3 Powerful Steps to Set Meaningful Fitness Goals

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fitness goals


Are you also scared of gyms? Me too, at least a little.

Gyms make us self-aware and prone to constant self-comparison.

“She’s way thinner than I am.” “Wow, look at how strong he is, I’m so skinny!”

But these comparisons come at a price, and we eventually stop going to the gym because it’s no longer any fun.

Fortunately, there is a formula to set more meaningful fitness goals that last longer, improve your health, and make you a happier person.

Ready to take your fitness goals to a new level? Read on.

Master the skill of goal setting

I like featuring goal setting on this blog because I think it’s a truly powerful skill to master.

After reading this excellent article on fitness goals, I realised that the gym doesn’t have to be such a scary place. If you have the right intentions, a growth mindset, and learn to put this 3-step process into action.

Let’s dig in.

(If you want to dig even further, I highly recommend you check out the article by Dr John Berardi, which inspired this blog post.)

Step 1: Turn “outcome goals” into “behaviour goals”

Bad fitness goals usually start with outcomes. And I am just as guilty as the next person. Maybe this sounds familiar:

  • “I want to lose 20 pounds”.
  • “I want that toned and ripped body.”
  •  “I want to enjoy a better condition.”

Outcome goals describe how we want things to be at the end of the process. And there is nothing wrong with wanting things. But we can’t stop there.

Dr John Berardi writes that we often can’t control outcomes. For example, environmental things get in the way:

  • You get crazy busy at work
  • Your kid gets sick
  • You have exams at school

Or physical things impact your ability to achieve certain outcomes, too:

  • You’re stressed
  • You travel a lot
  • You’re having problems sleeping
  • You’ve strained an ankle

You get the idea, that shit happens.

You can’t make your body do what you want it to. But you can control what you do. – Dr. John Berardi 

And that’s why behaviour goals are so important because they focus on the things that we do have control over. As a result, we are more likely to take action.

Put differently, behaviour goals are tasks or a particular set of actions that we can practice every day.

Let’s look at a few practical examples.

OutcomeBehaviour
Lose 20 poundsEat till satisfied (not stuffed) by the end of each meal.
Lower blood sugarEat fruit for dessert, instead of sweets, three times a week.
Sleep 8 hours per night
Create a calming pre-sleep routine and start it 30 minutes before bedtime

The difference between the two is that behaviour goals give us something to do (and track) each day.

How to set powerful behaviour goals:
1. Write down one outcome you want.
2. Write down some of the skills you think you’ll need to get that outcome.
3. Related to each skill, write down a behaviour or two you can do today that’ll help build those skills.
4. Do the behaviour today, tomorrow, and so on.

And what if you miss a day? Don’t get too upset about it. A new day is a clean slate. Take comfort, and start again.

Pro tip: Use a calendar and put a big fat X if you’ve completed the behaviour for the day. A long chain of crosses displays your progress visually and helps you keep the momentum going.

Step 2: Turn “avoid goals” into “approach goals”

“OK, this week I won’t eat any chocolate.”

“Tomorrow, I’ll quit smoking cold turkey.”

“I become such a jerk when I drink alcohol! I must stop drinking it!”

Everyone makes a lot of avoidance goals, but frankly, they take up a lot of mental space and effort to maintain.

You walk around, thinking about all the things you can’t or shouldn’t do, but that makes you want it even more. The you-can’t-have-it technique works for a while, but not as a long-term solution for most people.

Why? Because you don’t like being told what to do (especially by others). You eventually give in to temptation, and when you do, you feel like a total failure.

You can stop torturing yourself. Dr John Berardi has an alternative solution, which he calls “approach goals”.

“Approach” goals pull you toward something desirable (and quietly pull you away from something you’re trying to avoid). – Dr. John Berardi  

Let’s look at a few examples.

AvoidApproachBenefit
Stop snacking on junk foodSnack on cut-up fruits and veggies prepared in advanceFruits and veggies are good for me
Stop drinking sodaDrink a glass of water with at least 3 meals a dayI don’t get headaches anymore

How to set powerful “approach goals”:  

  1. Write down a “bad” habit you want to avoid.
  2. Write down a “good” habit or two you can use to replace the habit you want to quit.
  3. Write down an “approach” goal you can do today to support the new “good” habit.
  4. Identify how this “approach” goal will benefit you.
  5. Find what works, and repeat.

I recently tried this “approach” technique on chocolate. I replaced eating chocolate with eating celery, and so far it’s going really well. (Have I stopped eating chocolate entirely? HAHA, are you kidding? No, but I don’t eat nearly as much as I used to, and I feel much better about my overall chocolate consumption.)

Step 3: Turn “performance goals” into “mastery goals”

Performance goals are very similar to outcome goals. They make us rely on external validation for acceptance, like winning a competition or getting good grades from a teacher.

Mastery works differently.

  • Mastery emphasises the process of getting a little bit better each day at a particular skill.
  • Mastery focuses on the joy of learning and the value of the intrinsic (inside-yourself) process.
  • Mastery is gratifying because no matter what others think or do — whether you’re judged poorly or you’re outperformed — you can still feel good about your own personal progression.

Now that’s something to strive towards. Let’s look at a few practical examples.

PerformanceMastery
Beat a personal record in the half marathonWork on running elegantly, efficiently, and smoothly. Watch a video of self-running and identify technique elements to improve, then incorporate these into the training plan.
Bench press more weight.Work on increasing bar speed and strengthening supporting muscles; consistently practice exercises that do this.
Drop body fat to 8% for an upcoming competition.Build my ability to consistently prepare and execute a well-designed meal plan.

How to set powerful “mastery goals”: 

  1. Write down the desired outcome that’s a performance goal.
  2. Write down some ideas for turning inward with that goal.
  3. Think about which skills will lead to mastery.
  4. Write down an action you can take every day for the next two weeks to build those skills.
  5. Track your progression toward mastery.

To sum up

So, in summary, Dr John Berardi’s 3-step process boils down to:

  • Focus on the process, not results.
  • Approach not avoid.
  • Mastery, not performance.

By focusing on process/behaviour, approach and mastery, you ironically become more likely to achieve your fitness goals.

When you focus on enjoying the process itself, the gym becomes a much less scary place because you’re there for yourself and not for anyone else.

Over to you

As always, you need to take action on the advice you read about. How will you put this 3-step process into practice? Has this approach worked for you? Do you have other tips to share? Please scroll down and tell us in the comments!

Learn more about goal setting from the blog

As I stated earlier, I’ve written about goals and goal setting before. Here are some of my popular posts on the topic:

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4 responses to “3 Powerful Steps to Set Meaningful Fitness Goals”

  1. Patti Avatar

    I particularly enjoyed this post! Mindset questions are always tricky but you managed to approach them in a fairly simple and fun way 🙂

    1. Olle Lindholm Avatar

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Patti! 🙂

  2. Virginia Reeves Avatar

    Thanks Olle. Good tips and techniques shared for changing behavior, thoughts, and attitudes in order to reach more of our desired outcomes. Obviously, these methods work for anywhere in your life you want to make changes. How will I implement? Hmmm.. have to think on that more. (smile) So much easier to read and agree than to practice – right ?

    1. Olle Lindholm Avatar

      Thank you, Virginia!

      Yes, it’s easy to read, but sometimes hard to do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. One small step at a time 😀

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