How to set goals the RIGHT way

Setting goals may seem obvious — but most people don’t know that setting goals is more of a science than a step. This is why (as an example) most good-intentioned New Years resolutions fail within days. Good goals are Written, Measurable, Attainable, and Actionable.

The very first thing you should do when you make the decision to lose weight and/or get into better shape is sit down, and WRITE DOWN your goals. This is going to consist of one big, all encompassing goal (“I want to lose 100lbs”) — plus individual milestones (perhaps dozens of them) that will help you get there. You might even choose to reward yourself for achieving your milestones.

As you decide what your large, all-encompassing goal should be, as well as your milestones, consider whether or not each goal meets the following four criteria:

1) Your Goals Should Be WRITTEN

There’s no reason for me to dwell on this. Write it down and post it where you’ll see it every day. (Bathroom mirror, perhaps?). This is your contract with yourself, and it becomes a constant reminder that, at least at some point, whatever is written on that piece of paper mattered enough to you to write it down. 

You might even jot down your REASONS behind setting the goal. But remember, you’re going to have one BIG goal, and a whole collection of smaller milestones. Think of it like a timeline you’re building — each goal with its own set of success criteria.

Don’t skip this step!

2) Your Goals Should Be MEASURABLE

If you can’t measure the goal with “how much”, how many”, and “by when”, then you don’t have a goal, you’ve got got a wish. You should have clear criteria for when your goal has been achieved based on measurements that you can take. We measure progress with numbers and timelines, so your goal should be specific about these.

Example of a goal that can’t be be measured:  “I will get into better shape soon.”

Example of a goal that CAN be measured: “I want to run a 5k without stopping to walk by June 15th.”

3) Your Goals Should Be ATTAINABLE

It doesn’t do any good to set a goal that can’t actually be accomplished. In other words, if your timeframe or your objective is unrealistic, you’re setting yourself up for failure before you’ve even started.

How do you know if your goal is attainable?  Ask yourself if you SINCERELY believe it can be accomplished. (It doesn’t do you or anyone else any good to set goals you don’t think you can achieve).

Example of a goal that is unattainable:  “I will lose 100lbs in 6 months.”

Example of a goal that is attainable: “I will lose 100lbs by losing at least 1lb per week.”

4) Your Goals Should Be ACTIONABLE

Too many people make goals that don’t have a clear set of actions or activities behind them in order to achieve success.  In other words, your goal should be backed by a plan on how you’ll achieve it.

If your goal is to become healthy, but you can’t list out the exact steps you’ll take to make that happen (or what “healthy” even means), then your timeline is probably unrealistic (you’re just making things up), and you probably have no idea if the goal is attainable, either.  Each goal should be tied to a specific set of actions that you’ll take in order to achieve the results you’ve outlined within your defined time-frame.

If you have no idea what actions are required to achieve your goal, you have a dream.

Examples #1:

Bad Goal:  I want to get into shape.

Good Goal: I want to be able to climb the flight of stairs at the office without my heart-rate exceeding 80-bpm, and I want to be able to do this by July 1st.  I will accomplish this goal by doing at least 15 minutes of high-intensity cardio 3 days a week until I reach my goal.

This is a  great example of the kind of small milestones you might set for yourself in your fitness journey.

Remember, it’s not all about weight. (You could be extraordinarily skinny and still very unhealthy). The specific example above outlines something that is measurable (you can check your heart-rate yourself to see the exact moment you reach your goal), it is attainable (July 1st gives you plenty of time to get there), and it’s actionable — you’ve laid out the steps you’ll take to get there.

The combination of these three things means you can hold yourself accountable for the actions, the results, and the deadline. You might even include a small reward for yourself for the achievement of the goal (and yes, it can be a food-based reward, if you like!)

Examples #2:

Bad Goal:  I will eat healthy.

Good Goal: For 14 days in a row, I will have a 100% success rate with my food restrictions and my macros. This means I will eat within 1% tolerance of my goals for calories, protein, carbs, and fat, and I will not cheat. I will do this by carefully logging everything I eat in MyFitnessPal (before I eat it). When I accomplish my goal, I will reward myself with 800 extra calories to spend however I want!

This is another great example of a smaller milestone you can create for yourself along your weight-loss journey.

It is specific enough that you can measure it to know if you succeeded or not (with numbers like “1% tolerance”, any third-party can verify you achieved it, and you can’t rationalize success). You would need to decide for yourself if the goal was attainable (perhaps get a little practice with meal planning under your belt before deciding to proceed with a goal like this.. it’s harder than it sounds), and we’ve laid out the steps we’ll take to ensure success (logging your food BEFORE you eat it, and not cheating). You’ve also declared the reward for yourself, and have something to look forward to when you achieve your milestone!

The kind of goals I’ve outlined in the examples above are smaller parts of the bigger goal (losing weight and getting into shape).  But here’s the thing… accomplishing those milestones along your path shows progress, and gives you victories to celebrate while you keep your eye on the bigger prize. They also develop motivation, discipline, and give you MEASURABLE results.

There is nothing more motivating than realizing your numbers are improving, your distances are getting longer, your ability to plan meals is getting better, or you’ve had X days in a row of perfect something. Even if the scale isn’t moving as fast as you want, by using goals and milestones like these, you should be able to find dozens of other ways to show progress and accomplishment! THIS MATTERS! Your battle plan should include milestones that let you see progress for non-scale related objectives!



Go build your battle plan. Right now!! And if you’re feeling brave — post some, or all of it, here.. (it’ll give you some extra incentive. =) )