2: Make It Specific

Hopefully, you have a general idea of what you want your goal to be at this point, and now it’s time to get more specific about how you’ll reach that goal. The formula includes (with an example goal):

  • What (Run more) +
  • When (end of the year) +
  • Where (specific race—including date, place and time) +
  • Why (your “whys”—see below) +
  • How (Run 3 times a week using a training plan)

Step 3: Do the Check

This is the most important part of any good goal-setting—ask yourself: Do I really want to accomplish this goal or not? Rate your desire on a scale from 1 to 10, and if it falls at 7 or lower, go back to step one. If you don’t actually care about it, you won’t put the time into following through. This is likely the reason why 92 percent of people who set a New Year’s resolution don’t meet it, according to a study from the University of Scranton.

Step 4: Write Down Your “Whys”

A lot of people choose to get healthier, but the reasons for doing so likely differ from one person to the next. By identifying why you want to complete this goal, you make it more related to you—you make it your goal.

For example, maybe you want to lose weight so you can have a baby, or you want to build more upper body strength because you have neck pain. Those are your reasons and they make the goal important to you, not anyone else.

Step 5: Set Specific Milestones

With the goal that you truly care about in mind, it’s time to get specific about what you need to do to get there. Instead of choosing one specific goal (run the Vermont City Marathon on May 28, 2017), set milestones or mini-goals for you to achieve along the way.

For example, I’ll find a running buddy by January 20th. I’ll complete my first 6-mile run by the last weekend of February. I’ll increase my pace by one minute by April 15th. These small goals make you feel successful, which increases your chances of sticking with them.

Step 6: What Could Go Wrong? (And What Could Go Right?)

While it’s not good to focus on the negative, when it comes to goal setting it can be helpful. If you set a goal to run five times a week after work but don’t have access to a treadmill and it’s too cold to run outside, then you’ll have a much harder time being successful. Identifying these issues now will allow you to set yourself up for achievement.

On the flip side, write a list of things that could go right. What is the best-case scenario here? Truly envision what that looks like for you, even if you feel silly thinking it. Perhaps the perfect scenario for joining your local gym is that you finally meet someone you really like. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s just another factor that will push you to succeed.

Step 7: Put Out Fires Before They Start

Once you identify what could go wrong, it’s time to plan for how you’ll overcome those obstacles. In most cases, you can prevent or mitigate potential issues by planning ahead. It’s in the moment when we’re stressed, frustrated, and ready to give up that we let these problems stop us in our tracks.

For example, if you know your significant other likes to snack at night, and you want to avoid that in order to reach your weight loss goal, plan ahead. Set ground rules for yourself:

  • I won’t eat later than 9p.m.
  • I won’t go in the kitchen after my evening snack.
  • I will only eat fruit if I want a snack at night.

Notice the verbiage used here; instead of “I can’t” the phrasing is “I won’t.” The idea is that when you say you will or won’t do something, you’re in control, you’re not restricted. It’s even better to say, “I don’t want to eat later than 9p.m.” or “I only want to eat fruit at night.” It’s all about how you say it yourself that impacts how you view it mentally.

Step 8: Connect It To Your Life

Now it’s time to see how the milestones and work that go into reaching your goal will fit into your life. A sure-fire way to get off-track is to assume you’ll change things that you’re used to doing. We are creatures of habit, and if you’re already making a lot of other changes, it’s unlikely that your schedule will be flexible.

Instead, find ways to work toward your goal that fit within your current life. For example, if you want to meditate before work, but already have a hard enough time rolling out of bed, plan to do 5 minutes of meditation in your car before walking into the office. This fits within your current schedule and doesn’t require you to wake up any earlier.

Step 9: Write and Share It

When you write your resolution on paper (which you’ve likely already done if you’re following along with this article) it’s no longer just a thing in your mind. It feels more real specific. In that same vein, tell a few friends what your goal is. Take it a step further and ask them to check in with you about it once a week or once a month.

This sets both internal and external accountability, both of which are necessary for goal setting.

Step 10: Get Started

Don’t wait until Monday or next month to begin. Start now, in whatever way you can. That might mean signing up at the gym after work today or attempting your first mediation tonight before bed.

Whatever you do, don’t wait. You have all the tools you need to start now. If you don’t, then acquiring those tools is a great place to begin.