One of the most important steps you can take when developing your exercise regimen is to set SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. They are an excellent way to create a foundation for a successful, long-term exercise program. However, when it comes to the goal setting process, I have an additional suggestion. Start with process goals instead of outcome goals. You are probably more familiar with outcome goals, which focus on specific accomplishments. For example, “losing 10 pounds in the next 8 weeks” is an outcome goal. So is “running a 20-min 5K road race by the end of the season.” Other examples of outcome goals include “reducing my body fat percentage by 10% in the next 6 months”, and “reducing my LDL cholesterol by 20 points in the next year.”
To be sure, outcome goals are very important. When they are written using the SMART criteria, they can give you a helpful target. However, it has been my experience that when people fail to achieve their outcome goals (which is common because many of us set unattainable goals), they become demoralized and give up on their exercise regimen. Process goals focus more on the implementation of your exercise program. For example, a good process goal would be “to exercise 4 times this week for at least 30 minutes per workout.” You have more control over accomplishing this goal and it will help you get in the habit of exercising. Some additional examples of effective process goals include the following:
* Walk 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
* Find an exercise partner in the next 3 weeks.
* Buy an exercise journal and record my workouts on a daily basis.
* Run a total of 15 miles a week for the next 4 weeks.
* Get my old bike fixed and ride it twice a week for the next two months.
* Ride my bike 40 miles a week for the next 4 weeks.
* Swim 3 days a week for 30 minutes each workout.
* Measure my daily caloric intake and record it in my exercise journal for 14 days.
* Complete a fitness assessment in the next 30 days.
Process goals like these provide a very effective means for starting a training program. I’m not suggesting you avoid outcome goals. They serve an important role and can be very useful, especially for experienced exercisers and competitive athletes. I merely suggest you incorporate several process goals as well.