Smart Goal Setting – How to Make 2017 Your Best Year Yet!
Setting goals can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you need to push your limits yet on the other hand, you must avoid goals that set you up to fail before you begin.
A quick web search yields millions of results and hundreds of techniques for setting goals. While many of these approaches have merit, only one has stood the test of time – S.M.A.R.T. goal setting.
S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym standing for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. This style of goal setting is straightforward, simple, flexible, and perfect for fitness goals. If you ask gym-goers who achieved significant physical transformations about their goal-setting approach, then I’m willing to bet the majority respond with how they set S.M.A.R.T. goals.
You can employ S.M.A.R.T goals regardless of your fitness experience and nutritional knowledge. This approach is great for beginners with no prior exercise or nutrition knowledge looking to kick off their physical transformation journey.
Intermediate and advanced trainees in a nutrition or exercise rut can also benefit from setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. This article delves in to each element of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym as well as provides tips to ensure you achieve your nutrition, fitness, and physical transformation goals in the New Year.
Smart Goal Setting
A poorly defined or misidentified goal is one of the quickest ways to sabotage yourself and fail. A specific goal is clearly defined and if read by an individual other than yourself, should raise zero clarification questions.
Here are arguably the top 3 most common unspecific goals related to body transformation:
“I want to look better.”
“I want to lose (or gain) weight.”
“I want to tone up.”
Now let’s analyze these three goals further. While goal number one sounds logical in theory, it provides no substance as exactly what it takes to “look better.” It could involve losing fat around the midsection, adding muscle to the arms, ridding the face of acne, or getting a new haircut. A more specific goal would address one or at most two areas that fit your definition of what it takes to look better.
The second goal is somewhat more specific but unfortunately does not account for the type of weight you want to lose or gain. For those wanting to lose weight, a decrease in the number on the scale can be misleading.
This weight could be water, carbohydrates stored in the muscles called glycogen, or fat. You can also drop weight by chopping off a limb or removing an internal organ.
You may think I’m being a wise-ass but for the sake of argument it’s worth refining your goal to indicate you want to lose fat. The same goes for those looking to gain weight. If you asked me to gain weight I could eat a whole cake in one sitting or load up my body with water-retaining sodium and I’d accomplish this unspecific goal. I suggest refining this goal to indicate you want to gain muscle.
I have two bones to pick with the third goal. Firstly, the word “tone” is a misnomer. Those looking for toned muscles are actually asking to add a small amount of muscle and drop body fat covering that region of the body.
This goal is also like the first in that it doesn’t specify which area(s) of the body you want to tone. Chances are you’re referring to specific body parts when you set this goal like the arms, thighs, or butt.
Many goal-setters lose motivation and fail because they feel as though they’re not making progress. At first, they attack the goal with unmatched passion and drive only to quickly lose hope because they don’t see or feel any progress. A measurable goal contains a standard unit that you can record and track.
The most common standard unit used in body transformation goals is weight in pounds, kilograms, or stones. You can quickly and easily measure your weight by stepping on even the most inexpensive scales.
Those looking to drop fat may want to measure the circumference of their waist or hips using inches or centimeters. If you have a body fat caliper, access to a hydrostatic weighing apparatus, or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scanner, then you can also track body fat percentage.
If your goal is to add muscle then strive to increase the circumference of body parts like the arms, thighs, and chest without significantly increasing the size of your waist. If your goal is performance based, then measure the pounds lifted for a weightlifting exercise or time it takes to reach a certain distance during cardiovascular activity.
Regardless of what values you decide to measure, it’s critical that you record them in a journal, spreadsheet, or piece of paper so that you can track progress over time. I track my weightlifting workouts and body part measurements in a beat-up notebook as well as utilize calorie tracking applications to ensure my diet aligns with my goal.
The frequency with which you measure the standard unit associated with you goal depends largely on the amount of time you’ve allotted yourself to achieve that goal. For most, measuring weight once or twice a week, exercise performance one or twice per month, and body part circumference once per month is a good start.
Achievable goals are those which you feel can be accomplished based on the current circumstances in your life. Many individuals set unachievable goals due to the influence of the media and pop culture.
Just because a famous movie star, athlete, or celebrity gained X pounds or lost Y pounds in a short time, it doesn’t mean you can or should. In addition to having significantly more wealth than the average person, the careers of these individuals hinge on their physique.
Take a few minutes to reflect on what’s going on in your life. You can’t expect to set an achievable goal without accounting for variables such as marital status, number of children, hours worked per day, hours slept per day, commute time, and extracurricular activities.
An achievable goal is one that you feel you can meet or exceed given your current life situation. We can’t predict the future but if you forecast major changes on the horizon then it’s wise to adjust your goal accordingly.
A realistic goal goes together with an achievable goal. You can’t expect to achieve a goal unless it’s realistic. Those looking to add muscle mass should not expect to out-angle professional bodybuilders after just a few years of training. Those looking to drop 30 pounds as fast as possible should not expect it to happen in a week, or even a month…unless you’re chopping off limbs or removing organs, but I digress.
You should also exercise caution in setting goals related to spot reduction of fat on or adding inches of circumference to body parts in a short period. While fat tends to gather around the hips, thighs, butt, and belly, you should expect to lose fat across your whole body during a fat loss phase.
Those looking to add inches to their arms and calves should also plan to add inches to their chest and thighs as these larger body parts tend to grow faster than smaller body parts. Those setting performance based goals should expect more rapid progress if they’re new to and inefficient at performing a certain exercise whereas experienced trainees should set more modest improvement goals.
Setting a deadline is one of the most challenging, yet most important aspects of goal setting. You must strike the balance between a short enough time period so that you must consciously make decisions to achieve your goal with a long enough time period so that the goal is achievable and realistic.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to determine the time required to achieve a specific goal. You must determine a reasonable time frame based on your current and anticipated future life situation.
Despite the lack of magic formula, I can provide you with a few guidelines:
The less time you devote to eating right and exercising, the slower your progress will be. You can’t expect to drop 30 pounds of fat in three months if you only exercise twice per week and don’t watch what you eat. Likewise, you can’t expect to add three inches to your arms in a year if you only perform three sets of curls once per week.
The closer you are to achieving your goal, the slower the progress may be. Beginners will progress at the fastest rate whereas advanced trainees must set goals smaller in magnitude yet equally aggressive in timeline.
The more aggressive the timeline, the more sacrifices you must make. It’s all about balance based on your life situation. If you want to shave minutes rather than seconds off your five-kilometer run time, then expect to be running significantly more miles leading up to the race.
Those looking to drop fat or add muscle at a faster rate will find themselves sacrificing free time with friends, family, and loved ones so that they can work towards their goal in the gym or on the field.
What Happens if You Fail?
So, you’ve followed the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting principles but you didn’t meet the standard unit values you expected to achieve in a specific time frame? Don’t worry! If you followed the goal setting principles outlined above, then chances are you made significant progress.
The actions that we take and decisions that we make are not made in a vacuum. Sometimes we set a goal but due to unforeseen circumstances we don’t meet our own expectations.
It’s critical not to get discouraged and instead focus on the progress you made since you first set the goal. Review your workout or food journal and look at you’re before picture if you’re embarking on a physical transformation journey.
Chances are you made more progress than you thought! If you’ve almost achieved your goal, then consider pushing out the time frame. If you significantly missed the goal, then perhaps the time frame was too short or the goal was not specific, unachievable, or unrealistic from the start.
What’s your favorite approach for setting and achieving goals? Do you have goal-setting tips not mention above? Let me know in the comments below.