Why bother with fitness goals?

Lose 20lbs. Don’t eat sugar. Run a mile time faster. Sound familiar? That’s because these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fitness goals we set for ourselves. We’re constantly told that if we want to achieve something then we need to set goals. There’s nothing wrong with this advice. However, it can backfire quite often. Why? When we set goals we have a way to measure whether or not we have achieved said goals. Unfortunately, many of us don’t set daily habits to achieve. So, here are three alternatives to how most of us commonly set our fitness goals.

STEP 1:  Switch OUTCOME goals for BEHAVIOR goals

Let’s use the “I want to lose 20lbs” outcome goal. You set this as your goal and ever week you weigh yourself. Sure enough the weight may begin to drop. Like most people you’ll be motivated and continue working towards the 20lbs weight loss goal. However, you will more than likely plateau. Weeks and months will go by where you haven’t lost the 20lbs you set out to lose from the start. You’ll get depressed and keep spinning your wheels, not sure what you need to do differently aside from train harder and more often. So, you give up.

The problem with this approach is the inability to factor in all the things you can’t control: you get sick, kid gets sick, too much time at work, unfinished projects around the house, etc. If you only focus on the outcome then you will never be happy until you reach your goal. But, there is another way that helps keep you motivated and progressing towards your goal even when life throws you curve balls.

Solution: Set ONE behavior goal along with your outcome goal. You said you want to lose 20lbs, correct? Well, what do YOU think you should change on a daily basis to achieve this goal? You’re probably thinking, “Well, I eat out for lunch every day so I’ll pack my lunch instead. I’ll have better control over what I’m eating.” Boom! You just created a habit which can help in losing those unwanted 20lbs. The great thing about this is that after a while this will become habit. You’ll most likely stall and need to make another behavior change. Gradually, you’ll make the necessary changes to lose those 20lbs. And, in the event you don’t lose 20lbs you’ll at least know which habits worked and which ones didn’t. You’ll have tracked these behavior changes instead of blindly change too many variables in your life to know which one’s did and did not work.

STEP 2: Switch AVOID goals into APPROACH goals

What happens when someone tells us not to do something? We do it. What happens when we tell ourselves not to do something? We don’t do it…at least for a while. Then, we do it. Why? We are giving our attention and focus to what we shouldn’t be doing instead of what we should be doing. This leaves us with too many options of what to do and we get overwhelmed trying to figure out what habit or activity we should do that helps move us closer to our goal. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop isn’t just an old-time phrase. It’s probably the best analogy for anyone setting behaviors to avoid. So, let’s use another approach.

Solution: Let’s use the “don’t eat sugar” example. Instead, let’s make it an approach goal by substituting something that satisfies our sweet craving. What comes to mind? “Well, fruit is sweet and I really like peaches and cherries. I’ll eat peaches and cherries any time I have a sweet tooth.”

What did we just do? We established an approach on how to deal with sweet cravings. You know exactly what you should do when those sweet cravings take hold. You don’t have to fight the urge to eat something sweet. You can eat something sweet! This adjustment does 2 things; first, you now have a behavior change in progress and second, you focusing on what to do and not what to avoid. People tend to stick to behaviors they set for themselves and give them permission versus restrictions. Congrats, you’re well on your way to improving your health!

STEP 3: Switch PERFORMANCE goals into MASTERY goals

This might be the hardest goal to adjust, especially if you’re an athlete. Performance goals are important. They let you know when you’ve achieved a goal that doesn’t require a few adjustments but a mountain of changes. One small slip up on the program, the diet, your sleep, anything could be the difference between winning and losing. It’ll be the difference between taking 1st place or 2nd place. So, why not keep performance as the goal? I’m not arguing to not keep it as a goal in this scenario but to focus on something else that could help you achieve your performance goal. I’m talking about mastering your craft.

Solution: Own the movement. Sounds like a hippie protest phrase but it makes sense. If you want to perform at a certain level to achieve your goal then you need to own whatever skill(s) necessary to reach that point. Let’s take the 1-mile run for a spin. Sure, you can jog every day and gradually improve your 1-mile run time. At first, casual jogging and a gradual increase in effort will improve your run time simply because your cardio output has improved. Next, you’ll start increasing your pace and effort in your run. Like most people you’ll eventually reach your limit and no matter how hard you run your 1-mile time will remain the same. You’ve put tons of effort into running but it’s not working like it used to.  So, what to do?

First, let’s take a look at your running mechanics. Maybe you’ve been running with an over pronated or supinated foot. Maybe you bounce a lot in your stride. Maybe your cadence could be off. The point is running harder and further every single day can’t improve all of these issues. In other words, you have mastered the skill of running. This can be applied to almost any performance goal. Want to improve your deadlift? Look at where your technique needs improvement. Want to swim faster? Look at your swimming mechanics. This is exactly what professional and Olympic level athletes do when they’re not training. They look at all the details of every stride, stroke, foot movement, breath, etc. You think a boxer gets ready for a rematch just punching a bag or another opponent? No, they watch videos of the prior match and look at what they and their opponent did during the fight. So, if you want to improve your performance then focus on your skill. Own it, master it, and you’ll be in a better position to reach that goal.

STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!

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