If you’re like me, setting goals can be difficult. What’s too big? What’s too small? What even is a goal? This is where my professional life and my hobbies collide. In teaching, we use something called S.M.A.R.T. goals, and, let me tell you, those are just as effective for working out as they are in the classroom. Read on to see how to apply this concept to your fitness life!
The first step in setting a SMART fitness goal is to think about specificity. Specific, in this case, means the who, what, when, where, and why of your goal. Some fitness goals, like losing weight for your wedding in 30 days, are easier to form. Others may be more vague. While saying, “I want to be healthy,” sounds like a good goal, there’s no part of the goal that lets you know how or when you have achieved it. Feeling healthy is incredibly subjective, so how do I know I reached my goal? Also, goals that are less specific are easier to give up on. People with these types of goals might say things like, “I got bored of working out,” or “I just wasn’t seeing results.” You can’t see results if you don’t know what you are looking for! So what does a specific goal sound like? Lots of things! For example, “Lift 50 pounds by October 15th” or “swim 50 laps by September 1st” or “run a 5k on November 20th”.
The second step in setting a SMART fitness goal is to think about how to measure your goal. You might be thinking, but didn’t I just do that when I made it specific? Sort of. Yes, you set the exact parameters of your goal in the first step, but now you need to think about how and when you will measure your goal. Let’s say you have set the goal to lift 50 pounds by October 15th. You’ll need to determine how many weeks you have until your goal and then figure out how much you can lift now. Once you have this info, you can determine how much more weight you will need to lift each week to meet your goal and then measure each week if this is feasible. If it’s not, you can readjust the end date for your goal. The point is, that by making your goal measurable, you are setting yourself up for success in reaching that goal. In essence, you have given yourself a roadmap for how to achieve that goal, which will be motivating on bad days when you might be tempted to skip out on your workout.
The third step in setting a SMART fitness goal is making sure your goal is achievable. The word feasible might be more reasonable in thinking about goals for healthy living. If I can only run half a mile right now, I probably won’t be able to run 3.1 miles in 3 weeks. Similarly, if I am out of breath after swimming one lap, I probably need a good amount of time to work my way up to 50 laps. Keep in mind, you can also set smaller, more feasible goals along the way. Such as, “I want to be able to swim 5 laps by the end of the month,” and then celebrate achieving this milestone! By setting mini goals, you are making your big goal more achievable. Feeling success is another motivator to continue on the path you’re on and achieve your big goal.
The fourth step to setting a SMART fitness goal is relevance. The truth is, no matter how specific, measurable, and achievable your goal is, none of that matters if it doesn’t matter to you. Again, in this step there might be external factors that motivate you, like in the case of the wedding. Maybe you are motivated by an upcoming race you want to participate in or an upcoming doctor’s appointment you would like to show results for. All of these factors are real and relatable and relevant. But sometimes external factors don’t exist to help us set goals. In this case, you might need to dig deeper into your internal motivations. One of the reasons I started working out was because I realized I hated seeing photos of myself to the point where I stopped letting people take pictures of me or taking selfies. For me, that internal motivation was to see myself in a photo with a smile. While I had to reset the end date of my goal a few times to get to exactly where I wanted to be, that internal motivation helped keep me on track.
The final step to setting a SMART fitness goal is timeliness. You’ve likely noticed how important deadlines are throughout this article. When you set a timeline that you want to achieve a goal within, you are placing good stress on yourself. Deadlines help us stay organized and focused. That positive stress pushes us to continue on with the goals we’ve set for ourselves. Those mini goal deadlines? They help us achieve and feel success throughout our journey. There’s also something very satisfying about knowing that even if you are not your goal today, that doesn’t really matter because you still have time to work toward it. As humans, we crave organization to help us make sense of the world, and that is no different when it comes to your health and fitness journey.
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