Goal-setting as a means of achievement in professional life is second-nature. We instinctively know certain steps must be taken to get the final result. Stumbling blocks occur and we adjust the plan. We sometimes even need to reset the goal. What we don’t do is throw up our hands and give up. If we did, we’d be fired. So, why is it, with our own fitness, we start and quit over and over again?
At work, we’re accountable to others. Even though many depend on us in our personal lives, we look at our health as a one-person game. It’s human nature, especially for women, to put ourselves last. I think that’s why we’re more willing to let ourselves down than let others down.
It’s imperative in our quest to achieve fitness to mimic the paths to achievement in other parts of our lives. Specifically, we need to set goals, have concrete plans to meet those goals and be accountable for them.
Setting goals. The gold standard of goal setting is the SMART principle. Goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Specific – clearly states what you will accomplish. Measureable – if you have no way of measuring your progress, you can’t know if you’re progressing. Attainable – needs to be realistically and safely achieved. You can’t say you’re going to run 10 miles a week off the bat or lose 10 pounds in a month. Neither is safe or realistic. Relevant – the goals have to fit with your needs, abilities and interests. If you hate gyms, a gym membership isn’t relevant. Time-bound – know your end point otherwise you can’t know if you’re on track to achieving success.
Consider a common annual fitness goal, the New Year’s resolution: This year I’m going to the gym every week so I will lose weight. It meets none of the SMART goal criteria. Let’s take that empty promise and turn it into a real goal: Beginning tomorrow, I’m going to exercise to feel better and lose 20 pounds in 6 months by attending a Spin class once a week and taking a one-hour walk in my neighborhood twice a week.
The person in this scenario wants to establish a fit lifestyle for improved health. She knows she enjoys a specific Spin class that works with her schedule – she’s confident she’ll attend it weekly. She also enjoys walking in her neighborhood and knows she has the availability to walk one hour twice weekly. She’s overweight, 20 pounds of weight loss in 6 months (3.5 lbs/month) is safe and achievable by increasing her weekly cardio output from zero to 3 hours of moderate to vigorous activity.
Plan, plan, plan. It’s not enough to set the goal, you need to have a plan, usually in the form of a series of SMART short-term goals. The plan should include specific times to assess your progress. Also, you need to have a plan to address set backs and give yourself permission to tweak and reset goals, always aligning with the SMART principle.
Using the example above, she already has SMART weekly exercise goals spelled out. This is her starting point. In a few months, she may need to change what and how much she does weekly for exercise in order to progress. She should weigh herself regularly to assess progress in her weight loss goal. Based on the results of her weigh-ins, she might need to add short-term food goals. For example, she could create SMART daily portion control goals. If she has an injury or illness that sidelines her for more than a week, she must be prepared to accept this and move on by adjusting one or more of the parameters in her long-term goal. She should plan to set new SMART goals the day after she achieves her 20 pound weight loss.
Be accountable. The best thing you can do for accountability’s sake is write your short and long-term goals down, sign it and share it with someone who is trustworthy and supportive. I don’t call it a contract because it’s too rigid and doesn’t allow for inevitable events beyond our control. Better to call it an agreement, knowing you will revisit the agreement periodically and, perhaps, you’ll need to amend or adjust the agreement. Logging or journaling is a great way to stay accountable for your short-term exercise and diet goals. It serves as a motivator, yardstick and progress report all in one.
Rewards are an important part of the accountability process. If you are going to hold yourself accountable for your failures then you must hold yourself accountable for your successes. The sacrifices you make to be fit is no small achievement. You should have small rewards for meeting short-term goals and larger ones for long-term goals. Don’t reward yourself with food or drink because those sabotage your fitness goals. Instead, make arrangements for an hour of free time and get a massage or mani/pedi or buy a new article of clothing. If money is tight, take a bubble bath or a nap or bring a book to the park. It should be a treat you’ll want to earn again and again.
We accept we have people who need us – spouse, children, aging parent, friend with cancer, sibling in a crisis – we owe it to them to be a strong, reliable shoulder to lean on. But, more importantly, we owe it to ourselves to live the best, most fulfilling life possible. When we do that, we offer others the strongest, most reliable shoulder we can give. So be SMART, be fit, be happy.