Effective Goal Setting

One of the skills you develop (hopefully) as a personal trainer is the ability to massage someone’s goals into something that is actionable and effective. On courses, you’ll encounter the old favourite acronym SMARTER for goal setting. Goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Recorded
  • Timed
  • Enjoyable
  • Reflected

This is fine. Do this. Often you’ll get vague answers to the question ‘what are your fitness goals?’ like ‘be fitter’ or ‘more muscular’. Wrangling these into a smarter format will provide a lot more structure to a goal and make it easier to create a road-map to follow towards achieving them. For example, ‘be fitter’ becomes ‘six months from today, run 5km in under 30 minutes’. Specific, measurable, (probably) achievable, timed, etc, etc.

The next stage, that seems to be missing for a lot of people, becomes why you want this goal. This can somewhat fall under the last two letters - enjoyable and recorded - but goes a little beyond these. I’ve used words like ‘purpose’ or ‘reason’ to describe this in the past, but unfortunately these don’t easily slot into our smarter acronym unless you go with the double R of SMARTERR. But if you say that out loud you have to emphasise the long R at the end and you sound like a robot with a faulty voicebox.

Anyway.

Exercise can easily become a numbers game. I want to bench press 100kg. I want to run a marathon in under three hours. Why, though? Because other people have hit those numbers? Because someone, somewhere, has decided that is a ‘good’ number? Maybe that will work for you - if you’re a competitive person, then yes, the fact that someone else has achieved it might be enough to spur you on.

If you’re not - I’m not - you have to think about it a little more. What does hitting that 100kg mean? Would it matter if you only got to 99kg? If I put in the same amount of work, discipline, effort, research, dedication, but didn’t get that particular number, have I failed? Or, say you pick 50kg as your target deadlift. That’s a number a lot of guys would look down their noses on, if they’re honest. If you hit that and are satisfied with achieving that goal, and even stop there, have you not hit a ‘good’ number?

Well, you might pick 50kg because that’s how heavy the heaviest thing you have to lift at work is. That’s your reason for wanting to be able to lift it.  It’s a weak example but hopefully you get my point. Why do you want to be able to run well? To catch your bus. Why do you want to achieve a pull up? To climb a tree with your kid. Anything! You can get abstract with it. I want to achieve a 200kg deadlift, not because the number 200 means anything to me, but because I know it’s going to be damn difficult to do that and therefore if I do, I must have really applied myself and developed my ability to discipline myself, focus, and work hard.

They don’t have to be lofty or deep. Just want to look good naked? Great! Nothing wrong with that, who doesn’t frankly. I want to be able to do a flag just so I can look cool at parties. But if you connect your goal with a purpose, your ‘what’ gains a ‘why’ and it’s much easier to motivate yourself to do it. If your goal means nothing to you beyond ‘number go up’, then it’s empty and you risk losing any feeling of desire to achieve it.

Oh! While writing this, I had a revelation. A new acronym, using the word ‘intent’ instead of ‘purpose’ and jimmying around the concept of ‘reflected’. Let’s try it:

  • Smarter
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Recorded
  • Timed
  • Intent
  • Enjoyable
  • Self-reflected

I mean, come on. Who doesn’t like smarties?