Goal Setting and tracking progress. Why not doing it is holding you back.

Have you ever worked so hard on something in life whether that’s in your job or own fitness goals that once you reached it you felt this massive sense of achievement and pride? Feels good right? For all about five minutes and then it’s onto the next thing. From a personal standpoint, the best example of this for myself would be in 2016 when I competed in my first ever bodybuilding show. Leading up to it I had dieted for 16 weeks in total, along with maintaining a strict five-day training programme for the duration of the prep. In hindsight I realise now all the mistakes I made during the contest prep (keeping calories far too low!) but that’s in the past now and can’t be changed. It was a tough period though, I distinctly remember having to stop and rest halfway up a very average staircase as I just couldn’t muster the energy to go the whole way. It didn’t do any of my relationships with loved ones any favours. I’d avoid all social occasions like the plague because my strict diet wouldn’t allow me to enjoy myself at these events, so I just wouldn’t go. My energy levels plummeted and things that used to work well stopped suddenly and didn’t seem to be coming back if you know what I mean!? Why keep going though? It wasn’t making me any money, in fact it was draining a lot of money from my bank account. It wasn’t gaining me any new friends, the friends I already had had practically forgotten what I looked like! My relationships were deteriorating rapidly with most conversations I had with people being about their concern for my welfare rather than anything resembling “normal” chit chat. I wasn’t a particularly nice person to be around. My hunger and low energy meant I used as little words as possible in conversations and even then, was still moody and difficult to deal with. Why go through all this adversity for the sake of competing in an amateur natural bodybuilding show? Why not just stop and say enough is enough?

Well presumably you’ve read the title of this blog, so you know what I’m going to say. It was because I had set a goal for myself and was something I wanted to achieve. When any rational person sets a goal for themselves, they do so accept that it isn’t going to be all smooth sailing in order to reach it. They accept (or at least should accept) that they are going to have to face some obstacles and are prepared to do so in order to achieve it. Setting goals is a powerful thing. It’s also something we’ve all heard spoken about many times. It’s now almost become background noise to us. Elevator music if you like. Why though? If we understand that setting short, medium- and long-term goals then implementing a well-planned strategy for reaching them is beneficial, why do so many people neglect to set them? There’s only one obvious answer that I can think of. If we set ourselves a goal, a real goal that is realistic and achievable. If we write that goal down somewhere, have a specific step by step timeline for achieving it, tell all our friends and family about it then we open ourselves up to one thing. Failure. I’m right aren’t I? If we set ourselves a goal and put it out there in the world for everyone to know about then we’ve made ourselves accountable to that goal. We’ve taken the proverbial “leap of faith” into the realms of success and failure and the thought of failure for most people seems unbearable. If you don’t set any goals, then you can’t fail at anything right? That’s a nice cosy world to exist in but not one that is going to see you levelling up every year both physically and mentally. Setting goals is important. Having an objective measurement by which to achieve any type of success is important. Inches lost, strength gained etc. There’s lots of different ways we can set and plan our goals that give us the framework and action plan for moving forward and achieving them. We must accept failure as a potential outcome though before we start deciding what goals we want to achieve.

So, we’ve outlined the importance of setting goals. The question now is, how do you go about setting ones for yourself? The key is simple. A goal you set for yourself needs to have a structure and realistic enough timeline that you’re not overwhelmed by the scale of it. The bar you set for yourself needs to be low enough that you have a realistic chance of achieving it, yet high enough that it still motivates and excites you enough to get out of bed in the morning! Goals should be set as short, medium and long term. Let me give you an example. A person who is significantly overweight with a BMI >30 and is classed as obese decides they want to reduce their body fat % and lose some weight. The number they have in their head is three stone. A massive 42lbs of bodyweight to drop in total. The 42lbs or three stone is the long-term goal. The one that’s way off in the distance. We need to be able to have this long-term goal set as it’s the one that truly excites us as it will mark the end point for the body transformation we’ve been looking for. The problem with it though is that it’s too big. It’s too far in the distance. If we’re solely focused on the three stone, then we become de-motivated by the slow ascent towards it. If the long-term goal is a three stone loss of weight, then a reasonable medium-term goal might be to lose the very first stone. That would be considered a landmark in our overall journey. A checkpoint if you like. Now we can put some focus on the medium-term goal as it doesn’t seem so far away that it is impossible for us to reach. Short term goals are our week-on-week targets that we try and consistently hit. Aiming for a 1lb reduction in body weight through a sustained caloric deficit supplemented by a realistic, yet challenging training programme that is completed each week. Find a routine that allows you to lose 1lb per week, repeat this process 42 times and you’ve hit your long-term goal of three stone!

So, we have our goals set up. How do we ensure that we’re steadily moving towards them? The answer is through tracking. Tracking your progress towards a specific goal is crucial. There’s an old saying that goes “what gets measured gets managed”. This is true. Some of you reading this might own an Apple Watch. Have you been motivated to close your activity rings recently? Hit both your weekly and monthly targets that have been set for you? This is because tracking our progress is highly motivating when we can see that we are moving towards our goals. Visibly seeing on your watch or phone that you’ve walked 8500 steps for the day and only need another 1500 to hit your target might cause you to go and put your trainers on and get yourself out for that 20 minute walk that will see you hit the 10,000 mark (or whatever your specific target is). Tracking is crucial, because it allows to assess if our current efforts are helping us towards the desired outcome. If they are, great. KEEP GOING! If they’re not, stop, reassess and adjust. There’re various methods for tracking your progress depending on what the goal is that you’ve set for yourself. Weighing yourself over the course of the week and taking an average as the overall (particularly important for females). Taking progress pictures (these are awful at first but very rewarding once you’ve hit your goal). Having KPI’s (key performance indicators) for strength and power-based goals. Using skin-fold callipers to measure body fat. The list goes on and on. All methods are valid but it’s important not to become too attached to one form of tracking (e.g. – weight!). I have worked with several clients whose scales have dropped very little if any at all, yet their waistline is slimmer, they’re strength and confidence in the gym environment is greater and progress pictures comparing their current state to previous months and years is vastly changed. Use at least two forms of tracking your progress regularly to ensure you are moving towards your goals.

We need to set goals because they provide structure and an action plan for us to follow. We should have short, medium- and long-term goals. The long-term goal is our result, our big finale. But if we put too much focus on it, we become demotivated by the scale of it and the slow progress we’re making towards it. You don’t just climb Mount Everest without getting to Base Camp first. Our short- and medium-term goals act as our “Base Camp”. A goal that is realistic enough for us to hit yet challenging enough that we still must push ourselves in order to achieve it! Tracking our progress is crucial as it allows us to see if we’re moving towards our training goals. There are various forms of tracking that may be best suited to you depending on what your goals are but don’t become too attached to one method. Use at least two different forms and be consistent with them. The results from your tracking will dictate whether your current approach is working or if you need to adjust. Set yourself goals so you don’t just aimlessly float through your time in the gym without any direction or end goal. This will keep you engaged, motivated and most importantly consistent. Set yourself some scary goals in 2019.



Author – Scott McBride (McBride Fitness)

Scott McBride