goal setting

Staying on Track to Fitness Goals (Why is it so hard?)

A very common scenario: You want to meet a fitness goal. It could be showing up at the gym 3 times per week, attending a class once a week, running more kilometers, running any amount at all, doing a home yoga program, doing ANY exercise at all!! You feel motivated, write down the goal, buy your gym pass, purchase some new runners. Tell people about how great it is going to be. Make all sorts of plans. Then a month later berate yourself for doing only one workout and nothing more!!!

Guess what? You are not alone. In fact some stats show 70-80% of people who make fitness related New Year’s Eve goals have given up on them by February. In my work as a personal trainer, I often have clients ask me to set them up with a program that they can then follow on their own. I am always thrilled when in following up with my clients they are on track. More often I hear “AAAAAK, I don’t know why I fell away from my routine”.

First, don’t beat yourself up. Similar to many aspects of life, when we look around (especially on social media) it can look like everyone else is doing things perfectly. Other people’s perfect airbrushed highlight reels can result in wondering “What is wrong with me!!” Take it easy: here are some reasons WHY staying on track with fitness might be difficult, and some suggestions worth trying.

  1. We are programmed to rest when we can. Our early ancestors had no choice but to run (after food), to squat (to dig up food), to do upper body work (gathering wood) etc. They had to “exercise” all the time. So when these ancestors were able, it was in their best interest to get some rest. But you did not run for 4 hours today to hunt down your dinner, so understand that you have to overcome the resting instinct.

  2. We are social. Often the fitness routines that are most difficult to keep are solitary: going to the gym on your own or doing a home program. There is much less accountability, as you can fool yourself into believing your excuses, but others may not be as easily duped. Here is my personal story: I joined a running group to train for a half marathon. The first 4 weeks I showed up to every training session. One “hill night”, I skipped. The next running group day, a couple other runners said “hey, you missed hills!”. I started in about the weather that night, and how I was tired, and a couple other excuses, and then as I heard myself I said, “ya, those are all just my excuses”. Yes, even those of us in the fitness industry have struggles to stay on track. But it is a little harder to skip out on a session when others will notice. Recommendation? Join a fitness class, get a running/walking buddy, sign up with a hiking group.

  3. Habits rule our lives. Think about your morning routine. You don’t have to leave a note to yourself to brush your teeth, convince yourself of the reasons why you should brush your teeth, set short and long term goals around teeth brushing. You just do it; it’s a habit. Now habits can be either beneficial to your health (drinking a glass of water first thing every morning) or not (eating potato chips every day after work). So the magic bullet here is to develop the habits that will support you. When starting a fitness routine, it won’t begin as a habit as this takes time. But picture when it might be a habit. Is it sustainable? Is it at least somewhat enjoyable? Does it interfere with other important parts of your life? If you know that you can fit into your schedule 2 yoga classes per week, you enjoy yoga, and the timing works with other aspects of your life, this has a good chance of becoming habitual. The goal is having to think about it less and less as you continue with your fitness habit.

So recognize that your desire to rest is pre-programmed and you will have to actively overcome it. Finding something to do with other people, even a class with a bunch of strangers, can be a positive step toward success in fitness goals. Think about developing habits, those practices that become your lifestyle. Your lifestyle becomes your life.

Remember the idea is not to beat yourself up. It’s to lift yourself up.

What Are Your Fitness Goals?

Take a moment to think about your overall health and wellness.  Choose one area where you would like to see a change.  This could be increasing the amount of time you participate in fitness activities each week, reducing intake of a certain unhealthy food, quitting smoking, getting a better night's sleep, or incorporating meditation into your routine.  These are just a few of the hundreds of possible goals a person could have with respect to their health.  

Once you have one idea in mind of an area for change, state it in the form of a goal.  State it in a way so that you will know when the goal is achieved.  For example "get in better shape" is vague, and it can be difficult to determine when this has happened.  However, "each week I will attend two yoga classes and go for one 45 minute walk for the next month" is an objective goal.  At the end of each week, and again at the end of the month, it can be determined if the goal was met.  

For more details on how to set and write goals, look up S.M.A.R.T. goal setting.  A quick search online will produce many well written articles, so I won't repeat that here. 

Once you have defined your wellness goal, take this important step:  get out a piece of paper and a pen/pencil/coloured pencil.  Write that goal down in big letters, taking up the whole paper.  This gets posted somewhere you will see it everyday.  You can also take a photo of your written goal and make it your screensaver, so you will see it throughout the day.  The act of physically writing it down and frequently looking at your goal will switch your brain into gear to make it happen.  

Now take that overall goal and decide what steps need to happen.  With the goal listed above, going to yoga and walking, you may need to purchase a pass at the yoga studio, check your walking shoes, call up a friend and make a plan so you have a walking partner, organize childcare, check out the yoga studio schedule, etc.  Each of these steps carries you on your way toward the goal.  Take out another piece of paper.  Write out all the steps.  As you achieve each one, put a big (I mean BIG) check mark beside the item.  It will feel great as you check things off your list.  Don't do it in your head, do this physically.  

Get out your calendar.  This can be on your laptop, phone, diary, whatever you prefer.  Schedule time to achieve your goal.  These time slots are as important and non-negotiable as any other in there.  If you have scheduled 7:30-7:45 am meditation on Tuesday, then on Tuesday morning make sure you are ready at 7:25 with everything you need for a quiet 15 minutes.  

When you see your posted goal, when you notice the entry in your calendar, smile and feel proud. You are working toward a positive change.  Give yourself a mental and maybe physical pat on the back.  If there are slips, which will happen, do not beat yourself up! Tomorrow is another day and a chance to get back at it.

What is your health and wellness goal going to be?