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Goal Setting 101
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If you haven’t set goals for yourself, now’s the time to start. Research shows that people who set fitness goals are more likely to stick with their exercise routines and perform at a higher level than those who don’t. This simple process can invigorate your program whether you’re new to working out or simply want to tweak you current fitness objectives.

Why bother?

You already know there’s no excuse for time in the gym, proper nutrition, and plenty of rest. So why spend time setting goals? First, because it works. "Goal-setting to me is a way of intelligently using your resources," says Jack Lesyk, Ph.D., director of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology in Beachwood, Ohio. "Once you have a goal it helps to organize your time, your energy, your effort and so forth. It also provides a feedback mechanism so you can periodically assess yourself and see if the effort that you’re putting in is moving you toward where you want to go."

Setting goals also helps keep you motivated, especially at the beginning of a fitness program. "I think the primary value of goals is that they help us adhere to the [exercise] program," agrees William Gayton, Ph.D, a professor of psychology and director of the Annual Sports Psychology Institute at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Me. "They also give us an opportunity to achieve successes along the way, and there’s nothing more motivating than success. If you have built-in small goals that you’re working toward on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, and you achieve those goals, you feel good. And if you feel good, you’re much more likely to feel good about what you’re doing."


Get ready and set (your goals)

Convinced that goals are a good thing? Now determine your own. Sit back and think about what you want to achieve. Lesyk suggests starting with a "dream goal" that’s significant to you—such as winning the Mr. Universe title or competing in the Olympics. Then, come up with a more realistic long-term goal—say, becoming fit enough to enter a local body-building competition.

Consider where you are now when you’re setting goals. "Goals need to be realistic," Gayton says. "Quite frankly, if someone has a certain body type and certain genes, they may not be as able to be fit as they’d like to be." In other words, take your body type, current fitness level, time available to train and other lifestyle factors into mind when setting your goals. Not sure whether yours are reasonable? Ask a trainer or a savvy friend for his/her opinion.

As you’re setting your goals, remember to make them specific and measurable. An objective of "I want to run a 5K under 21 minutes" is more effective than "I want to increase my running speed." This way, you have a way of measuring and tracking your success. Instead of saying "I want to lose weight" or "I want to get bigger," make goals like "I’ll reduce my body fat percentage by 5 percent" or "I’ll add 10 pounds of muscle by the end of the year." Define your goal so you have a way of measuring it.
Break them down

Often we focus on the overall achievements we’re aiming for, but don’t forget to break down that goal into smaller objectives that you’ll work toward over time. If you want to increase your bench press max by 50 pounds, break that into segments—increase your max by 10 pounds in six weeks, and build from there. Hitting those smaller goals helps keep you motivated to reach the larger ones.
Even a seemingly minor objective—like training three times a week—can help keep you on target. Small goals are not only acceptable but may be more realistic if you’re new to exercise or coming back after a long layoff. It’s OK to set modest immediate goals—they’ll help you build feelings of success, Lesyk says.
Create the plan

Hate to tell you, but simply setting your goals ain’t enough. Now you’ve got to figure out how you’ll achieve them. How often will you train? For how long? When will you go to the gym? How much cardio will you do? How will you modify your diet? The more specific you are with your plan, the better. "With any behavioral changes, whether it’s exercise or anything else, the ultimate commitment is a three-dimensional one," Lesyk says. "It’s a behavior in a specific place or environment at a specific time. When a person makes a commitment to those three things, it’s much more likely that they’ll do it."

The biggest mistake people make when they set goals is skipping this critical step, Gayton says. "They set goals but they do not what I call have goal-achievement strategies," he says. "At that point in time, all they have is dreams."
Track your progress

After you’ve developed your plan, track your progress. The easiest way to do this is with a training log where you record your workouts and other information like your nutritional intake, hours of sleep, and other factors that may affect your training. Check in with your goals occasionally—this may mean sitting down once a week with your training log to perform a mini-review of how you did over the past week. Sunday night after dinner is a great time to revisit your week, and plan for the next.

As you review your progress, make appropriate adjustments to your training plan to keep you on track. Once in a while, take a look at the big picture—are you still motivated about your overall objectives? Are your goals still realistic or do they need to be tweaked? Your exercise log will help you review and evaluate your progress. If you’ve hit a plateau, for example, you may find that you need to mix up your routine—or it may be that you’re not getting enough rest between workouts. Your log can also serve as a trophy of sorts—it’s a constant reminder of how far you’ve come and how hard you’ve worked.
Celebrate your achievements

When setting goals, you may also want to build in a reward system for yourself. Made it to the gym four days a week, despite a busy work schedule? Finally hit 225 on the bench press? Treat yourself to a new computer game you’ve had your eye on, or 18 rounds on your favorite golf course. That too will help keep you motivated.

"What we know is that the probability of a behavior occurring again is a function of whether there’s a positive consequence following it," Gayton says. "If you want to maintain over a long period of time, clearly the behavior needs to be rewarded." At some point, many exercisers find that the workouts themselves are the reward—the physical and emotional challenge of exercising is all the incentive they need. Until you get there, treat yourself to some external reinforcements to keep you on the workout road.

"A lot of activities, and this includes fitness, are not self-rewarding when you first start them," Lesyk says. "They can become self-rewarding but in the meantime, measuring your progress numerically toward the gol can let you create a reward system."

The bottom line? Goal-setting should be an integral part of your workout routine if it isn’t already. It makes sense in the business world and in the gym as well. "Any time you’re giving yourself to an activity, it just makes sense to ask `why am I doing this?’ `What do I expect to get back?’" Lesyk says. "It’s kind of an informal cost-benefit analysis."
Remember, too, that deciding what you want isn’t enough—you must determine how you’ll get it. People confuse dreams and goals, but a dream is only that—a fantasy. A goal is a dream, but with a plan to motivate you and help take you there.

Goal-setting goofs: What not to do

Setting effective goals takes a little practice. Some of the biggest mistakes people make when setting goals:

They’re impossible. If you’re 5 feet 7 inches tall, lifting can make you more cut, more defined, and all-around better-built. It won’t make you taller, though.

They’re vague. What does "I want to be in better shape" mean, anyway? Make your goals specific and measurable—"I want to lose 15 pounds" or "I want to lose two inches off my waist and gain an inch on my chest," for example.

They’re unrealistic. Making big gains takes time at the gym, proper nutrition and plenty of rest. If your wife just had a baby or you’re putting in 60-hour work weeks, consider more modest goals for now.

They’re dreams, not goals. Remember, it’s not enough to set a goal—you must figure out how you’ll achieve it. An "action plan" is an integral part of any goal.




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