Before you read any further, I’d like you to make yourself comfortable, preferably in a place with few or no distractions, and watch the video to the right.
As you listen to the entire three minutes and forty-one seconds, allow your mind to fully imagine a particularly difficult obstacle in your life that’s keeping you from achieving an unmet goal, and visualize how you will reach it.
What direction did your thinking take? What decisions did you make? How dedicated did you feel about reaching your goal? How did the music help? If you do not feel inspired, energized and completely driven to achieve by your goal setting process, your goal-setting process has been less than flawless and will likely fail.
While most of us know it’s important to begin a workout session with a warm-up and some dynamic stretching, have you ever stopped to think that your mind also needs a warm-up?
You can simply assume that you’re motivated, goal-directed and mentally ready to achieve OR you can distinguish yourself as a flawless fitness goal setter. Not both.
Goal setting has a considerable impact on your long-term adherence to a fitness program. Said another way, if you want to be a consistent in your fitness endeavors, make improved goal setting a key goal of yours.
Here are three methods that appear, in one way or another, in nearly every effective approach to goal setting for improved motivation and long-term adherence that I’ve come across. Combine them for the best results:
1. Imagery & Visualization
You did it when you began reading this post. My suggestion is that you set aside a few minutes before your next workout session and ask yourself what specific goals you have for that particular training session (automatically, these goals will be focused short-term goals). Then listen to the above link in a quiet spot and use all of your senses to vividly imagine, feel, hear and actually see yourself achieving your goals. Stay in the present tense and hear yourself using the pronoun “I.”
By beginning a session with visualization, creating a photograph in your mind of reaching a goal, you are teaching yourself a powerful tool — one that helps you see what you want to achieve and truly commit to it. Goals need to be more than just a vague wish.
After this four-minute mental warm-up, ask yourself the following:
- What did I see, hear, and feel?
- What was I saying to myself?
- Did I savor my success and feel satisfaction in achieving my goal(s)?
What you believe, think, and say to yourself about your ability to reach fitness goals is critically important. If you erroneously believe that you “should” be able to reach a goal without a great deal of effort, or in an unreasonable timeframe, it’s unlikely you will be satisfied with your workout experience.
Listen carefully for these types of internal messages that you may carry as obstacles to proper goal setting:
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Predictions of failure
- Mind reading what others in the gym may be thinking of them.
Reset your thinking by considering the following:
- “Everyone starts somewhere, and there is no ‘right’ place I ‘must’ be”
- “Instead of ‘mind-reading’ without evidence that anyone is thinking negatively about me, could I be the one who is thinking negatively about myself?”
- Brainstorm other, more positive ways that you can think that will leave you feeling better.
3. SMART Goal Setting
Every discussion of goals in contemporary fitness settings includes this unrivaled tool. This is the centerpiece of effective goal setting in visualization and rational self-talk training. You want to be sure the goals you are setting are truly your own.
What do you want to accomplish?
Why is this important to you (benefits to achieving the goal)?
Who do you see involved in this goal (trainer, spouse, family, work)?
Where will you achieve it (gym, outdoor boot camp, home exercises)?
How will you measure progress?
How will you accomplish this goal?
Is this goal truly worthwhile to you?
When will you accomplish this goal?
Old style goal setting: “I want to tone up, hit the gym and lose some weight”
SMART goal: “I am going to improve my cardiovascular endurance by 10% and lose 15 pounds by working with my trainers and following his/her IFT™ exercise program twice each week; spending four days each week in the gym doing HIIT treadmill sessions for 30 minutes; measuring/weighing myself once per week, attending Weight Watchers™ and staying at 27 points per day.”
When you create a list of SMART goals, be sure that you are able to actively visualize the end result with detail, without any negative self-talk. Expressing anticipated achievement through words, pictures, images, bulletin boards, and other vision boards are also helpful, so get creative and allow yourself to emotionally savor your anticipated success.
Write down your goals in SMART language. Visualizing the completed goal(s) will help propel motivation to achieve. Remember to track your progress, monitor milestones, and give yourself daily reminders for rational self-talk.
If you need help setting and getting on track with your health and fitness goals, consider enlisting the help of an ACE-certified personal trainer on your fitness journey.
Michael Mantell earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.S. at Hahnemann Medical College, here he wrote his thesis on obesity. He’s served as the Chief Psychologist of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and the Chief Psychologist for the San Diego Police Department. He provides breakthrough strategies to help business leaders, athletes, individuals and families create healthy, fit and happy trajectories in life. He is the Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for ACE, an international behavior science fitness presenter, an Advisor to numerous companies and fitness organizations, on the Sports Medicine team of The Sporting Club of San Diego and is featured in many international media outlets. He is listed in the greatest.com 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”