This is an important, but often overlooked, element in choosing a program. To clarify: most people approach their fitness with some sense of a general direction – “be stronger”, “improve my health” or even “lose weight” … all of which are valid – but removing ambiguity in your target is a necessary ingredient in success.
- Without a focus, you cannot create a plan
- Without an objective, there’s no way to know if you’re going in the right direction
Now, when choosing the goal, it can be helpful to run it through the following “gauntlet” to evaluate its quality:
- S: Specific – there needs to be a clear target, rather than a vague concept
- M: Measurable – you need objective benchmarks to measure your progress
- A: Achievable – challenge yourself, for sure, but it needs to be realistically attainable
- R: Relevant – it must mean something on an intrinsic level to motivate you
- T: Timely – there needs to be a deadline
Keep in mind that there are no “invalid” goals, particularly if they meet the above criteria. There are, however, goals that can be better for you, at different times.
A word of caution on purely aesthetic goals: unfortunately, they often end up being short on the sense of achievement and as a result can lead to a constant moving of the goalposts… “chasing a brass ring”. More succinctly – if you set a weight loss goal alone, once you reach it there can be a sense of “well, now what?”. Similarly, hitting that target scale number might not create the change you want/expect to see in the mirror, leading to discouragement and a derailing in motivation.
So, if weight or fat loss is a primary goal, try to have more markers than just the numbers on the scale and be honest about answering why it’s relevant, keeping in mind that it must mean something on an intrinsic level to keep you motivated over a longer-term.
There should always be a primary goal for your program. In some cases, there may be a collateral success in other aspects as a result of the training, but not every goal aligns itself with others. For example, if your goal is to complete a half-marathon, then you may have to allow that your performance in hockey might suffer since your training is designed for endurance, not short-burst and multidirectional sprints. That’s not to say you can’t continue with the activities you love while you train for something else – it’s only a reminder to measure your success based on the primary goal, and not be distracted by a perceived lack of success in some other capacity.
Finally – go into the journey with an understanding that any lasting changes are going to take time to reach, so evaluating your success on a day-to-day or week-to-week sort of basis is unhelpful, can lead to some bad habits (like program hopping or crash dieting) and can be discouraging. Trust your coach, trust your program, and recognize that your success will be built on many small victories interspersed with occasional setbacks – but you can never reach the destination if you don’t stay the course.
Good luck, and as always – train hard, but train smart!