Trying to achieve your health and fitness goals can be a challenge.
It always starts out so promising, doesn’t it? You’ve reached a point at the beginning of a week or a year or you’ve just hit your limit of dealing with some health or fitness challenge and you set a goal to make real, lasting changes. Pumped up by surging motivation and excitement, you swear to yourself this time is going to be different.
Then, it isn’t. You keep running into the same issue — not following through. In those moments, you might feel like you don’t have the self-control, discipline, or motivation to pull it off and achieve your goals.
As a result, you might find yourself feeling indifferent towards your goals or discouraged by your lack of progress. You may even be tempted to stop setting a goal and trash-talking resolutions because you fear failing again.
But not so fast!
With the right approach, you can achieve your goals. Read on to learn more about six simple steps you can take towards living a healthier life and finally reaching your health and fitness goals.
And it starts with better goal setting.
The problem with most goals
We’ve all heard the statistic that 80% of resolutions fail. Let’s talk about that.
My first issue there is that it’s a stat that’s taken wildly out of context from the study it came from. Another post for another day.
My second issue is why aren’t we then focusing HARD on what makes the other 20% successful — because those people seemed to have figured something out about goal setting and achieving goals that the rest of us could learn from.
The research on goals and resolutions show us that most people fail to achieve their goals because:
- Their goals are poorly structured or totally unstructured. I see this one all the time. We resolve to “eat healthy” or “move more” without any way to track or measure if we are succeeding or not. “I want to eat healthy” is a statement … it’s not a plan.
- They set too many goals. Most of us have a limited amount of extra time, money, and energy. Each goal you set is a drain on those resources. The more goals you have, the more difficult it is to manage your resources and the more overextended you’ll feel.
- They set conflicting goals. We can do a lot … but not all at once. I see people set goals to “run a marathon” and “lose weight”. The problem is that training for and running a marathon requires eating enough to fuel those long runs. Losing weight requires you to eat less than you burn. Those two goals are in direct conflict with each other. Try to do both and you’ll be working against yourself every step of the way.
- Their goals are too difficult. Fueled by motivation rocket fuel, we are often overly optimistic about what we can accomplish and we tend to overestimate the desire and energy we’ll have to keep going when the newness and motivation wears off. We also have a tendency to fail to identify potential obstacles and underestimate how many obstacles and external factors will affect us and we erroneously assume that we’ll be able to rely on “discipline” to not get knocked off track. So when things happen, we end up trying to white-knuckle our way through until we can’t take it anymore and quit.
- They’re set too far in the future to guide current behavior. Let’s be real for a sec. “I want to be able to hike with my grandkids 20 years from now” isn’t going to get your ass out of bed when it’s cold and rainy and you don’t feel like working out. These long-term life goals are great for big picture thinking and help to guide how we set shorter-term goals BUT they lack relevance now. With them, there is nothing connecting our behavior now to the future result.
- They don’t make action plans for reaching goals. Most goals require a step-by-step process of some sort. An action plan for goal achievement lays out those steps in order so you can track your progress and keep moving forward. This is the part many of us skip. If you don’t know how to train for a half-marathon, and you struggle to hold yourself accountable, why are you trying to piece together your own training plan and hold yourself to it? Why not hire a coach to create the plan and hold you accountable? Or join a training group to remove obstacles to help achieve your goals?
- They don’t consider why they’re setting the goal or why they want to reach the goal. People really like to SHOULD all over themselves. Any change you want to make in your life will create some friction and resistance. If the goals you’re setting are things you think you SHOULD do, rather than things you value highly and are ready to prioritize over other things in your life, you’re gonna struggle to make lasting progress.
My guess is that you can see yourself in one, several, or many of these bullet points. I know I can.
So let’s talk about how we can avoid these goal-setting traps.
6 simple steps to improve your goal setting process so you can achieve your goals
Step 1: Set a single realistic, measurable goal for yourself in the next 90 days.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when setting goals, especially if you want to make a big impact on your life.
Remember that setting too many goals, setting conflicting goals, setting goals that are poorly structured or unstructured,setting goals that are too difficult, and setting goals that are set too far in the future to guide current behavior are pitfalls people make regularly.
That’s what we’re trying to avoid all of that here.
So we’re going to pick one, give it structure, and make it doable within a 90-day period. We start small to build skills so we can work our way up to bigger and bigger goals.
Think about the impact you want to have on your life in the next 90 days and brainstorm a list of things you want to achieve.
Make sure they have structure, are measurable, and are time bound. For example, instead of “eat healthier”, try something like “eat at least 4 servings of fruits and veggies every day” or “eat 27g of fiber per day”.
But make sure each goal is only one goal, not a few goals rolled into one. For example, if you’ve never been a regular runner and you’re just getting started, “running a marathon this year” isn’t just one goal … it’s a whole bunch of goals. Making them one goal like this is a sure fire way to overwhelm yourself. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Break it down into 90-day chunks like this:
- Goal 1 (first 90 days): Build up to running 5 days per week by increasing weekly mileage by 10% per week.
- Goal 2 (second 90 days): Train for and run a half-marathon.
- Goals 3 & 4(third & fourth 90 days): Train for and run a marathon.
And if you’re having trouble picking which goal to start with, make a list of all the options you’re considering — the huge ones, the big ones, the medium ones, the small ones, and the teeny tiny ones. Then, rank each of them on a scale of 1-10 in terms of how confident you are that you could do it in 90 days, with 1 being “never gonna happen” and 10 being “I could crush that for sure”. Finally, pick one where your confidence level is between 7-9.
Remember, one goal at a time.
And I know, shiny object syndrome is so real. But remember that your greatest power is your ability to focus on doing one thing really well, rather than trying to do a bunch of things poorly.
Step 2: List the top 1-3 qualities or feelings that you hope achieving the goal will make you feel.
Before starting on any journey, it’s important to find your why. Most of us pick and pursue goals because we want to feel a certain way and we think achieving that goal will give us that feeling.
Whether it’s personal goals or pursuing some ideal future professional life, knowing why you’re setting it is crucial to staying motivated and achieving success.
So let’s say your goal is to learn to lift with a barbell. And you’re hoping that learning to lift a barbell will make you feel more strong, confident, or capable. Whatever the case may be, taking the time to pinpoint these qualities and feelings can help inspire you on your journey towards achieving that goal in those inevitable days when you feel intimidated to meet your new trainer or unmotivated to show up for a training session.
But even more than that, knowing your why and the qualities you hope to embody, you have a compass for navigating tough choices. When you come to a fork in the road — let’s say between sleeping in and going to the gym to lift — you can look to those qualities as a guide for your decision-making and choose the option that aligns with who you hope to be along the way.
Because here’s the thing — this is the part nobody tells you …
The key to success isn’t to get to the goal as fast as possible so you can feel X quality.
The key to success is to feel X quality as much as possible so you can get to the goal.
If you can incorporate more of X quality in your life and daily choices, you’ll create X quality which will drive your transformation.
And over time, by actively choosing options that allow you to embody the qualities of a person who can achieve X goal, you’ll become the person who can achieve X goal.
So let’s say last night, you slept poorly and you have a 60-minute long run scheduled today. You wake up groggy AF and wanting to skip it. Looking to your desired qualities — let’s say they are that you want to feel strong, resilient, and tenacious — can help you tap into those feelings that you’re chasing and want to embody. One small way to embody strength, resilience, and tenacity is to eat your breakfast and go for a run — even if it’s less than ideal circumstances and yes even if it’s not the full distance.
Remember that the idea is to embody these qualities every day so you become the type of person who can achieve the goal, rather than waiting to achieve the goal so you can feel them.
Step 3: Make a list of your 1-3 strategies for achieving your goal.
This is where you pick the specific approaches you’re committing to for the next 90 days. Instead of getting stuck in your head or procrasti-planning and waiting to find the “perfect approach”, we’re just going to pick something to try.
Because by committing to a strategy, you can start taking concrete steps toward your goal.
Whether it’s setting aside time in your day to work out, ordering meal kits to make healthy meals at home, hiring a coach, or joining a group coaching program, committing to a strategy or strategies is an essential step in making progress.
If you change your strategy every time you get frustrated or feel stuck, you’ll never get anywhere.
Remember, perfection isn’t the goal – it’s about taking action and making forward progress.
Step 4: Then, list the 2-3 behaviors you’re going to work on adopting that align with your chosen strategy.
Once you have committed to approaches or strategies, it is time to focus on the micro level – the specific day-to-day activities that will help bring that strategy to life.
Unlike the strategies you just committed to, consider these changeable if needed. Feel free to experiment with adding behavior for a few weeks and then adjust it if necessary. The goal here is to find things that work for you and align with your chosen strategies and help you get closer to your goals.
Making positive changes in your life will always come down to the daily habits and behaviors you choose to adopt and practice consistently.
Step 5: Post this whole list where you can see it often and track your progress.
Have you ever set a goal and then forgotten about it? It happens to the best of us.
That’s why it’s important to post your goals where you can see them often.
One great place to put a reminder is on your bathroom mirror. This way, you’ll see it every morning and be reminded of what you want to achieve. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, consider placing a post-it note above your computer screen. Or, if you’re a planner person, jot down your goal on a post-it and stick it in your planner so you see it every day when you’re planning out your day.
Check in with your goals, strategies, and behaviors often and make sure you have a method for tracking and measuring your daily/weekly/monthly progress — especially if your goal is to “improve” something. Or brains tend to remember all the times we screwed up and not so much the times we did well. So having a way to track your performance can help keep you motivated and see how far you’ve come when all your brain wants to do is tell you how far you’ve got left to go.
Step 6: Repeat this process every 90 days.
The key to achieving long-term success in any area of life is consistent effort and growth over the long haul.
In this case, consistent small efforts trump sporadic massive efforts for moving the needle toward your long-term goals.
Whether you’re training for a new race distance, trying to squat your bodyweight, or trying to eat a more balanced and nutritious diet, it’s important to set goals and work towards them every day.
That’s why this 90-day plan is such an effective tool for achieving success. By setting measurable goals every 90 days and continually improving your skills, you’ll be able to achieve more than you ever thought possible by building on your past successes.
This approach allows you to break down larger goals into manageable milestones and focus on making steady progress over time.
Achieving goals starts with a clear vision of your desired outcome
In summary, setting a single realistic goal and understanding how you want it to make you feel is essential to successful goal attainment.
Pick your 90-day goal.
List the top 1-3 qualities you hope achieving that goal will make you feel.
Commit to 1-3 strategies for achieving that goal.
Choose 2-3 concrete, measurable behaviors to implement those strategies into your daily life.
Writing all this information down and placing it somewhere visible will help serve as a reminder each day of what you set out to do. It will also allow for easier tracking of progress within the 90-day period.
Additionally, setting goals in chunks every 90 days ensures continual growth and progress at a manageable and sustainable rate.
Need more help?
This is the exact 90-day goal setting process we’ll be using to get success for our clients in our StrongHer in 6 group coaching program to create meaningful and impactful behavior change through incremental steps.
Learn more about StrongHer in 6 here.
Let’s get this journey together!