Setting the right goals can be crucial to your fat loss success. Can you think of anything more important on your fitness journey than knowing exactly what you want to achieve, and having a realistic plan to get there?
This is the foundation of success for fitness and fat loss, and yet time and time again, people set off down a road that will at best take then “the long way”, and at worst, set them further away from their goals than ever! I’ll level with you, this is a little longer than usual, simply because I wanted to cover a HUGE topic in a single post, but stick with it, and if you follow the process, you’ll be on the road to success.
Why is setting goals is so important? Let’s take a trip..
It’s like going on a trip in the car- you need to know where you’re going and how to get there before you set off, otherwise you may be taking yourself further away from where you want to be! But this is obvious, isn’t it?
Apparently not. You’re probably reading this thinking you’re pretty clear on this. In my experience, that’s probably not the case.
Most people have a general direction they’re going. Fat loss for example. They know less calories is a factor, and maybe more exercise. Absolutely true. It’s like deciding to take a break to find somewhere warm, you could pack up the car, follow the compass and go south. Most people set off in the right general direction- although some have no real idea why they’re going in the first place!
How much more efficient is it when you carefully select the destination beforehand, and set off with a sat nav and road signs. Better yet, book a flight. The trip to the airport may take you a west, not south, but that little bit of prep gets you to the destination a hell of a lot faster! You save yourself time and stress, and you get there a hell of a lot quicker (that’s assuming you make it anywhere at all without a clear target destination: Most people get sick of it and head back, or pull into the first place they see!).
If we get the right plan from the off, we’re clear. We find the perfect destination for you- not for someone else. We set the plan to get there, and a way to make sure we stay on track. Occasionally, little detours are needed but if you plan for this, it’s almost a non-issue providing you get back on the right road. And ultimately, you end up in the sunshine.
Want to set up for health, fat loss or fitness success?
Great, let’s start by deciding where you want to go.
Step 1: Create Clarity on your goals:
Where do you want to go, when and why?
Step 1 of goal setting is always the same. Whatever this is for: personal development, career goal, or in this case: fitness/ fat loss goals, we start by getting real clarity on what we want to achieve.
This is really important, and if you skip this step, “willpower”, “too busy”, and other gremlins will keep coming up to get in the way of your fitness or fat loss goals.
I’ve found over the years that using step 1 to create real clarity is super effective, as it can help you to dig into your motivations. Get this right, and you can set yourself up for success that YOU want to achieve. So, this is finding the overall goal. The WHAT.
What do you want to achieve? Fat loss? Fitness? Health?
These are great, but to be blunt, knowing what you want to achieve is not nearly enough to have a clear plan. This is like setting off in a general direction. We can, and should, do better. Let’s find where we want to go. Let’s be SMART. We will loop back to this at the end of this article, as being SMART requires real clarity, understanding of context.
Before we get to that, there’s an important step we need to take that underpins the entire journey.
In all fitness journey’s, you will face challenges, and having a clear internal dialogue of why you’re making the decisions to achieve long term success over short term desires (think getting a salad rather than a burger and fries) will be vital.
If it’s been a tough day, and you’re feeling a little unsure on whether it’s worth it or if you should just give up now, this will be the thing that keeps you on track.
“I just want to be thinner” or “I want to get in shape!” are far too weak.
You want success for health, fitness or fatloss? Then you need a reason.
What is it? What do you want to achieve, when do you want to achieve it, and more importantly, WHY do you want to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve this goal?
That wording is deliberate. Regardless of the goal, you will need to make changes to achieve it, and generally, it’s going to involves occasional sacrifices in the short term for huge payback in the long term.
So, before we move on, do me a favour. Open up your notes, write down EXACTLY what you want to achieve (think feelings, not numbers), when you want to achieve it, and why it matters to you? This sometimes requires some soul searching, but only when you’re clear on what you want to achieve, and why this is important can you be confident that this is the right goal to aim for.
And if you can’t think of why you want to achieve it, and that goal won’t add to your life, then you’re setting up for failure. No wonder you’re too busy, or willpower wins. The truth is, it’s not a clear priority right now. Want success? Make it a priority.
So, what’s your story
This sounds deep, so I’ll keep it to a few lines. One thing that always stops people from achieving their fitness goals is a lack of responsibility and lack of self-belief, created partly by telling themselves the factors are beyond their control. These excuses are great short term, and save you needing to take responsibility for a lack of success. The thing is though, they lead to a lack of self belief. The feeling that you don’t have the control to take you to your goals. So, this story you created that you “can’t do that because of this”, is now holding you back.
Have you heard the phrase “where attention goes, energy-flows”? This is only too true. If we focus on the negatives- on the things we can’t do- then having a mindset that will allow you to make progress is almost impossible. We’ll capitalise on this when we look at habits, because although this sounds negative, it’s not. We can flip this round, focus on the positives, and things tend to fall in place!
The key point here is that if you constantly tell yourself something, it becomes reality. “I just can’t do without a few beers at the weekend” or “I can’t go out for food and eat healthy”.
What are you telling yourself that’s holding you back? What do you tell yourself about why you can’t do things? Ask yourself if it’s true. If we can build awareness of this, and take responsibility for things that ARE within our control (not everything, but some things), then we can be clear on our actions to make progress.
As soon as you can find what’s true, and start to take responsibility for actions and decisions, it will create a huge amount of momentum.
Finding your truth can be key in making sure you achieve your fitness or fat loss goals.
What obstacles getting in the way of reaching your goals?
We all face challenges, and often, the same issues come up time and time again to derail us. The beauty is, we can often predict this. What stops you most of the time? Is it that you get to the point you’re stressed, hungry and ill prepared so grab a fast food lunch? Is it that by the time you get home, you’re exhausted, and don’t fancy a workout, so get a beer in front of the TV instead?
These things need to be considered as we build your focus (step 2), so before we get to that, list 5-10 things that you know may get in the way of your progress over the coming months?
Awareness of what you want to achieve, and what obstacles you’ll face is the first step of goal setting, and will help us to find a solution as we move towards building a plan.
Step 2: Increase your Focus
I know we’ve covered a lot already, but as we said, the overall theme is about setting up for success. The hard work is done, now it’s time to find a clear focus. Let’s review the awareness we’ve built in step 1 and see what we find. This will create FOCUS.
Where is your time and effort best spent, and what are the big things that you NEED to do to achieve your goals. As we dig into this, you’ll see most of the things that are getting in the way are the least important aspects of the plan. You may not even need to think about them, and yet they’re creating stress and throwing you off track! Let’s focus on the big wins we can build that will move us closer to our goals. Break bad habits, create useful ones, and make it happen.
Here’s a key concept. Generally, the most important 20% of actions you take cover 80% of the results. Rather than letting the 80% of actions that don’t matter to the same level throw you off track, let’s focus on getting the foundations right, and the results will flow from there!
People lie to you. Magazines, Instagram videos, TV programmes, even blogs (obviously not this one). And even with a less cynical view, context is key to understanding fitness and fatloss, so sometimes, what you hear people say, really isn’t what they said.
The thing is, its easy to get confused about what you need to do for fat loss, so let me be really simple.
You need to burn off more energy that you consume. You should exercise at least a few times a week. And your nutrition should be reasonable to support overall health. But again, exercise and healthy nutrition are should, not musts. But to achieve what most people want (that is better health, fitness, and be in “better shape”) then more exercise and better nutrition will be the first steps to take.
Why am I being so blunt about this? To make a point, because I care.
You see, more is not better. And more complex is absolutely not better. I regularly have conversations with people who feel like they can’t do “enough” to get results, so they don’t start at all. The simple fact is, you probably need to do less than you think to start making positive changes to your health and body composition.
Can you INCREASE your exercise? Can you IMPROVE your nutrition?
It doesn’t need to be perfect, but if we can start to make changes with things you are confident you can achieve- 1-2 gym sessions a week, drink more water and eat less junk food? If so, this may be a great starting point!
Obviously, depending on what you’re confident you can do, expectations may need to change, but the main point is to plan something you expect to be able to achieve long term. Can you get in shape with 2-3x gym sessions a week?
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking all or nothing. Focus on simple, manageable improvements that will have a big impact on your progress towards your goal.
Once you’re clear on where you’re biggest bang for your buck actions are, then we need to make it manageable. A great way to do this is following these simple steps from James Clears book, Atomic Habits:
To create good habits make it:
To break bad habits make it:
Let’s look at having a few beers after work, and this being the habit you want to break. You finish work after a hard day, you get the football on (this also works for wine and most popular TV programmes btw), you head to the fridge. Boom. Ice cold beer. Top shelf. No effort. Perfect temperature. Sit watching the game. Awesome. But this is stopping your progress.
Change the habit.
Head to the fridge. Boom. Ice cold sparkling water . Perfect temperature. No effort. Watch the game. Boom.
Not good enough?
Ok, Get the beer in the freezer for 10 minutes. Wait, no beers in the house? So now you need to get up, go to the shop, miss the first half, and possible end up with a warm, unsatisfying beer.
Forget it. I’ll have the water.
Soon enough, you’ll realise the habit was created because of the satisfaction of the entire situation: High stress environment, and the trigger into a low stress enjoyable environment included a beer. Swap the beer for a sparkling water, and you’ll find breaking the habit easy.
Goals and habits: why does this matter?
Lots of small, unnecessary bad habits are often the things that hold you back from achieving your goals. And if you can swap them for good habits that work towards achieving your goals, you build up a series of wins, increase momentum, build motivation and ultimately enjoy the process. This way, you’re setting up to win!
Remember, adherence (sticking to the plan) is the most important part of it all! Sure, there will be occasional slip ups, but if you can build a plan THAT WILL WORK with MINIMAL EFFORT, and CREATE HIGH MOTIVATION, the “easy option” is to achieve your goals.
So, when thinking about putting the plan together, there’s only 2 questions that really matter:
#1 Will this help me to move towards my goals
#2 Is it likely that I will be able to commit to this for the duration of the plan
Once you’ve got this, you’re clear on your goals, obstacles, and now what the KEY ACTIONS are that you need to do to make progress. What’s the top 20% most important new habits you need to add (eg working out, have a short walk 3 lunchtimes a week etc), and what are the top 20% of BAD habits holding you back (eg. Cut down on beer, limit junk food)?
We’re now clear on the goals, clear on the obstacles, and clear on the key changes you need to make! Time to get a plan!
Step 3: Use your goals to create a plan
When setting a plan, you need to be sure its sensible. For this stage, I’d always recommend working with a fitness professional.
But even if you choose to go it alone, here’s some key points. The plan should work for you. If you’ve committed to working our at the gym three days per week, and that’s a realistic and achievable goal, then the detail of the plan should reflect this. You want fat loss and to build strength and fitness? Include some CV and resistance training in each session.
Dieting for fat loss? You should be confident you’re calories are in the right range, and you have a clear plan on how to achieve this day to day. Match the plan for both nutrition and training to your current level, and focus on the fundamentals.
The PROCESS is key
A final point. When thinking about fat loss goals, it’s easy to focus in on the outcome: Did I lose weight, did I get stronger, etc? Of course these are important, but make sure you understand what to look for.
Another essential element to monitor are the habits- the day to day things: Did I track my diet? Did I work out? Did I hit my protein goals? Monitor the process. If we get this right, and stick to the plan, simple changes will keep you moving forwards. Without this, it’s almost impossible to know what to change and when.
Think SMART goals
Here’s the last thing to consider when it comes to goal setting. We can be SMART. And we can be SMART short term, and SMART long term. Just to confirm, here’s how to be SMART with your goals:
Specific– A clearly defined target outcome.
Measurable– What will you monitor to see if the plans working? How often? What do we expect to see?
Achievable– Based on your schedule, is the plan realistic? Will you be able to stick to it MOST of the time.
Relevant– Will the plan help you to move towards your goals?
Time bound– When do you need to achieve this by? What do we expect, by when. This is essential, as no deadline means progress monitoring is impossible. Even if this is a long term/ ongoing plan, ensure we can monitor progress over the short term, to make sure the plan is moving towards goals.
Once you have this, you’re ready to make it happen. Sure this on it’s own doesn’t get results, this just sets it off. Ultimately, you need to implement the plan with relentless consistency, and make the necessary adjustments at the right time to achieve the best results. But this process for goal setting is THE best place to start.
So that’s that. Goal setting covered in detail. This may be more than you thought, but again, spend time and effort setting up and planning the journey, and it will pay back several times over in time saved long term. And Importantly, you’ll actually get to your target destination!
We cover most of this in one of our webinars we did for our FX Clients during lockdown: I’ve made these webinars available to you, as even through you’re now able to get into the gym, the principles are as relevant as ever. Here’s the link.
If you want to work with us at FX, book a call, or email me at email@example.com
Josh Kennedy, MSc, ASCC, CSCS