Setting Goals & Sticking With a Plan

ACSM's Program for Balanced Fitness (Part Five)

Material adapted from ACSM's Complete Guide to Fitness & Health by the American College of Sports Medicine. (Copyright 2011 by Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.) Excerpted by permission of Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. http://www.humankinetics.com/.

Goal setting is one of the most important aspects of successful behavior change. Without goals, you cannot develop a plan because you don't know where you want to go! It would be like going on a trip but never identifying the geographic location of your final destination. To succeed, you need to develop both long-term and short-term goals. Long-term goals are like your final destination; short-term goals are the individual routes that will get you there.

Short-term goals are those that can be realistically accomplished within a brief period of time — this week, this month. For example, if you have been totally inactive, a short-term goal might be to walk around the neighborhood for 10 minutes each night after work for the upcoming week. This short-term goal has some valuable characteristics that you can remember with the acronym SMART, as follows:

  • Specific: The activity has been clearly defined both in terms of length and location. The goal is unambiguous in what is desired.
  • Measurable: At the end of the week, you can reflect back on whether you walked each day after work. This is better than a goal such as, "I want to get in better shape," which would be hard to measure.
  • Action-based: The goal includes an activity rather than generalities or an outcome, such as improving fitness or losing weight. It is focused on what you will actually be doing.
  • Realistic: The location for the activity is convenient, and the length of the walk is not excessive. Too often, goals are so far out of reach that they become a source of discouragement rather than encouragement. Your goals should be relevant to you and firmly based in the reality of what you can accomplish.
  • Time-achored: This goal is linked with a specific time frame. Rather than being too open-ended, the goal specifies the upcoming week. Without a time-centered approach, you might be tempted to procrastinate starting or moving forward with an exercise program.

SMART short-term goals can provide wonderful encouragement and focus. In addition, they can instill a sense of self-confidence that you can perform the activity. By creating a series of short-term goals, you can build toward your long-term goals.

Long-term goals are those that you can achieve in the future — three months to a year from now. With careful planning, meeting your short-term goals should lead to accomplishing your long-term goals.

Setting both short-term and long-term goals in each of the fitness areas (aerobic, muscular, and balance and flexibility) will allow you to individualize your exercise program. You may already be walking on a regular basis but now see that you have neglected your muscular fitness or flexibility. By including goals in all areas, you can maintain your balance. As you identify your own strengths and weaknesses, you can focus additional attention on the areas in which you struggle and maintain your fitness in the areas in which you already have a solid foundation.

On a final note, writing down your goals is helpful. There is a saying: It's a dream until you write it down, and then it's a goal. Putting the words on paper can provide an opportunity to reflect on what you really want to accomplish with your exercise program. This also gives you a reference point. Keep your short-term goals prominently visible. Some people write their goals in their schedule books or post them on a note board, mirror, or even the refrigerator. Find a method that works for you, one that allows you to see the goals as a reminder of the action you want to take. You can check off completed short-term goals and add new ones as you progress toward your long-term goals.

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Last Modified Date: January 13, 2014

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