Are Your Goals Achievable? How To Make Sure They Stick

Are your training goals challenging but achievable, and are you motivated to achieve them by external or internal (personal) reasons?

With the New Year come resolutions. Most of the promises we make to ourselves during those first days of the year are forgotten by the end of January. However, for athletes consistently striving to improve performance, their entire training program should be a resolution. To keep improving and stay ahead of the competition, you've got to constantly set new goals. (Stay on track with Training and Nutrition Tips for the Holidays.)

Let's face it: beginning something new can be tough, since the routine is not established and there's often a learning curve that involves figuring out what works and what doesn't. For athletes, common personal goals are fitness-based. Avoid the mistake of setting a goal based on numbers. Don't just aim for 10 Pull-Ups or bench-pressing 250 pounds. Those are boring goals, and you'll end up losing your enthusiasm with time.

The 3 keys to achievable goals are:

  • Challenge. Make it something that's a little beyond your reach
  • Commitment. You're going to have to sweat a little to successfully reach your goal
  • Care. The only way to stick with a difficult goal is to really care about the outcome

For your goal to stick, answer these two questions: (1) Is your  goal challenging but achievable? and (2) Are you setting your goal for the right reasons? The biggest mistake people make that causes them to fail to achieve their goals involves their reasons. If you hit the gym because your coach wants you to bulk up, or because you want to compete in a certain weight category, or because you're trying to impress someone, those are all external (extrinsic) motivating factors. They're excellent reasons to get started, but they will not keep you going for the long run.

I know because I've been there. Although I was involved in sports, I did not enjoy working out at the gym. I knew weight training would help build muscle, add strength and improve my performance. But the thought of training in the gym was absolutely torturous. Sticking to my goal required internal (intrinsic) motivators. Making it personal kept me going even when it was uncomfortable, inconvenient or frustrating in terms of results.

The trick is to have your personal reasons aligned with your values and goals. In my case, 
I knew just getting stronger was not enough of a motivator. I had to dig deeper. I had a recurring lower back injury, so I decided it was time to do some preventative work by strengthening my core muscles to avoid another injury. (See 4 Motivational Tips to Help You Achieve Your Goals.)

It's important to have a personal reason attached to your goal. If your external reason disappears (e.g., the season ends), you might stop showing up at the gym. Your training routine wasn't personal enough to stick it out for the long run, no matter what.

Some examples of personal motivators include:

  • Moving from JV to varsity
  • You're proud of the effort you are putting in and seeing results
  • You're ready to compete at a higher level

Finding a personal reason to work out made a big difference for me. I was tired of being benched. Once I decided to prevent further low back pain, all my resistance melted away. With time, your new activity will become a routine and create a new pattern in your life. The results from consistently strengthening my core reinforced my choice to work out. It even affected my self-image. Now I see myself as a gym rat. I smile when I think about how I used to resist training indoors. (Need more inspiration? Check out My Journey From Fit To Fat And Back.)

Challenge: Do you have an achievable goal? Are your reasons personal? List your reasons. Next to each, place the letter "E" if it's external or "I" if it's internal. Find out how committed you are. If all of your external reasons were taken away, would you continue your new activity? If yes, congrats on having strong personal reasons; if not, reassess your personal reasons. In the long run it will make a difference.

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