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Setting the right fitness goal is crucial to success

by: Roy Palmer

Many fall short of their ideal level of fitness because they either do not set goals or set totally inappropriate goals with only one likely outcome – failure. Yet if you spend a little more time on setting your goals you will increase your chances of success and the rewards will be greater.

If you do not put enough thought into the goal setting stage of your plans you are more likely to fail. A carefully chosen goal, whether to do with your fitness, career or personal life will motivate you to stay on target and also add another factor to your training – it will engage your mind.

Your training and sport should be viewed as part of your personal development and not as a separate physical activity. Many individuals regard their sport and exercise as a way of taking a break from their intellectual pursuits and train their ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ self separately, but do you really perform at best by splitting yourself in two? Does taking the ‘mind’ out of physical activity result in mindless action? Skills and abilities learnt from participating in your sport can translate back to your personal and professional life; it also works the other way around.

Choosing the right goal for you

A goal is a wish to achieve something you regard as worthwhile that represents a challenge. It will be a target beyond your current ability requiring a substantial effort on your behalf to attain. Once you have reached your goal it will be an achievement to take pride in and drive you on to achieve a higher level.

Whether conscious of it or not, most will have a goal in mind that determines what we do. It may be for a quiet, comfortable life, earn more money, look good, get fit or all of these. I believe it is important to have goals as a way to motivate and encourage continuous self-improvement but the goal itself must be carefully thought out before you set off on your journey toward it.

A goal should …

be something you know is achievable and provides you with the motivation to train.

have a specific target so you know when you have achieved it, for example, completing a 10 k

run, making the first team or getting a black belt in a martial art.

involve doing an activity you can enjoy and benefit from.

be shared with the people around you so they will ask you about your progress adding to your motivation.

be broken down into smaller tangible steps so each stage represents a tick in a box allowing you to take satisfaction from the journey.

provide you with the opportunity to experiment and learn.

challenge your intellect as well as your body.

A goal should not be..

impossible or unrealistic

plucked out of the air just because it sounds good. ‘I want to run a marathon’ is fine if you like running and are prepared to put in the time, but if you are not going to enjoy the months of training that lie ahead it is not a good goal to set.

given an arbitrary target without any meaning such as increasing your trips to the gym to 4 times a week, this doesn’t meet the criteria of the should be’s above. However, this might

be a subset of a goal that will enable you to achieve the big one.

too easy and require little effort.

set in concrete and non-negotiable. Be prepared to re-assess your goal and your reasons for achieving it. Don’t suffer needlessly and struggle to achieve a goal that will adversely

affect you, your family and your friends.

detrimental to your health.

Once you have decided your goal ask the following questions to clarify your reasons for selecting it.

Why do I want to achieve this? This could be any reason from giving you the motivation to get out of bed in the morning right up to achieving fame and fortune.

How will I benefit from pursing this goal? Will the reward justify the time and money you will need to commit to succeed? If your goal provides the opportunity for self-improvement then the answer has to be yes.

How will I know when I have succeeded? Have you set a definite finishing point, target or time limit? Can it be measured?

When you are satisfied with your answers write down your goal and then underneath add ‘How I am going to achieve this?’ This will include steps to take you closer each day to your ultimate goal. List things that need to be done in preparation such as buying new kit, research, finding useful sources of information/ advice, getting professional help, joining a sports club and getting a check-up from your doctor

Be sure that each step on your action plan is clear and contains just one action so you can tick the box when it’s done. Be methodical about your preparation and do not be tempted to rush straight into your training, the well known business mantra is just as applicable here

– proper planning prevents poor performance! A good plan also helps you keep your mind focused on the task in hand increasing your chances of success. When you do achieve your goal you can also take satisfaction in your planning and application of that plan. You may wish to promise yourself a reward on successful completion but do make it relevant to your long-term goals. A weekend in Chicago to run the marathon would give your motivation for running a shot in the arm, whereas an all-you-can-eat meal on reaching your target weight would obviously set you back into bad habits. However, if you have chosen an appropriate goal and planned accordingly, the experience of the journey and achievement in itself will mean more than anything – although it’s nice to have some icing on the cake!

How to achieve your goal

At this stage all you have in front of you is a sheet of paper with your goal at the top and listed beneath your individual steps to get you there. Put this in a place where it can be seen. You may need to return to this on occasions when things may not be going too well and your motivation has taken a knock.

In addition to this important record keep a diary of your progress and include:-

what you did you set out to do

what you actually achieved

how you felt

what you learnt

The last point is crucial to achieving your goal. Be flexible and learn from your experience. If something doesn’t appear to be working, don’t try any harder using the same approach. If banging your head against a brick wall isn’t working, don’t bang it harder!

Be prepared to change your approach, method and technique is you feel you are getting nowhere fast or it’s starting to hurt. There is little to be gained from injuring yourself in the pursuit of a goal that is meant to improve your quality of life.

If your enthusiasm dips, return to your goal sheet and training diary to remind you of your objectives and the passion you felt when starting out. As you draw nearer to your goal start planning ahead for your next self-improvement activity. I always find this helps with the final stages as you can start to see yourself moving onwards and upwards towards a higher achievement.

About The Author
Roy Palmer is a teacher of The Alexander Technique and has studied performance enhancement in sport for the last 10 years. In 2001 he published a book called 'The Performance Paradox:

Challenging the conventional methods of sports training and exercise' and is currently working on a new project about The Zone. More information about his unique approach to training can be found at

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