As we approach the holiday season and many festive meals, as winter takes hold and exercise opportunities become more challenging, and as we reflect on the year that was and the year that can be in 2018, many are compelled to set resolutions. My goal for this article is to share approaches to goal setting (GS) and to developing healthy habits that are simple, practical, and effective.
GS is perhaps the most overused, misused, and thereby ineffective intervention in sport and exercise. There are important differences between writing goal statements that look good on paper or in theory, versus developing goals that motivate and change behaviour. For many, GS is effective, stress relieving, and even fun—and if you have that experience I still hope that this article will provide practical and insightful tips. But unfortunately, that is not the case for most who set goals. People are often encouraged to focus too much on the phrasing of their goal statements. We may think that we should set goals for everything imaginable, resulting in too many goals. What really matters is that our goals motivate and give us an actionable plan to reach them. That’s it. It is as simple as that, and everything we do that serves those objectives will make us better; anything that distracts will undermine our plans and our motivation.
The first thing to remember when you are setting goals is not to get lost in the goal statement. It’s not about what’s on paper, it’s about achieving it! It is about creating healthier behaviours and habits that improve your performance. Don’t put the process of setting goals ahead of the goal itself. The healthy change you are looking for is what matters. The excitement, desire, and dedication that you have to accomplish a positive change in your life should be the master, and GS should be the servant to that master.
That drive within you, or that voice that is crying out for a better life and a better you, is what is most important. The process of GS should make you more self-aware, honest, and mindful of that better you. GS should help you to find that fire; the goals themselves should simply be gasoline to that flame.
How do we ensure that we maintain the right focus and priorities? One simple strategy is to make sure that every goal you have has a clear why connected to it, and that you always keep the why of the goal in mind. Don’t lose your why in the work of measuring, monitoring, adjusting, or rephrasing the goal to be specific, measurable, action-oriented, etc. If you don’t have a strong and clear why for your goal, it will fail—and that might not be a bad thing, because such goals may not really matter. Pursuing a goal that doesn’t have a why can waste your time and resources, and it can undermine other goals.
Too many goals make GS a chore, and less important goals distract from the critical ones. Ask yourself if accomplishing some of your goals would likely result in other goals being met—like dominoes? If you can identify 2-3 goals that get you the same health benefits that 6-8 would, then fewer, more focused, and time efficient GS will help you reach the outcomes that you want. Why? Because you will be more dedicated, focused, and accountable for your plan.
Rather than spending too much time developing an array of perfectly worded goals, consider using more of that time to reflect on who you are, what you really want to achieve, why you want to get there, and why you haven’t gotten there yet. Then think about how you can make that change: what are your strengths, weaknesses, needs, wants, habits, and excuses. Listen to yourself! Become more mindful and self-aware. Don’t beat yourself up over anything, because that won’t improve your life, but you have to accept a lesser you. You should try to focus on achieving small successes, and then build on those successes. An ineffective coach or consultant sits down “to do GS” with a client. A good consultant listen to clients, helps them to be more self-aware, and will use GS as a means to help a client to develop a plan, be mindful, and strengthen that fire within. Consider applying that principle to your own GS practice.
I’d like to close by touching on a topic that is incredibly important to everyone’s life, to their health, and to effective GS: Habits! I hope to share more on this topic in future newsletters, or to chat with some of you about it some time, but for now, I just want to share that many of us spend a lot of our life stuck in habits, some of which we are not even aware of. These are not easy to break. Doing so demands and begins with awareness. GS can help us to be more aware of our habits and can help us to create better, more intentional habits!
I wish everyone the best in 2018 and in achieving the healthy behaviours, outcomes, and habits that you desire. I hope that you can identify a small number of goals that are close to your heart, and that you can create small positive changes towards those goals. You don’t have to be perfect overnight, and you can’t have the last 2 months or even 2 years back. But if you can do a few small things today that will create positive results in the coming weeks and months, you’re on track! The change we want for our futures always begins today, and there are no shortcuts around that reality. Be proud of those small positive changes, and build on them! Not only is that something that you can accomplish, but it is more than enough to create a better life and a healthier future!
Thanks for reading,
Ryan Flett, PhD