Just to be clear, we’re talking about goals, and how to smash them!
I guess the first thing I should address is my choice of title. When most people think of science, achievement is not the most common word that springs to mind. Nor would science be often thought of when asked for words associated with achievement. They are however, intrinsically linked, especially when we are talking about physical achievement.
Whilst the focus of this article will be on achieving physical goals, I hope you will see how the principles outlined are easily transferable to other types of goals, both short and long term.
I’ve chosen to use weight-loss as the key objective in most of the examples I give because it will likely be the most popular physical goal out there.
Goals: What is a SMART goal ?
This might sound like rather a simplistic and overly basic place to start, but when I talk to a lot of people about their goals, they fall far short of what I consider to be a solid goal. However, within a few minutes of discussion, it gets transformed into a clearly defined, solid goal. This typically lights up the first of many bulbs that helps the person see things clearer and allow their journey to begin. A common acronym used in goal setting is S.M.A.R.T. which helps to make sure the goal is clearly defined.
Lets take a closer look at the five (actually six) key aspects of a S.M.A.R.T. goal:
A goal should be specific rather than general. This means that common questions such as who, what, where, when, how and why have been asked and answered wherever appropriate.
Example: A general goal could be “I want to be healthier”, but a more specific goal could be “I want to lose 10 lbs of fat and put on 5 lbs of muscle” by the end of April.
A goal must have a clearly measurable objective. Otherwise there is no way of knowing if you have achieved it. Nor can the achievement of the goal be planned. Goals without a measurable element are more like a direction (E.g. slimmer, fitter, healthier, stronger, more energetic, less stressed, more focussed). They cannot be achieved because there is no clear endpoint defined. If “being slimmer” is considered a goal then by losing 0.1kg you will be slimmer but it’s likely you wanted to lose more!
Example: A non-measurable goal would be “I want to lose weight” or “I want to look good in a bathing suit”. A measurable goal would be “I want to lose 10 lbs of fat and put on 5 lbs of muscle” or “I want to reduce my BMI to under 24 and be able to do 5 pull-ups”
Agreed means that you have shared your goals with people around you, whether family members, friends or colleagues. Although this is a more subjective requirement, having people around you aware of your goals supports your motivation and commitment to achieving the goal for fear of failing in public. Hey, whatever works….
It also allows your friends and family to support you!
Goals must be realistic and achievable. That’s not to say you should be setting goals that are far to easy. They should be challenging of course, but realistically achievable within the constraints faced.
Unfortunately for a lot of people, a lack of detailed knowledge around physical wellbeing means that they will sometimes need external support to gauge how realistic their goals are. You should consider who you are taking advise from and consider their knowledge, expertise and experience before taking it to heart.
Example: For somebody that wants to lose 20 kg, aiming to lose that weight in 2 weeks is un-realistic and very unhealthy. A realistic and more healthy timeframe could be 6 months (*please note this is purely an example. The actual recommended rate of weight loss depends on a number of individual factors. If in doubt, slower weight loss is always the safer option and typically more sustainable).
A goal has to have a specific target completion date, not just the number of days or weeks till completion. Without a specific timeframe, you have no sense of urgency or a need to act now! You will see in the next sections how important timescale is to the successful completion of a goal. ‘Someday’ doesn’t work when it comes to goals I’m afraid!
Example: An untimed goal such as “I want to lose 5 kgs” should read more like “I want to lose 5 kgs by 5th September”.
Unfortunately the common acronym S.M.A.R.T. doesn’t specifically discuss motivation but I believe it is a critical component of successfully achieving goals and so I’ve added it to the list.
Motivation is the final component of a clearly defined goal primed for success. Most goals have reasons behind them and it’s important to be clear what those reasons are. In some cases, they will be very personal and something you will choose never to share but at the very least, being clear to yourself is an important part of success.
Make sure that you think carefully about your motivation and articulate it in a strong and positive manner. Write down your motivation alongside your other components so that you see it every time you assess your progress. This will help keep you motivated through difficult periods.
Example: I want to lose 10 kgs of fat, make my eating habits consistently healthy and cut out most processed sugars from my diet by 31st March. I want to be a positive rolemodel for my two young children as they grow up and also massively reduce the likelihood of diabetes which is common in my family.
Milestones: Think SMALL to achieve BIG
One of the most powerful techniques to maintain momentum and progress whilst aiming for something big is the concept of ‘chunking’. By this, I mean that a large goal needs to be broken down into smaller ‘bite-sized’ goals that then become far easier to focus on.
The concept of chunking can actually be found in many every day situations and the chances are that you are already using this concept in something you do. Some common examples of chunking at home or at work are:
- A complicated cooking recipe is broken down into a number of smaller and easier to follow steps.
- A project at work is broken down into short and medium-term milestones, each contributing to the overall project success.
- The working day is broken down into smaller ‘sessions’ with the help of lunch and coffee breaks, “water-cooler” chats and leg-stretching strolls round the office!
Example 1: Your goal is to lose 40 lbs which seems overwhelming and unachievable. But when it is broken down into weekly milestones, you need to lose 1 lb per week. This could equate to eating approximately 390 calories less per day than your neutral calorific requirement. This is likely to feel far more achievable and not so daunting. The focus then shifts from “I have to lose 40 lbs” to “I have to eat 390 calories less TODAY”. (N.B. This example is purely for demonstration. Actual calorific and nutritional requirements should be considered and calculated based on individual circumstances).
Plan Plan Plan
I’m sure the concept of planning doesn’t need explaining in great depth but I want to touch upon the critical benefits of planning when it comes to physical goals.
Imagine the typical challenges associated with achieving physical goals. Whether mustering the energy to go to the gym or for a run after work or to eat healthily today because you plan on letting go a little tomorrow evening on a night out. When it comes to the crunch, there is often a very fine line between following through on what you know is right and breaking your plan.
Although there are a number of key factors in this decision process, one of the key components to following through is quite simply to have something clear to follow through with – namely “the plan”!
Achieving physical goals is pivotal on being able to make the right judgement and follow through on that judgement many times per day. Without a clear and specific plan, you are having to make judgements “on the spot” during which you can very easily convince yourself against what is best for you.
When you have a plan however, the type of decision you need to make is very different. You now have a framework in which to make your decisions and the choice is often a much more conscious decision between what is right and what is not. It is more difficult to choose the wrong path under these circumstances and therefore it is easier to choose the right path!
Now Do It
This is both the easiest and the hardest part. Having SMART goals, a well thought-out plan and the best motivation in the world can only prepare you. The results can only come from doing it!
What it takes to get you up out of that chair, or wherever else you may be and follow through on your plan will differ for each person. You have to prepare yourself for the mental hurdle you will inevitably face some of the time.
I’ve heard first hand from sporting legends such as Steve Redgrave that even he had many a training session that he just wanted to give up on but somehow didn’t.
My advise is to prepare yourself with the triggers that will get YOU moving. Prepare them beforehand when you are energised and looking forward to making healthier decisions rather than face the decision alone when the time comes – it’s a lot harder then.
As a final thought, I will leave you with the two strongest things that work for me:
1. There is no tomorrow. Life is simply a continuous series of here and now’s:
I tell myself that this run, this meal, this session at the gym is the only chance I have to make a difference TODAY. I tell myself that my ultimate desire will only be achieved by many small steps. I have to take each one or I will fall short. I have to take this one.
2. Sometimes you run towards success, but sometimes you run away from failure:
This is arguably my most powerful technique. I’ve had regrets in life. I’ve had failures that I could have avoided based purely on my own actions. I’m lucky that most days, all it takes to get me moving is the drive to achieve my goals. There are days however, when I really don’t want to get up and go run 10 miles at 8pm before having dinner. So I visualise failure. I visualise not reaching my goals because of days like today when I gave up mentally. I picture the gut wrenching feeling of regret that I will get knowing that I’ve failed. The feeling I would have done ANYTHING to avoid. Then I remember that I can do something about that feeling, but ONLY today. Then I run.
On days like this, I am running away from failure rather than towards success but the end result is the same. I run.
“The only way to change the past, is to picture the future you would do anything to avoid”
Whatever you want to achieve, however long it may take, think and follow through in the right way, turn your wishes into science and watch your goals get smashed!