5 steps to goal setting
In order to arrive you must have a destination, wandering aimlessly will get you nowhere.
Whether you have been a health fanatic for years or you are just about to embark on a health and fitness regime for the first time, one thing is for sure; if you know specifically what it is that you want to achieve your chances of success are significantly increased. Human beings are creatures of habit, if we continually repeat a behavior we become comfortable with it often to the point that we reject the idea of change. This is fine if we are content with the outcome of the behavior, it becomes difficult if we desire a different outcome.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
I am writing this article because I want to encourage you to reflect on what it is you really want from the time and effort you put into your health and fitness regime. I want you to reconnect with your true motivations and ultimately I want to help you become successful in achieving whatever it is that you are setting out to do. I hope that if you don’t currently have a specific goal that this process will help you find out what your goal truly is and give your efforts meaning and purpose. If you do have a goal I hope this process will help you reflect on how effectively you are moving towards that goal and help you question whether you could be more productive.
Step 1: Mind map your potential goals
If you ever have confusing or conflicting thoughts about a subject, a mind map is a very effective tool to help you compare and contrast your thoughts, feelings, ideas and information. Seeing all this on one page can help you prioritise what is important and provide you with clarity and direction. You can mind map any subject, it’s often surprising what it can draw out of you subconscious. If you are not familiar with the mind mapping process then look through the mind mapping guide and example ‘Health’ mind map below.
Start your mind map with the phrase ‘my health and fitness goals’ in the centre and work outwards from there. Write down or draw anything that you find motivating, consider how you would like to look, feel, move, behave, be portrayed, and think of activities you visualise yourself doing or desire to do. It really doesn’t matter what you write as long as it motivates you. Take as much time as you feel you need to get everything down. Once the process is complete, glance over your mind map and highlight anything that particular stands out or creates excitement. If possible find a visual representation of what you have chosen. This should be placed somewhere that you will see it daily such as on your bathroom mirror or office desk.
Step 2: Create your goal, process goals and a deadline
After completing your mind map and highlighting the most significant elements of it you must now identify your goal(s).
Once you know what you want to achieve you must be specific about the outcome you desire; hazy goals create non specific processes. If the goal is clear and apparent then the process of achieving it becomes much more defined.
You may or may not have come across the acronym SMART goals…
- Specific: Include as much detail about the goal as possible so you know exactly what you’re aiming for.
- Measurable: you should be able to use numbers to measure your progress towards the goal.
- Achievable and Realistic: You should be confident that what your setting out to do is possible, if you are unsure then you should seek advice from someone who knows.
- Timed: Finally you should set an appropriate deadline to aim for, this will create some urgency for you to take action.
The smart goal that you have defined can be described as an outcome goal, the next task is to chunk this goal down into smaller more frequent goals known as process goals. Process goals are short term (SMART) goals that create stepping stones toward achieving the outcome goal. Using this system encourages regular measurement of your progress towards the outcome and offers you short term points of focus. These small wins create for a more motivating process especially if your outcome goal is going to take several months to achieve. It also helps identify peaks and troughs in performance and motivation.
- Example goal: Lose weight
- Example SMART goal: Fit comfortably into my size 10 jeans on the 1/6/13 (start of summer). Current jean size 16.
- Example Process goal: Lose 1 inch off my hips every 4 weeks.
Now that you have identified what it is you will be working towards the next three steps are all about employing motivational strategies to ensure that you see the process through. Many individuals will throw the towel in on their goals the moment it hits them that they have strayed from the initial plan. This should not be the case, you simply need to get back on track without losing faith in your ability to achieve. The next three motivational steps are designed to make it harder to duck out of the commitment you have made and reward your efforts and sacrifices.
Step 3: Create Consequences
The two biggest motivators for human behaviours are pleasure and pain ( in both physical and emotional forms). In order to manipulate these motivators in your favour you must make it both painful to fail and pleasurable to achieve, you need to create positive and negative consequences for your actions.
A negative consequence should be set for the scenario that you do not achieve your goal in the set time frame or if you give up all together. This negative consequence is to be decided by you, it should be a painful experience for you (physically, emotionally or both) and should beneﬁt somebody else. You should consider committing time or money, possibly both. For example…
- Time commitment: You pledge to pick up litter in your city centre every weekend for a month.
- Financial commitment: You pledge to donate an agreed amount to a cause that you don’t believe in.
- Financial and time based commitment: You pledge to sacriﬁce work and social time to help fund and volunteer on a youth development program.
The more extreme your consequence the more you demonstrate your commitment to achieving your goal. If the thought of living out your negative consequence is ‘not that bad’ then you should question your commitment to the goal.
Positive consequences are of course much more fun to pledge, it should be something that you day dream about, something that provokes excitement when you discuss it.
Travelling, material luxuries and exceptional food are common rewards that people choose as a positive consequence. For example…
- Travel based commitment: A holiday to the Caribbean to ﬂaunt your beach body.
- Materialistic commitment: Put a deposit on a new watch and pay the balance on completing your goal.
- Exceptional Food: Book a table at a Michelin starred restaurant for one week after the goal deadline.
You must keep in mind that whatever you pledge yourself you must only have your reward if you have earned the right by achieving your goal. Failure to achieve your goal should result in cancelling your reward. Of course upon success you will celebrate your commitment to your goal without guilt or regret.
Step 4: Commit yourself to the goal socially
In my opinion social commitment is the most powerful motivator of all. This is because regardless of what some may say, the majority of us really do care what other people think about us.
Social commitment is informing the people that surround us (both the ones we love and the ones we hate) of our intentions. They should fully understand the detail of what you set out to do, the deadline, the reason you want to do it and the positive and negative consequences you have pledged. Going through this process makes you accountable for your actions from that day forwards. The individuals that know will ask about your progress and you will have to tell them either bad news or good news based on your progress. This fear of embarrassment or positive reinforcement (depending on your progress) is a motivating experience, as nobody wants to confess over and over to everyone they meet that they have failed, but all will take pride in announcing their commitment and consequent success of their efforts. Good opportunities to commit yourself socially include…
- Formal meetings
- Social gatherings
- Social networks
- Family reunions
Step 5: Implement Tracking Strategies
All of us will have to make decisions on a daily basis; the decisions we make today ultimately shape what our lives will look like tomorrow. It’s not unusual that others around us may inﬂuence our decisions or that we may make choices that we don’t want to based on our emotions. Tracking strategies help us to reﬂect on the daily decisions we have made, this helps us to think logically about whether we are happy with our choices and whether the choices we have made move us closer to or further from our goals. There are many tracking strategies that can be used, here are three of my favourites…
Marbles in a Jam Jar: Every time you demonstrate a behaviour (such as going to the gym) that promotes progress towards your goal put a marble in the jar. If you recognise negative behaviour that is detrimental to your efforts take a marble out. If you manage to ﬁll the jar, give yourself a small reward, empty the jar and start again.
Daily Progress Log: At the end of each day take a few moments to write in your diary 3 things you did that day to progress toward your goal.
Visual Reinforcement: Summarise your day as a positive progression or negative regression from your goal. If it has been a negative day turn around the image of your goal stick it back up and draw a small cross. If it has been a positive day adjust the position of the picture very slightly and draw a small tick.
If you make the decision that you want to achieve something, that decision should be black and white, it should be ﬁnal. With some expert advice and your cup full of positive energy there really is no stopping you.
Now, get after it!