In the world of sports psychology, it is widely acknowledged that setting goals is a key element of being successful in one’s pursuits. Whether you’re a professional athlete or new mom committed to rediscovering your abs, setting challenging (but realistic) goals is an essential part of your fitness journey. It’s also very important to focus your energy on smaller actions and performance metrics if you want the best shot at achieving your grandest goals. Said another way: you’ll get where you want to be by concentrating on specific processes and athletic gains, not general aesthetic desires or comparison against others. Today we discuss the studies that validate that approach and suggest specific ways you can create goals that will support the best results.
Studies on the Importance of Focusing on Process & Performance
I find research on psychological influences in athletic performance fascinating for how they scientifically prove the importance of mind-body awareness and intentionality. Over the years, experts have studied the effect of mood, sleep and goal setting on performance in adolescents and adults and generally come to the same conclusion — the ways we mentally prepare for important endeavors (athletic or otherwise) are enormously influential to our capacity to achieve.
In most conversations about enhanced performance and achievement, three types of goals are discussed: Process Goals, Performance Goals, and Outcome Goals. To achieve the fitness and wellness goals you have, you must try to organize your aspirations into these categories. Process and performance goals are more tangible and straightforward, while outcome goals tend to be the most vague but also first to come to mind for many of us. Typical outcome goals include, “I want to look better naked / I want to get back in shape / I want to feel more energetic / I want to eliminate chronic lower back pain/ I want be able to ski again”. While these outcome goals can be motivating ideas, they are not the most useful goals for influencing productive daily behaviors around food and exercise because they are more abstract and take time to be realized which decreases our motivation. One assessment explains, “measurable, short-term goals that deal with the near future and are easier to achieve and can be used as stepping stones. They help to break up a long-term goal into smaller chunks and the achievement of these goals helps the athlete to stay encouraged”. By concerning yourself most with process and performance goals you stay on track because they are highly prescriptive; you stay driven because you see more consistent wins; and you stay engaged because tracking milestones educates you on specific, actionable ways you can improve.
Say for example that your outcome goal is “be more physically active”. That’s great, but where do you start? With a process goal! You’ll want to choose something that that is super concrete and moves you in the direction of your outcome goal. In this case, a process goal could be, “walk to work each morning”. The associated performance goal would be, “complete daily walking goal for 3 weeks in a row”. Over time, as you meet the goals you set and get into the habit of tracking your progress, you can begin to make your goals more numerous and physically challenging.
Types of Goals You Should Focus On
Process Goals – These relate to the actions you take every day and every week that are the foundation for your success. They are considered the most important. Examples of process goals with corresponding outcome goals include:
- [Outcome goal: lose weight] Prepare healthy meals ahead of time so you can stick to your diet.
- [Outcome goal: become a better dancer] Attend a weekly form or technique class at a local studio.
- [Outcome goal: exercise more during the workweek] Pre-register for workout classes and invest in a good gym bag that you can keep at the office.
- [Outcome goal: run your first half-marathon] download a training app and go for at least 3 runs per week.
- [Outcome goal: return to skiing after last season’s injury] Visit a chiropractor to keep your body loose and healthy.
Performance Goals – These goals can measured objectively in units to track your improvement and are truly about your execution of a given exercise or task. Using a journal devoted to this journey, measure where you are to start and continually compare your efforts against that first milestone on a weekly or monthly basis. Examples include:
- [Outcome goal: lose weight] For 10 consecutive days, stick to mealplan and avoid alcohol.
- [Outcome goal: exercise more during the workweek] Complete 2 strenuous lunchtime workout classes during the week.
- [Outcome goal: run your first half-marathon] Shave 30 seconds off average mile time each week of training.
- [Outcome goal: return to skiing after last season’s injury] Conclude each day with 5 physical therapy exercises before bed.
- [Outcome goal: get stronger in my upperbody] Complete 10 unassisted pull ups.
- [Outcome goal: become a more advanced yogi] Hold unsupported handstand for 20 seconds.
Ways to Craft Good Goals
As you think about your goals, follow the lead of many elite athletes and coaches who swear by the SMAART acronym to create their goals. This defines an effective goal as one that is:
- Specific – the more detailed you can be, the more clear the definition of success becomes;
- Measurable – think about quantifiable, numeric metrics;
- Actionable – something you have the power to act on;
- Attributable – someone is assigned responsibility for this goal (AKA, you);
- Realistic – what you can feasibly do given your lifestyle and resources;
- Timed – choose a date by which you want to achieve the goal.
YOU GOT THIS!!
Images by Andrea Posadas for HonestlyFIT