Before you begin the journey towards a healthier you, you need to have something to work toward. Unfortunately for most people, goal setting has never been required learning in their academic careers, so the process of setting goals tends to be foggy at best. Let me encourage you to grab a sheet of paper and a writing utensil of some sort, because unwritten goals are little more than hopes and dreams. I’ll wait while you get those things…

Ready? Great! Let’s get to it.

We are going to talk about SMART goals. That’s not “smart” like “intelligence”. That’s S-M-A-R-T, as in Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-specific goals. Let’s look at those items individually.

People tend to be a little too general when it comes to writing their goals. Whether this is some kind of defense mechanism designed to protect the ego from failure or just the result of not knowing any better is not known, but the end result of non-specific goals is usually limited motivation and partial success.

For example, a non-specific goal looks like this: “I want to lose weight.” While I understand the intent of the goal, the mind doesn’t really have anything to grab onto with that goal. Does losing 1 pound mean I’ve reached my goal? After all, I “lost weight”. Most people, however, have more than 1 pound that they want to lose, so we have to get more specific. How much weight (to the pound) do you want to lose? If your overall goal is to lose 100 pounds, then your goal will look more like this: “I will lose 100 pounds.” You’ll see in a moment that there is more we should add to this goal; this is a starting point. Go ahead right now and write down your specific weight-loss goal in pounds (or kilos for my international friends) – “I will lose _____ pounds.”

Great! Let’s move on.

You’ve already started on this aspect of goal-setting, but I wish to elaborate further. You know that the goal of losing 100 pounds is measurable because there’s a way to determine when the goal has been met – when the ending weight is 100 pounds less than the starting weight.

An example of a non-measurable goal is, “I will be healthy.” There’s no way to measure that goal from week to week, so hitting the target (“health”) is difficult. A better measurable goal would say, “I will lose 2 pounds of fat a week.” That goal can be measured over relatively short periods of time.

Goals should be within the realm of possibility. For example, a goal that states, “I will work out for 2 hours a day every day” is beyond attainable for someone who is just starting on the path to fitness because the motivation and physical stamina required to stick with that goal are not likely to last. Further, if the goal you set requires you to forgo responsibilities like work and family, then the goal is not attainable.

A better goal would say, “I will power walk for 30 minutes 3 days a week at 6:30AM.” There is a greater likelihood that the new fitness participant will stick to this goal because it is easily attainable. Over time, the goals should be written in such a way that they stretch the participant to points they originally believed were unattainable. For example, a goal that would be an attainable challenge is, “I will complete a half-marathon in less than 2.5 hours.” For someone who weighs 300 pounds, this goal is at first unattainable. With training and time, it can become attainable despite being beyond reach at the outset.

In addition to being attainable, goals must be realistic. To use the previous example, the 300-pound fitness participant might eventually set a goal to complete a half marathon: “I will run a half marathon and finish first.” While this might be an ambitious goal, it is unrealistic to believe that he or she will finish the race in first place.

Keeping the time frame in mind is important as well. If your goal is to lose 100 pounds, it is unrealistic to believe that such a huge amount of weight can be lost very quickly. Losing 2 pounds of fat a week is realistic. Losing 100 pounds in 16 weeks is NOT realistic for most people (television weight loss notwithstanding).

Look back at your paper. Consider a time frame for the weight-loss goal you wrote earlier. Divide the number of pounds you wrote by 2 to get the approximate number of weeks it will take to achieve your overall goal. For example, if the goal is to lose 100 pounds, that goal will take approximately 50 weeks (100lbs ÷ 2lbs/wk = 50 wks), or about a year, to accomplish safely.

Now rewrite your goal: “In the next _____ weeks I will lose _____ pounds.”

You have already applied the time-specific aspect of your goal-setting by affixing a timeframe to your goal. Having a goal that reads, “I will lose 30 pounds” has an invisible caveat at the end: “eventually.” People tend to work better under a deadline. Unless the time element is added, there is no deadline, and the goal will just be something we will get to eventually. Most people file their taxes on time because there’s a specific time frame: “by April 15th.” The same should be true of our personal fitness goals.

In January, when I first started the process of physique transformation, I wrote the following goal: “By my 40th birthday, I will drop 40 pounds of unwanted fat and gain 10 pounds of muscle.” The goal was what I considered to be realistic and attainable at the time, and it had the time specific stamp applied to it – “By my 40th birthday.”

“In the next 16 weeks, I will drop 30 pounds of fat and gain 10 pounds of lean muscle.”

The goal is specific – 30 pounds of fat and 10 pounds of muscle
The goal is measurable – 30 pounds of fat and 10 pounds of muscle can be measured
The goal is attainable – 16 weeks is plenty of time to achieve the goal (though more goals are needed to plan HOW we will attain the goal. More on that shortly).
The goal is realistic – 30 pounds of fat can realisticly be shed in 16 weeks. Adding 10 pounds of muscle is also realistic.
The goal is time-specific – “In the next 16 weeks”.

That’s a SMART goal!

Taking It a Step Further

There are 3 types of goals to consider: short-term goals, interim goals, and long-term goals. In our physique transformation process, the short-term can be 1-2 weeks. Interim goals are monthly goals, and long-term goals are 16 weeks and beyond. The best way to set these goals is to work from longest to shortest. You’ve already written a long term goal regarding weight loss: “In the next _____ weeks I will lose _____ pounds.” Now it’s time to consider what we must do in the short term to achieve the long-term goal.

Here are some examples of long-term goals:

Within 16 weeks, I will drop 30 pounds of body fat and gain 10 pounds of lean muscle.
Within 16 weeks, I will be able to run 2 miles at 5 mph on the treadmill.
Within 16 weeks, I will bench press 150 pounds for 10 reps.
Within 16 weeks, I will lose 8 inches from my waist.

Here are some examples of interim goals:

Within 4 weeks, I will increase my bench press by 20 pounds.
Within 4 weeks, I will increase my leg press by 50 pounds.
Within 4 weeks, I will lose 2 inches from my waist.
Within 4 weeks, I will increase my treadmill high-point speed by 2 mph.

Here are some examples of short-term goals:

This week I will run for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:30 AM.
This week I will lift weights for 50 minutes on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 6:00 PM.
This week I will eat 6 balanced, nutritious meals every day from Monday through Saturday.

Notice how the short-term and interim goals lead to achieving the long term goals. When weights and cardio intensity are increased (interim goals), inches and pounds are lost while muscle is gained (long-term goals). Achieving the short-term goals of running, lifting weights, and proper nutrition allow for the increases expected in the interim.

Now It’s Your Turn

On your piece of paper, draw 2 lines that divide the page into 3 columns. Label the columns “Short-term Goals,” “Interim Goals,” and “Long-term Goals.” Write (no typing and printing!) 3-4 SMART goals in each column. Make these goals your own, not just copies of the samples I offered. Goals are a lot more meaningful and motivational when you personalize them. Be sure your goals include exercise goals, nutrition (diet) goals, and progress goals (pounds lost, inches lost, etc.).


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