One of the first steps you should take when starting an exercise program is to set some goals for yourself. In a nutshell, you need to be clear about what you want to achieve. For example, you may want to lose weight, improve your athletic performance, improve your general health, reduce your risk of disease, feel better, or some combination of these. No matter what you want to accomplish, I suggest you use the SMART Goal process to improve your chances of success. SMART means specific, measurable, realizable, important Y limited in time.
1. Specific. Make sure your goals are precise and stated in terms of performance. For example, if you want to lose weight, your goal might be “lose 10 pounds in the next 8 weeks.” If you want to improve your athletic performance, your goal might be to “run a 5K under 20 minutes by the end of the season.” If you want to improve your body composition, your goal might be to “reduce my body fat percentage to 20% in the next 6 months.”
two. Measurable. A goal is measurable when it is easy to determine if it has been achieved. The weight loss goal mentioned above is easily measured. Within 8 weeks you will weigh 10 pounds less or not. Also, with performance and body composition goals, it will be easy to determine if you are successful. In contrast, the goal of “reducing my risk of disease” is not very measurable. A better goal is “lower my LDL cholesterol by 20 points in the next 6 months.”
3. Realizable. One of the biggest mistakes people make in the goal setting process is setting unattainable goals. Your goals must be high, but they must also be realistic. A goal of losing 20 pounds in 4 weeks is unrealistic and unhealthy. Likewise, if you’re new to running and set a goal of finishing a marathon within 3 months, you’re setting yourself up for both failure and pain. Make your goals attainable.
Four. Important. Your goals must be important to you as an individual. Don’t set a goal just because your friends, family, or exercise buddies have set it. Remember, your goals will be your main motivation for sticking with your exercise program, so make sure they’re important to you.
5. Limited in time. Make sure each goal has a specific time frame for completion. This allows you to easily determine if it has been achieved. It also increases the probability that you will achieve each goal since you know that the clock is ticking! For example, if you want to lose weight, an effective time-based goal might be “By January 1, I will lose 15 pounds and lower my body fat percentage to 18%.” Of course, this assumes you don’t set this goal on Christmas Day! Labor Day would provide a more realistic time frame.