Setting fitness goals

When it comes to goal setting for health and fitness, my observation is that most people are driven to some degree by social conformity, rather than an inner personal desire. It’s sometimes more about a sense that we should be doing certain things, rather than doing things because we actually want to. I can certainly relate to this, and I think this is the reason why so many people struggle to achieve their goals and become disillusioned.

The bottom line is that if it is not something that you truly want to do, it is an almost certainty that you won’t do what is required to get there. We would probably do better to forget about the physiques that adorn fitness and fashion publications, as they are not attainable for most of us. Even if we had the same genetic potential, we do not have the need, nor, if we are honest, the burning desire, to look the same. Sure, we wouldn’t hate it either, but we probably do not have the time and are not prepared to do what it takes to achieve it.

It is useful to think of fitness as a continuum when goal setting. At one end is the out of shape you, the version of you that doesn’t exercise, eats what they feel like eating and doesn’t pay much attention to things like sleep and hydration. At the other end, is the best possible physical version of you, the version which exercises five times per week, eats well 90% of the time, rarely parties and gets to bed early. The truth is that the latter is not the reality for most of us, and due to other life commitments likely never will be, and we need account for this when we set our goals.

Most of us sit in the middle. We might be able to dedicate two to four hours per week to exercise, are prepared to eat most of the right things – although the weekend is ‘a bit more relaxed’ – and enjoy exercising in a variety of ways. We want to look and feel good, but it is not our job, we appreciate other aspects of life, and thus we are not inclined to throw all of our time and energy into looking good. And we don’t need to.

It is important to recognize that there is a direct correlation between the extent of your goal and the degree of sacrifice required to achieve it. If you have aspirations of being the best possible physical version of yourself, you will need to align your lifestyle choices accordingly. After all, it is unreasonable to expect to achieve something if you are not prepared to do what it takes to get it. Where there is frustration, there is always a disparity between our goals and the choices we make.

The issue for most of us is less of a ‘don’t want to’ and more about ‘don’t have the time or head space to’. This being the case, most of us need to be realistic about what we can achieve. We are also far more likely to find balance if we set process rather than outcome goals. Elite athletes train with a specific end goal in mind and do absolutely everything that is required to achieve it. The reality for most of us is that we lead a more moderate existence and we would do better to give ourselves some flexibility, forgetting about the end goal and instead focusing on the actual variables that we can mange that will help to get us there.

Most of us will likely be more successful if we focus on exercising three times per week and eating a balanced diet five or six days per week, rather than obsessing about the end goal of fat loss for example. It might seem like semantics, but it’s an important distinction. There is no point focusing your mind on a certain fat loss goal, when you cannot, or are not prepared, to make the (often considerable) sacrifices it takes to get there. If you set your goals according to where you are at on the continuum and you focus on ticking off the things that you can actually do (the process), the outcome (goal) will look after itself.