The Key to Growth.
Whether it be physical fitness, mental wellbeing, work productivity, or the quality of your relationships, there's some aspect of your life that ideally you'd like to improve. That's called being a human being.
Problem is, you can't figure out how to get started. You're repeating the same actions day-after-day yet, for some reason, are hopeful of different outcomes. You're frustrated, fed up, & not quite sure where you're going wrong.
Here's the reality: If you want to experience different outcomes, you have to adjust the inputs.
Behavioural change isn't easy. Behaviours have a tendency to become deeply embedded within your identity, meaning letting go of a behaviour that your accustomed to - which likely brings you short-term comfort - is a challenge. An essential one, however.
So, how do you begin taking control of your actions & behaviour to drive you towards the improvement you're seeking? In my eyes, one word. Direction. A product of setting clearly defined goals.
Having a clear understanding of what it is you’re working towards & the daily actions needed to get you there is fundamental. Life can be overwhelming. It can feel like there are 101 different things that you should be doing. By outlining just a few specific goals, you’re able to filter out the nonsense and direct your focus & energy towards what really matters to you. You’ll feel driven towards taking specific action & find that motivation is less of an issue.
I say all this from experience - both first hand & with many of my in-person & online coaching clients.
But, setting goals isn't as simple as thinking about what you want & crossing your fingers. Successful goal-setting & achievement requires a skilled, methodical approach, in conjunction with environmental adjustments.
So, in this article I'll be taking you through some of the key considerations when setting goals, as well as touching upon how to give yourself the greatest chance to follow through on them. Whilst this is targeted towards someone wanting to improve their health & fitness, in reality, these principles are relevant to any & all aspects of life. If you're a human being, this is relevant for you.
How to Set Your Goals.
1. Write Your Goals Down.
Get the notepad out.
Putting pen to paper is a proven method for enhancing the likelihood of goal achievement. Firstly, provided you place your written goals somewhere within your environment, it allows for ongoing visual reminders. If your environment frequently prompts you with your goals, you’re much more likely to remember them & therefore be successful.
However, jotting down goals provides more than just a visual cue. Committing goals to paper allows for enhanced encoding - the biological process whereby things you perceive in your environment travel to the hippocampus, within the brain, for analysis - to take place. Put simply, writing goals down helps cement them into memory - more so than simply thinking about them or expressing them out loud.
Lastly, writing goals out helps add an additional layer of clarity on what it is you want to achieve & allows for reviewing of success across a period of time; you can look back on what you've written done & reflect upon whether you were successful or not.
Personally, I like to write down my weekly goals in a journal each Sunday/Monday, whilst also regularly clarifying my big picture goals in writing too (particularly during times of low motivation/lack of direction).
2. Outline Your Desired Outcomes.
How can you know where you're headed without a big picture plan? The daily & weekly goals that you set for yourself should all be stepping-stones towards the long-term vision you hold for yourself. Without an understanding of what you're working towards, it's impossible to outline what those stepping-stones should be.
So, before you go rattling-off a list of esoteric goals, ask yourself a couple of fundamental questions:
- What do I want from life? (career, relationships, free time, physical & mental health, financially)
- Is this actually what I want, or is it what society has tricked me into believing I want?
- What needs to change in order for me to live aligned with what I want?
Answer these questions as honestly as you can, and you'll immediately be in a significantly better position to begin laying out your intentions.
3. Outline Necessary Daily Behaviours.
Once clear on what it is you're working towards, you can then start to break-down the handful of daily behaviours that will be necessary in the long-run for those ambitions to become reality.
Let's say your goal is to build 10kg of muscle over the next 12 months. That's not just going to happen by itself, is it? There are specific actions needed to be taken on a daily/weekly basis for muscle growth to occur. So, you'd write those down in a list like this:
- Strength Train 3-4x per week
- Eat 'x' number of calories
- Consume 'x' amount of protein per day
- Sleep 7-9 hours per night
By breaking down your goal this way, you're able to distinguish the necessary daily actions to take - it provides a sense of guidance. What's more, doing so reduces those feelings of overwhelm when contemplating your long-term goals that you're no doubt familiar with.
Just like the long-term goals, write these daily actions down. Investing in a diary where you can input your daily goals (& tick off as you complete) is something I can't recommend enough.
4. Aim Higher.. But Not Too High.
Humans are creatures of habit - we're pretty resistant to change. For that reason, you need to take incremental, baby steps. In other words, be realistic with your goals.
We'll use a step target as an example. Say you currently average 2000 steps per day, but want to increase that to around 15,000 steps. Setting the goal to walk 15,000 steps per day straight off the bat would be way too drastic a change. The increase in activity levels is so distant from what you're accustomed to, that there's little chance you'll remain consistent with it long-term.
Instead, take small steps. Start by aiming for a target of 3000 steps per day. Do that consistently for a week, & then increase again by a small amount. Set targets that are challenging enough for you to be making progress, but not so challenging that success becomes highly unlikely.
5. Be Specific.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when setting goals is failing to be specific with their intentions. If there's even a hint of ambiguity in exactly what you're aiming for (& the daily necessary behaviours), you'll find it very tough to derive the motivation needed to get started - and remain consistent.
Let's continue with the previous example of a step target goal. Setting the goal of 'walking more' isn't specific. You haven't outlined how far you're going to walk, nor how you're going to incorporate this new behaviour into your lifestyle. A specific goal would look something like: 'Walk 5000 steps per day, by taking a 10 minute walk after each meal'. Wording a goal in this way allows for a couple of things.
Firstly, it provides a clear, tangible target to achieve each day, meaning that you can easily judge whether or not you've been successful. Secondly, it helps to incorporate that action into your lifestyle. This is essential. As mentioned earlier, we're ingrained to be pretty resistant to change. Therefore, finding ways to seamlessly integrate your goals into your lifestyle is a must for long-term adherence.
How to Achieve Your Goals.
Patience & Consistency.
Achieving your goals isn't just about the actions you decide to take - it's about the mentality you hold throughout the process.
If there's one thing that I've learnt whilst growing my business, deepening my knowledge on certain subjects, and acquiring new skills, it's that patience & consistency are both fundamental and non-negotiable.
As nice as the idea of achieving your goals without putting in the work consistently - for a prolonged period of time - might be, it's not how life works. Any individual who's made significant progress - or even achieved 'mastery' - in some aspect of their life, has engaged in a process of consistent daily action.
Above all else you have to come to terms with the fact that your goals won't be achieved overnight. There are no shortcuts; showing up each & every day really is the only way.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up.
Don't get me wrong - it's important to hold yourself to a high standard. But, at the same time, self-compassion is vital. I like the saying - 'You're great just as you are.. but you could be better".
You have to remember that you're a human, not a robot that you can order around & expect to comply. Treat yourself the way you would treat someone you care about. That means showing compassion in the difficult moments, not being overly self-critical, & empowering yourself to be better.
Be conscious of your self-talk. If you're highly self-deprecating, & repeatedly practice negative thought patterns, then you're only going to further ingrain those neurological pathways - neurons that fire together, wire together. If you find yourself caught up in your own mind, first, take 6 deep breaths. 4 seconds in, pause, 4 seconds out. Recognise that you aren't your emotions, just the watcher of them.
Lastly, understand that the journey of self-growth isn't a linear one. There are days where everything comes easy; where you & life flow in unison. And, there are days that are a write-off from the moment you wake up. Accept this, instead of mentally tormenting yourself when you're unable to live up to your own lofty expectations.
Share Your Goals.
It could be a friend, family member, your coach, your cat - whoever -, just make sure you share your goals with someone that you trust. Ideally, someone who will take a genuine interest in your success & support you along your journey.
Explicitly outlining your goals to another person has been shown to make you more committed. It works in a couple of ways. Provided you choose wisely, the person you share your goals with can create a sense of accountability - you won't want to let them down. What's more, that individual may even help you to stay committed & focused during the inevitable difficult moments.
So I recommend you find an accountability partner - someone who you can share goals & celebrate success with. Not only will this boost your chances of success, but I pretty much guarantee that doing so will improve your relationship with that person - and connection is what life's all about.
What's typically the hardest part to taking action? I know for me, it's getting started.
Removing friction is about lowering the initial energy/effort needed to begin taking action. Essentially it means taking measures to reduce the psychological resistance you hold towards taking action - to give yourself the greatest chance of actually doing what you intend on doing.
In my eyes there are two great ways of doing this - by lowering your internal bar of expectation, and making adjustments to your environment.
Allow me to provide an example. Let's say you set the goal of doing some form of exercise each morning - but getting yourself up & out of the bed quickly enough to do so is a struggle. Reducing friction in this instance might mean aiming to do just 20 minutes of exercise (lowering the expectation), and laying-out all of your workout clothing/ equipment the night before (adjusting your environment). Doing this will undoubtedly make getting out of bed so much easier.
Have a think about what typically holds you back from getting started, and see if you can come up with ways to reduce that friction.
One of my favourite quotes is "comparison is the thief of joy". Man, if that isn't the truth.
We live in an age where comparison with others is rife. Social media is full of people highlighting the greatest aspects of their lives. When all you're seeing is others people's best bits, you're only going to feel insufficient in comparison. Of course, most people aren't posting on social media with the intention of making others feel worse, but because they too are caught up wanting to match up to their peers & feel accepted.
But, if you want to stay focused on your goals for the long term, comparison with others will do you zero favours. There will be people who tread on a similar path to you, which may naturally create some tension & the urge to make comparisons. I experience this myself. The key thing to remember is that your journey is completely unique to you.
Keep the goal the goal, & only compare yourself to the person you were yesterday.
Enjoy the Process.
I intentionally left this point until the end because in my experience, it's comfortably the most significant one.
One of our biggest short-comings as a species is our inability to live in the present moment; we're endlessly pre-occupied with both the past and future. Problem is, obsession with some time other than the present (mainly the future) is only going to lead to two possible outcomes.
One, you'll become riddled with doubt & anxiety, feeling completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task you face. Basically, you're so caught up in how far you are from where you'd like to be (the future), that it leaves you stuck, unable to commit to action right now.
Two, you end up chasing arrival - even though it doesn't exist. This simply means holding the fictitious belief that at some point, once you achieve 'x', you'll feel satisfied or enough. For example, thinking that if only you were more muscular & had six-pack abs, you'd feel satisfied with life. Here's the truth. Sure, there's pleasure obtained from things such as these, but it's short-lived. Once you obtain one thing you desired, you end up finding a new problem with your current circumstance. You learn that satisfaction doesn't come from attainment.
The key to overcoming this existential concern is to focus on enjoying the process. Take life one day at a time, celebrate the wins, embrace the challenges, & love yourself for taking the action needed to work towards becoming a better version of you.
Need Help Setting & Achieving your Goals?
Christian Lawal Personal Training - Articles
My name's Christian Lawal & I'm an Online Coach and Personal Trainer dedicated to helping driven individuals become their best self.
Christian Lawal Personal Training.
Personal training in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge & Sevenoaks.