How to Set Exercise Goals

by Coach Stevo
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How to Set Exercise Goals

Mount Everest. The Badwater Ultra-Marathon. What do the these things have in common? They are Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG) that are achieved by putting one foot in front of the other. And they are rarely achieved. The only person who’s both climbed Everest and run Badawater is Marshall Ulrich. In his autobiography Running on Empty, Ulrich’s recommendation for achieving BHAGs is to “focus on the present and set intermediate goals.” And the best Sport Psychology research points to the same thing. Setting intermediate, or “process goals” are vastly superior to BHAGs.

So why are BHAGs so common in January? Because let’s face it, BHAGs are sexy. Telling people your BHAG usually results in “oooohs” and “aaaaahs” followed by those same people telling you how brave and courageous you are and how they could never do something like that. And heck, what feels nicer than people telling you how brave and courageous you are?

How about actually achieving your goals?

Setting process goals is simple, but not easy at first for most people. We get distracted. We lose focus. We get stubborn that there’s a “right” or “perfect” way to our BHAG. But perfection is a distraction in itself. All that matters is momentum. All that matters, according to Ulrich, is “putting one foot in front of the other, millions of times.”

Here is path I start my clients out on. The path may change, but the courage it takes to keep moving forward will not.

1. DON’T START WITH “WHAT DO I WANT TO DO,” BUT “WHO DO YOU WANT TO BE?”

Describe the kind of person you want to be at the end of this journey, not what you want to achieve. Do you want to be more disciplined? Making better health choices? A better example for your children?

2. WHAT DOES THAT PERSON DO EVERY DAY?

Take that description of the person you want to be and make a list of kinds of things that person does every day. What are their habits? It helps if you talk to or read up on what people like the person you want to be actually do because it’s often WAY less than you think. For example, Tommy Kono, the only person to hold World Records in four classes of Olympic-style Weightlifting (and from an era that predates the invention of steroids), only practiced 3 times a week. He says anyone lifting more than that has a bored coach.

3. HAVE THE COURAGE, THE BRAVERY, THE SHEER AUDACIOUSNESS TO PICK ONE OF THOSE HABITS TO START WITH.

Just one. I can’t state this more plainly, and yet everyone chickens out. Pick. One. Habit. ONE. Uno. I know it’s not sexy, but it’s brave. It’s easy to get distracted thinking about those sexy “oooohs” and “aaaaaahs,” when you tell people about a BHAG but they’re just distractions. You’re doing this to become the person you want be.

4. ASK YOURSELF, “AM I 90-100% CONFIDENT THAT I CAN DO THIS HABIT EVERY DAY FOR 2 WEEKS?”

If the answer is no, have the courage to make it smaller. Are you unsure you can go to the gym every day? How about waking up earlier? How about just setting the alarm on your phone? You just need to get started. All that matters is momentum.

5. FIND A TRIGGER, LIKE SETTING AN ALARM, YOU CAN RELY ON TO REMIND YOU.

All habits need a trigger or we often just forget. Life gets in the way, so make sure you have something you can’t ignore in the way of the status quo. Block your door with your running shoes. Set a recurring 6am alarm on your phone. Ask a friend to remind you.

6. DO THAT HABIT, OR SOMETHING THAT MAKES THAT HABIT EASIER TO DO TOMORROW, EVERY DAY.

Just show up. Put one foot in front of the other. Even if it’s a single step, all that matters is momentum. All that matters is momentum.

7. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS.

Make a hash mark on your wall. Make a note in MyFitnessPal. Tell a stranger on the internet that you put on your running shoes today. You need to see it. You need to celebrate it.

8. FORGIVE YOUR SLIP UPS.

It doesn’t matter if you miss a day. It doesn’t matter if you miss a week. All that matters is momentum and that means all that matters is today. You have to be obstinate about the present. Have the courage to see your slip ups as progress. Because the obstacles are the path. And all you have to do, is keep moving forward.

Related

  • Sabrina

    Great article this has helped me so much!

  • Natacha

    I needed this today. Thank you.

  • Hiphopanonymous

    Moving forward is the best advice, because we all know staying where we are is sometimes the most comfortable.

  • Dinnn

    I haven’t exercised in 2 weeks and today I begin my journey to the gym one again. Thank you for the motivation.

  • ClaireMarieBloom

    I can totally relate to this article and the phrase ‘all that matters is momentum’ is now my new mantra!
    Been struggling to keep a new running routine going for the past 10 days. I’ve gone out and I’ve run, albeit slowly and no further than 2.15 Miles in one running session, so far, but reading this has helped me see that I am moving. I am moving.
    All that matters is momentum

  • scotia70

    Momentum….I shall make this my mantra. I have a physical disability but today was a good day and I managed over 10000 steps! Tomorrow may only manage 50 steps but I shall have the momentum because that’s all that matters! Thankyou.

    • Peg

      I feel better to read your post as I am partially disabled and so often I don’t think others understand those days where doing 50 steps is actually harder than the 10000. Thanks for making me feel less alone

  • Ag

    I will walk to office from tomorrow.

  • Sarah

    I NEVER comment on articles but this is by FAR the most helpful one (personally) that I have read. Self discipline is what I struggle with most. Momentum is probably the only thing I have – so thank you very much for the nudge in the right direction, not only for fitness, but life in general!!!

  • water dog

    I started swimming a year ago. Not particularly well. I apologized to the person in the lane next to me for splashing more than swimming. The young lady simply said “you just lapped everyone sitting at home on there couch.” I can’t begin to tell you how that simple phrase has kept me going. Never saw her again, wish I could say thank you, this will have to do.

  • Greg Dahlen

    About the only exercise I do is walking, but I usually do three-four miles a day. I find that walking is much more satisfying when you’re walking to get somewhere as opposed to just walking for exercise. So I walk to mass, walk to do errands, walk to work, walk to movie theater. Generally I don’t venture much outside my city, and whatever I go to in my city I try to walk to it if at all possible.

    • Cathy Bock

      That is awesome, a win, win day!

      • Greg Dahlen

        It is pretty great, Cathy. In fact I would feel dissatisfied if I walked only for exercise, it would feel as though I didn’t get enough done with my time.
        Actually, I don’t see why a person couldn’t do errands who ran. Let’s say you want to buy something at the local hardware store, and you want to go for a run. Why not carry a bag, run to the hardware store, buy the thing, then carry it in the bag as you finish the run? Carrying the thing would also give you a little weight training.
        Do you exercise? What do you do?

  • April

    This was very helpful. One of the best articles on motivation that I’ve seen in a long time.

  • Maggie Barinotti

    I just started a new fitness gym. Today I will learn the circuit program AND the exercises for my abs! These are 30 minute classes back to back.
    Miss my old gym but this one is free for Silver Sneakers! Free is good!