For today’s article, we’re going to piggyback on yesterday’s post which detailed how to turn your exercise and food journals into the most valuable resources you have. You see, fitness enthusiasts are full of ambiguous, and quite often, misguided advice. While most of the time these tidbits of advice come with great intentions (and they may even be awesome advice) it often falls flat because it lacks in-depth direction or real-life practicality. People don’t just want to be told what to do. They want to be told why they should do it, how it benefits them, and what they should come to expect from following the advice in question.
We’re tackling something else you no doubt have heard many times in the past, but always comes across as a bit superficial.
“You’ve got to make goals. Write them down, tape them to your bathroom mirror, and look at them everyday. This is how you will learn to continue pushing yourself.”
Um, excuse me, but can I call BS on this one for a second? If simply writing down yours goals, looking at them everyday, and believing in yourself was all it took to keep that inner fire alive….well, we’d be a much more healthy society, to put it politely. While the idea that setting smart goals that you keep in the forefront of your mind is a great piece of advice, it doesn’t provide much depth. We’re going to use today’s article to discuss the art of goal setting, decide how each individual should set goals, and detail how to keep the momentum rolling once you’ve reached a goal.
The Art of Goal Setting
Goal setting is a double-edged sword. Do it skillfully and you’ll have an unending supply of fuel to keep your motivational fire burning forever. On the other hand, if you don’t do it thoughtfully, you could quite easily sap yourself of motivation and leave yourself feeling more discouraged, de-motivated, and helpless than ever before. With that in mind, I’m here to show you how to master the art of goal setting.
Setting goals isn’t about naming some lofty expectations you have for yourself and calling them goals. For instance, I’m a pretty fit guy. I even consider myself to be a pretty talented athlete. But I wouldn’t dream about setting a goal like competing in the next summer Olympic games. I’m 28, I have a right knee that occasionally reminds me I’m not getting any younger, and I don’t have 8+ hours a day to train. In theory, achieving goals is simply getting from point A to point B. But when point B is so many light years away, we’re only setting ourselves up for failure. The first tip of goal setting; set yourself up for success, not failure.
No one knows you better than yourself. You know if you have the determination and/or physical ability to accomplish something. Start with smaller goals you know you can achieve. As you progress, gradually bump the goals up. Now, I’m not telling you to never shoot for goals that you won’t attain. I’m simply saying, keep things in perspective, and use goals that match your abilities and personality. Never let other people set your goals for you. Before you sit down and map out your goals, you need to think. Never set goals spontaneously. Think about your goals or goals over a period of several weeks. If after that time you still believe this is something you want and are willing to work towards and is reasonably achievable, make it a goal to work towards.
Genetics and Goal Planning
It’s a fine line between selling yourself short and setting unreasonable goals. If you are a 110-pound, petite female, wanting to put on 40 pounds of muscle and maintain your current body fat percentage, I hate to tell you, but you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. You’ve got to work with what you’ve been given. This doesn’t mean people can’t make drastic changes, but you’re always going to be operating within the framework that you’ve been provided.
Think about it for a second…why are World’s Strongest Men champions almost always white guys, and predominately of European heritage? Why are the world’s fastest runners typically black men from the Americas? Why are the world’s best marathon runners from one or two places in Africa? Genetics.
One caveat; make sure you’re doing everything right before you decide you something is too impossible for you to accomplish. Are you eating correctly? Are your workouts as good as they can be? Are you slacking off somewhere else? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, correct them first, then see how your body responds.
I Hit My Goals…Now What?
This is one aspect that so many fitness bloggers and other advice-givers seem to gloss over. For a lot of people, hitting a lofty goal seems like the end of the road. This is where trouble begins to show up. Just because you’ve run that marathon, lost the weight, or hit a new personal best on deadlift, doesn’t mean it’s time to lay off the gas. Of course, you should recognize and congratulate yourself for achieving your goals, but view it more as a mile marker rather than a finish line.
The act of setting AND achieving goals can easily become the most valuable tool you have in your arsenal. The reason most of us never reach our goals or achieve the body and/or health that we want is because we simply don’t have the determination. It’s not for lack of physical ability, know-how, or even lack of time (yes, I’m looking at all of you out there who still use this excuse). It’s because we simply don’t have the mental strength to persevere. Studies have shown that progressive goal setting and the achievement of said goals sets of a physiological process that increases motivation, determination, and will-power.
Isn’t that remarkable? Achieving goals can actually make your mental willpower stronger. It’s kind of like Pac-Man; you’re going through chomping up those little dots. With each successive dot, instead of gaining more points, you’re getting mentally stronger. The more dots (goals) you get through, the stronger you get.
We all know that feeling we get when we don’t want to do something. Our minds start searching for reasons we can’t do it. We then spend our time trying to validate to ourselves, why it’s okay to skip the gym today, or give in to that late night sugar craving. Giving in to those thoughts are the result of weak mental will power. But what if those thoughts not only become fewer and farther between, but saying NO became easier? That transformation occurs when you improve your mental strength…which is directly improved by progressively setting, and hitting, your goals.
In summing things up, you need to start looking at goals, not as those feel good events you reach at the end of the finish line, but as a continual source of mental fuel. Remember to start with realistic goals appropriate for your current abilities, with the pretense that you will gradually increase difficulty with each goal you’ve hit. Understand there may be some goals that are simply out of reach based on your genetics; shooting for the impossible will have the opposite effect you are seeking and will take your time away from achieving goals that are more reachable. With each successive goal you set and hit, you’re adding another log to that internal motivation fire. As you progress, hitting goals will become more commonplace and require less effort. Make sure you are progressively increasing the difficulty of your goals to continuing reaping the mental benefits of goal setting.
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