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The Art of Goal Setting

Sep 24, 2021

The Art of Goal Setting or Why Everyone Should Be Using SMART Goals

By: Larissa Brown

Vision boards, mantras, intentions and manifesting are all terms we have heard related to setting a goal and finding success. Whether you are looking for professional success or creating a healthy lifestyle you have so many methods and choices that it can feel overwhelming. There are so many ways to chase your dreams. But, at the root of all of these is goal setting.

Setting a SMART goal is the most important step you can take in achieving their fitness goals. There are five elements to any SMART goal: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time specific.

  • Specific, the goal should be clear and easy to understand.

  • Measurable, how will they measure success.

  • Attainable, is it a realistic achievement for the client. Does it fit the clients current routine and commitments?

  • Relevant, is the goal in line with client interest, needs, and abilities.

  • Time specific, what is the deadline? Is the deadline realistic.

Once the goal is set it is not static. There is room to evaluate and reassess the process. When a goal does not feel attainable, people will quit their program. Behavior change is a cycle and you should prepare for setbacks. The goal is a written or visual commitment. It will be a guide for making daily decisions that lead to long term lifestyle changes.

The Stages of Change or The Transtheoretical model of Behavior Change, is a theory of health behavior that can be applied to physical activity. This model examines a person’s readiness to change including goals and strategies to use based on the stage they are in.

There are 5 stages of change: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance. Each stage has specific goals and strategies based on behavior change theory and ACE Group Fitness Manual recommends some goals for each stage.

  • Stage: Precontemplation

Someone in “Precontemplation” is not considering starting a physical activity plan.

Strategy: Increase awareness of benefits of being active and risks of being inactive. Explore the why for being more active.

  • Stage: Contemplation

The next stage is “Contemplation”, in this stage someone is considering being active. They start looking into fitness programs and types of activities that may help them meet their goal.

Goal/Strategy: Involvement in some type of activity. Experience different types of activities.

  • Stage: Preparation

In the “Preparation” stage, you are mentally and physically preparing to participate in physical activity. Now you will be ready to set a goal and pick and commit to activities.

Goal/Strategy: Regular participation in structured physical activity. Identify social support options.

  • Stage: Action

In the “Action” stage, people start participating in regular physical activity. A commitment of less than 6 months is part of the action phase.

Goal/Strategy: Involvement in some type of activity. Activity becomes habitual. Identify potential lapse.

  • Stage: Maintenance

The “Maintenance” stage is considered regular physical activity for more than 6 months.

Goal/Strategy: Maintain interest in activity. Identify early stages of boredom or burnout.

SMART goals are not random. Goal setting is a strategy for success. 9 Habits of Successful People list that successful people “Pursue their own goals”. Edwin A Loke developed the Goal Setting Theory and states “setting specific and setting specific and measurable goals is more effective than setting unclear goals”. That is the entire basis of the SMART goal setting philosophy. Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, cites beginning with the end in mind as 1 of the 7 habits. Defining a clear measure of success and a plan to achieve them is a major step in being successful in life or a lifestyle change.

Why isn’t everyone using SMART goals?

Have you heard the comment “new years resolutions don’t work”. I hear this all the time. Somehow, all goals, even SMART goal setting has been grouped in with the resolution. Some people say they are successful without writing out a goal. Some people do not achieve complex goal or hurt themselves mentally or physically in the pursuit of a goal. Goal setting should be a positive experience not a task that elicits a hefty eye roll or an elevated heart rate, unless that’s your goal.

The reason resolutions usually do not work is because they lack structure and there is even an expectation that they won’t be accomplished. If the end you have in mind is failure, how can you succeed? Resolutions tend to be big bold projections with no thought of how you will meet the goal. A resolution is a great start to the process. Think of a resolution as your brainstorming process. Now use the SMART goal setting process to make a plan to achieve that goal.

A SMART goal does not have to be an essay. Everyone processes things differently. Some of us are more visual, some of us have to write things down to affirm it. You could write key words and phrases and post them on your mirror, desk, or other place where you will see it daily. You could create a daily mantra that you say aloud or in your head. Or you may have pictures on your desktop, mirror, or phone to track your progress or inspire you. The goal is to create something that resonates with you. SMART goals just give structure to your process.

Goals that are too complex may lead to risky behavior to achieve the goal or loss of motivation to achieve the goal. I have seen this many times in clients with weight loss goals or achievement based goals. This is why a good coach is such an important factor in setting a goal. Things to consider when setting that goal to avoid burnout or establishing unhealthy habits:

  • Attainable - Is the goal still attainable? What have been some of the barriers to attaining your goals?

  • Relevant - Is the goal still relevant? Have your interests or abilities changed?

  • Timebound - Have you been able to commit to your timetable? Does the timeline need to be adjusted?

A goal, a mantra, an intention, whatever you choose to call it, it is the foundation of your lifestyle change. It is something tangible to measure and assess your progress. People get frustrated with goal setting, because they do not have a guide to help them. Use this content to help coach your clients to success. Be SMART and evaluate and reassess along the way.

 

References:

Bryant, C.X., Galati, T., Green, D., Jo,S. and Matthews, J. (2018). American Council on Exercise: Group Fitness Instructor Handbook. Creating Memorable Movement Experiences (pp. 98 -103). San Diego:American Council on Exercise.

Covey, Stephen R (n.d.)Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind®. Retrieved August 29, 2021 from https://www.franklincovey.com/habit-2/

Indeed Editorial Team (2021) What Is Goal-Setting Theory? Definition, Principles, Disadvantages and Advantages. Retrieved August 29, 2021 from: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/goal-setting-theory

Ward, M. (2017) 9 habits of highly successful people, from a man who spent 5 years studying them. Retrieved August 29, 2021 from: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/28/9-habits-of-highly-successful-people.html