It’s fitting that my first *real* post on here has to do with setting goals. We’re well into March, and most of the New-Years-Resolutioners have stopped coming to the gym. Some of y’all are still hanging in there. (I’m f*cking proud of you, keep it up!) My sneaking suspicion is this: those of you still hanging in there are the ones who set a “better” goal than those of you who are not.
Goal-setting is the single most important step you can take for yourself. I would even argue it’s more important than any single workout you do. (Yeah, you heard me right.) Your goal serves as your vision for success, which provides you a compass and a “why” whenever you hit a slump. By not setting a “good” goal, you end up putting all this effort and mental energy toward something that may not pay off the way you would like, and not having a good “why” won’t help you when you hit your inevitable slump (which happens to everyone, by the way).
So what is a “good” goal, anyway?
To call on my Army experience…
(Aside: ugh why am I like this, I hate being that person who says sh*t like “to call on my Army experience” …who the f*ck am I?! *ahem* ANYWAY)
A “good” goal is a SMART goal. I mean, yes, smart, but what I really mean is S.M.A.R.T.:
Here are typical New Years Resolutions I hear, and why I think they fail.
“I want to lose weight”
- Specific: This is not specific enough. What do you mean lose weight? What is your goal weight?
- Measurable: Yes, losing weight is measurable, but how can you measure it if you don’t set goal number?
- Achievable: Okay, let’s say we do have a goal weight in mind, but it’s 50 lbs in 2 months. That’s not a realistically achievable goal without something like surgery to literally lop off that weight from your body.
- Relevant: Why do you want to lose weight? Is it because you are overweight? Or is it because your friend weighs less than you do? If it’s the latter, it’s not relevant to you. What are your priorities in life? Are you just trying to prolong your lifespan? Do you want to look good in a bikini? What does looking good in a bikini look like for your body type?
- Time-Bound: By saying “lose weight” it’s not giving us a time we want to accomplish this by. When we set a time for ourselves, we can better determine if our goals are realistic or if we need to adjust them. It also holds us accountable so that we check in with ourselves.
“I want to get stronger”
- Specific: Again, this is not specific enough. What does “get stronger” mean to you? Does it mean “improve my weightlifting total by a certain %” or “have nicer looking biceps?” Does it mean “do more pushups and situps” or “deadlift a car”?
- Measurable: Stronger is only measurable if you have a specific type of strength you want to improve.
- Achievable: If you say something like “I want to make all my muscles stronger and lose weight” that’s not realistic. Building muscle literally means adding more matter on your muscles. Muscles are also heavier than fat. So it will mean gaining weight. If you want to lose weight, you will inevitably lose mass. Ideally, you’ll aim to lose fat, but in a cut you will most certainly lose a little muscle in the process. It’s a tradeoff and a balance.
- Relevant: If you’re trying to do well on a military fitness test, that will require very different muscles and skills compared to something like Strongman or powerlifting. It’s also important to consider, if you do a “well-rounded” fitness plan like CrossFit, which is what I tend to do, you will also spread your focus amongst many movements. Which will inevitably mean your progress will not be as rapid as a dedicated linear strength progression. So your goal needs to be pretty clear in order to set your own expectations for what your progress will look like.
- Time-Bound: Again, to say, “I will improve all my totals in 2 weeks by 200%” I mean. If you’re a total n00b and haven’t picked up a bar in your life then naturally you may double your capabilities, but by setting your deadline, you can get a better sense of how much you can reasonably accomplish.
Once you do decide what your goal is, you need to use that to guide you when you get after that goal. For me, I have this very specific goal:
Improve my Olympic weightlifting technique and totals by 25% at a rate which does not compromise my ability to run 2 mi for my Amy Physical Fitness Test (APFT).
Overall, I haven’t really been working on my Olympic weightlifting totals much lately, because I mostly work out in my basement and I have tile floors. I can’t really “throw” weights down if I fail. I’ve been more timid about trying heavier weights, so I think 25% is very achievable. However, my constraint is that my ability to run does not get compromised.
This is a specific goal, which is also measurable, because I can test my 2 mile run time before, during, and after, a strength progression, and use that as my barometer for whether I need to train more on running. If I notice my run time getting worse, then that is a cue to increase my running training intensity and maybe days, and either move my weightlifting days around or decrease intensity.
However, I also realize that running and weightlifting are not exactly complementary goals. That knowledge–that sometimes your goals may be at odds with each other–will help you manage your expectations. Yes, you can perform more optimally by picking one goal at a time. I would probably do better by just picking running and getting after that. However, I also know that weightlifting is something I enjoy and want to get better at, and being a well-rounded athlete is important to me especially as I prepare for the upcoming Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT).
If you want to optimize your progress toward your goals, your actions need to align with your goals, and your goals need to align with your priorities.
What are your priorities?
When it comes to setting goals (and smashing them) it really comes down to making sure they closely align to your values and your priorities in life. Is it realistic to train for 2 hours, 4 times per week? Maybe, but it depends on what your main priorities in life are.
Do you have kids to take care of? A salaried job which keeps you in the office more than 8 hours per day? Is spending 8 hours per week at the gym instead of at home going to align with your priorities to spend time with your kids? No? How about 4 hours in your basement? Can your kids be in the basement? Yes? Then maybe it makes less sense to be in a gym and makes more sense to buy a couple pairs of dumbbells for the price of an annual gym membership. Maybe you need to do certain exercises for fitness on the job. Then equipment (and therefore a gym) would be higher priority.
If you know your ass is on the line if you fail a fitness test, you’re more likely to follow through. Similarly, if you know your kids get to spend time with you and see you as a positive role model while you workout, then you’re more likely to follow through. By aligning to your priorities, the “why” you give yourself is much more compelling than just “I want to lose weight someday.”
And if your goals have changed since you started? That’s okay! Sometimes that’s a good sign that you’re finally aligning properly with your priorities.
Finally, I want to end with a great quote:
When in doubt, check if your actions are aligned with your purpose.Azim Jamal & Brian Tracy
What are your goals? Are you still sticking with your New Years Resolutions? What are your biggest challenges? Let me know in the comments!