It's January again, that time of year where we sit down and think about goal setting. I absolutely love goal setting and I use the SMART process without even realizing at this point! So, apologies in advance if I reference myself a lot throughout this blog post. But hopefully this can help you guys to understand just how easy goal setting can be, when you do it right.
Whether it be fitness goals, healthy eating goals or other lifestyle targets. Goal setting is important to help you align your focus and build momentum towards a greater long-term goal. It is a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future and for motivating yourself to turn this ideal future into a reality. It ultimately involves long-term vision with short-term motivation. Setting goals helps to keep you on track and feeling organized and accomplished. It is a great way to build on your self-confidence as you recognize your own ability and competence in achieving the goals that you set.
However, improper goal setting can be harmful to your motivation. Setting goals that are impossible to reach or don’t have a specific time frame will only set you back. That’s why we want to introduce you to the SMART process. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, and Timely. This process brings structure and trackability into your goals and objectives.
Here's how to use the SMART process with fitness and nutrition
When it comes to fitness and dietary goals, everyone has a different outlook and / or aspiration as to what they want to achieve. However, it does not matter whether you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle or maintain your current physique and diet, what matters is how you set your goals. Goals should be specific, not generic. Specific goals are well defined, clear and unambiguous. Generic goals, on the other hand, are unclear, general statements that are broadly defined.
Goals that are specific have a far greater chance of being accomplished. Consider the five “W” questions to ask yourself:
- Who: Who is involved in this goal?
- What: What do I want to accomplish?
- Where: Where is this goal to be achieved?
- When: When do I want to achieve this goal?
- Why: Why do I want to achieve this goal?
For example, a specific goal would be “I want to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week”, “I want to be able to run 5 kilometers in a month” or “I want to drink one glass of water with every meal or snack”. Examples of generic goal setting includes saying “I want to get fitter” or “I want to lose weight”.
When setting an ultimate long-term goal, you need to be able to measure it through specific short-term goals. For example, If you want to be able to run a marathon in 10 months time, you need to work on shorter distances per week to build up to the full 42 kilometer run. It is the same for nutrition. If you are looking to lose 3kg of weight in two months, you need to work out how much weight you want to lose per week to work towards this larger goal. Goals must have criteria for measuring progress.
Questions to ask yourself:
- How many/much?
- How do I know if I have reached my goal?
- What is my indicator of progress?
With reference to the fitness and nutrition goal above, to make these goals measurable you need to work out what you will do each day per week leading up to this longer term goal. That might be, scheduling run days, gym days and active recovery days for your fitness and eating 5 small meals per day instead of three larger ones and lots of snacks for nutrition. Personally, I find a great way to measure goals is to create two separate planners, one for fitness and one for nutrition. You can find printable monthly or weekly planners here. Otherwise, you can create your own with just a pen and paper! Look at this example of a 12-week marathon training plan for intermediates. You can also find monthly meal planning templates here.
Having these planners helps to keep you focused and responsible for your actions. They are also so easy to read and are even fun to fill in or tick off each day!
Your goals must be realistic. Be honest with yourself when setting goals to avoid feelings of defeat or self-doubt. The achievability of a goal should be stretched enough that you feel challenged but defined well enough that you can actually achieve it. Be aware of your limitations and how you can stretch past those limitations. Making goals achievable encourages resilience. Here is how you can be more resilient.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do I have the resources and capabilities to achieve the goal? If not, what am I missing?
- Have others done it successfully before?
Building on the marathon goal above, if you are a person that has never run before, you can’t expect to complete a marathon in a couple of months. It is the same for nutrition. You can’t expect to lose weight or gain muscle quickly. There is no easy road to any goal. It takes commitment and small daily efforts. Here are some great tips on how to effectively nail your nutrition and reach your fitness goals.
When setting goals for yourself, consider whether or not they are reasonable. Your goals should align with your values and larger, longer-term goals. If a goal doesn’t contribute towards your broader objectives you may need to rethink it. Start small and be reasonable. Don’t aim for too much all at once. For example, avoid setting goals to work out everyday when realistically you only have enough time to workout two or three times per week. Another tip from me, is to have a monthly planner and a weekly planner side by side in your room. This means that if something changes one week, like you miss out on a run, it isn’t the end of the world. You can simply switch it elsewhere on your calendar. So instead of not doing it at all, you are being accountable for the change. Same goes for nutrition, a lot of us have come from a month of gorging on delicious Christmas food and maybe a few alcoholic beverages. The worst thing to do is to go cold turkey during the month of January. Ease yourself slowly back into a more nutritious diet, but don’t forget to allow some treats. The worst thing that can happen to those that try to completely eliminate all bad food from their diet too quickly is binge eating.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Is the goal realistic and within reach?
- Is the goal reachable, given the time and resources?
- Are you able to commit to achieving the goal?
A SMART goal must have a start and finish date to help keep you motivated and to prioritize. Decide on a timeframe for your goals to give them a sense of urgency and make sure they get completed. Timeframes transform goals into actionable content.
- Does my goal have a deadline?
- By when do you want to achieve your goal?
For example, here is a timeline structured in the goals mentioned above: In October 2021 I want to run a full marathon. I will run three times per week and go to the gym twice per week. I will make sure I do mobility or stretching every second day to stay injury free. In order to lose 3kg in two months time I will weigh myself every Friday and Sunday to keep on track. I will have 5 smaller meals per day and drink 2 litres of water.
The importance of SMART goal setting
It is very common practice in January every year that individuals set themselves up for failure by setting general and unrealistic goals. Such as, “I want to lose weight and get fit”. This goal is vague with no sense of direction.
SMART goals set you up for success by being specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and timely. The SMART process helps to keep you on track, focused and organized.