Goal-setting may bring up memories of boring workplace orientations or cheesy teamwork exercises, but in reality, goal setting is one of the most widely-researched performance-enhancing strategies in the field of sport psychology and has been proven to be successful if done right. It sounds so simple, “Write down a goal.” But, people do this wrong ALL THE TIME. I saw it all the time in the classes I taught. Goals like, “I want to get in shape,” were abundant. But, what does this person mean by that statement?
Perhaps they mean they want to lose weight – To accomplish this goal, this person might start walking more to burn calories and eating fewer calories each day. Will their health improve? Yes! Will they lose weight? Yes! Will they increase their fitness? Probably not. They won’t run faster, jump higher, or get much stronger.
But maybe this person wants to become more “fit.” But how so? Do they want to run longer, run faster, stretch further, or increase their strength? Maybe all of it? Well, that’s a lot to keep track of in one goal sentence.
To run longer, this involves progressively overloading one’s large muscle groups such that they adapt to have better aerobic capacity via cellular changes within muscle and nerve tissue in response to the stress of exercise. Or to increase one’s strength, the person will want to lift heavier weights than is comfortable, but only for 3-6 reps at a time, exhausting on the final rep, in order to build more Type IIx muscle fibers, which have a higher anaerobic capacity. Phew!
These training programs are all very different! The way that individual would approach all these different goals is different. Without a clear direction, what should this person do?
This example demonstrates how important it is REFINE your goal statements, and I'm going to tell you how. Start with knowing what result you want or at least a goal for where you want to be a couple months from now. Using SMARTER goal setting strategies can help you write down a goal that will actually help you pinpoint what you need to DO to accomplish that OUTCOME.
Your goal statements should follow a formula that satisfies all of these guidelines. Your goal should be SMARTER:
S – Specific – Goals should describe the exact activity you’d like to improve upon, and how you will test your success. “Fit” becomes “aerobically fit” which becomes “running-fit,” which means your goal involves RUNNING. “Lose weight” becomes “lose pounds” or “lower body fat percentage” or “Lower risk of diabetes.”
M – Measurable – Avoid vague terms like “more” “better” “improve”, and use computable terminology. Drink 8 glasses of water per day. Lose 4 pounds. Walk for 20 minutes per day. Increase muscle endurance by 20 squats. Reduce run time by 20 seconds. Touch my toes with proper stretching form. Run the entire mile without stopping.
A – Attainable – Set goals within physical limits. If you are new to certain exercises, do not expect to become elite by the end of this week. If you are not a runner, do not expect to run a mile and a half in <10 minutes anytime soon. Know where you are already, and ask for help assessing what is realistic growth, and get help to plan how you would have to get there. Is losing 10lbs in 10 weeks attainable? Sure, but it will be easier than losing 15lbs in 10 weeks and harder than losing 5lbs in 10 weeks. Know what it will take to get you there.
R – Realistic – Related to above. It has to be possible and probable. Quitting smoking cold turkey is unrealistic goal, whereas goals to start using nicotine patches may be more applicable. Don’t set a goal so unrealistic that anyone would likely fail or probability is far against you. You can always set a goal for a week from now, and then set another for a week from then. Keeping some short-term goals will help your success seem closer.
T – Time-frame Specific – Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to reach your goal, but give yourself a time limit. “This goal will be achieved by December 1st.” On that day, you will plan to assess yourself using your planned measurements, and you’ll know precisely whether or not you’ve achieved your goal, and by how much you exceeded it.
E – Evaluate – Consistently evaluate the progress you’ve made on your goals and adjust them as needed. You might find that you’re reaching your goal much sooner or later than anticipated! Maybe you need to change your strategy or adjust your timeframe expectations.
R – Recorded – Make sure to WRITE GOALS DOWN in a place where you’ll see them regularly! Try a a bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or front door.
- Set goals for practice as well as competition. How many free throws do you want to make in practice?
- Set reminders for yourself. Want to make sure you go to the gym later today? Keep your gym shoes in front of the door so you have a reminder of what to do. Maybe even keep a pair in your car to cut down on the excuses!
- Develop goal-achievement strategies or plans (Do your research – For example, know that 1 lb of human fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. Over the course of a week, can you burn an extra 3,500 or eat 3,500 fewer calories? Adjust your plan and your goal accordingly!)
- Prioritize process, performance, and outcome goals.
- Find social support for goals. Tell friends who will hold you accountable – they might even join you!
- Make the goal-achieving FUN! However you can, fun and exciting goals will be achieved faster than boring ones. Make sure you work them positively and remind yourself all the exciting changes that will occur when you reach your goal. This should be a fun, rewarding experience!
- Set too many goals and have difficulty tracking them all.
- Fail to recognize individual differences. (Not all goals are appropriate for all people; set them based on your current level of ability).
Carolina Performance Intern
Master’s Student in Kinesiology at UNC-Greensboro
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