Setting fitness goals | How to set a goal and stick to it

For most of us, setting our fitness goals is the easy part. It’s sticking to them that’s the tricky part. Whether you’re looking to stay on track and hit a new personal best, or you’re struggling to stay motivated with a new weight loss plan, we’ve got some expert tips to keep you on track.

Key takeaways

  • Break big goals down into small, manageable chunks
  • Be specific – avoid setting goals that can’t be measured
  • Set realistic goals that can be completed inside a set timeframe
  • Build a support network by telling others about your progress
  • Remember that goals take time to achieve and that nothing happens overnight
  • Implement a reward structure that helps you stay motivated
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall short
  • Stay flexible and adjust if your life circumstances change

Why is goal setting so important?

Goal setting helps us set targets that are both measurable and achievable. By doing this, we split the big picture down into manageable chunks.

Setting goals helps us stay motivated on our journey by encouraging rewards as we make progress. Without clear and identifiable goals, we can easily become bored and jaded when progress is slow.

Below, we’ve outlined some helpful tips and tricks for goal setting that you can use all year round.

Embrace goal setting all year round

Don’t save goal setting for January.

Lots of people start a fitness journey because they have a memorable date on the horizon (a race, wedding, holiday, or surgery that they are planning for.

Whether you’re looking to kickstart the new year with a fitness regime or you’ve had trouble sticking to your goals in the past, there’s no better time to start than now.

Big or small, it’s always good to be setting goals. When we’ve got something to achieve, we tend to feel a bit more motivated and work a bit harder.

Top tips for staying on track

Make sure your goals are measurable

Being specific allows you to really target the area you want to improve.

For example, saying “I want to lose weight” is a very broad statement. Instead, be specific about how much weight you want to lose and how long you want to give yourself to do it.

Use the checklist below when putting your goals together to make sure you’ve covered everything:

  • What is your goal?
  • Have you been specific about the measurable targets involved?
  • What are you going to have to do to achieve it?
  • Have you set a realistic timeframe?
  • What are you going to have to do to achieve your goal?
  • Have you thought about future pitfalls that may prevent you from achieving your goal?

Dream big, plan small

Big goals are good, but they can cause us to lose motivation. Try breaking your big goal down into manageable chunks that look and feel more achievable in the short term.

Try to visualise your journey like you would a 100-mile walk. Walking this distance in one go is of course impossible, but if you break it down into 10, 20, or even 30 manageable chunks every day, the distance suddenly looks very different.

Avoid fixating and focusing on the bigger picture and instead put together a plan that focuses on doing something every day that moves you closer to your end goal.

Reward yourself along the way

Rewards are part of the process. If you don’t use rewards, you risk burning out and getting bored.

What rewards look like and what’s appropriate for your circumstance and journey will differ from person to person.

For example, some people like to allocate one “cheat day” a week when they’re dieting to avoid burnout. Other people may find this doesn’t work for them and that this triggers overindulgence.

Start by recognising what you find rewarding and introducing this into your plan. If you’re working with a personal trainer or coach, let them know that you want a reward structure to be part of your plan.

Use reminders to stay on track

Reminders are a great tool for keeping us on track and thinking about why we started in the first place.

  • Motivation post-it notes and messages
  • Use technology and apps to help keep you motivated
  • Encourage friends and family to help keep you on track
  • Work with a personal trainer to get some outside motivation
  • Put time aside to visualise where you’ll be if you stick to your plan
  • Remember why you started in the first place

Share your goals with others

Letting friends and family know about your goals helps you stay accountable and means you can share your progress and achievements along the way.

Sharing positive changes with others also means you become a driving force for others to do the same.

You might also find it helpful to engage with the wider community outside of your immediate friends and family. The internet is host to forums, message boards, and communities of like-minded individuals looking to share advice and encouragement on absolutely anything and everything.

Track your progress

Keeping track of how far you’ve come is great motivation to keep going. See below for some great tips on tracking progress and staying motivated:

  • Keep a diary
  • Physically cross the days off your training plan
  • Take photos as you progress
  • Use all the data available to you (sleep quality, heart rate, personal bests etc)
  • Keep track of your weight loss
  • Write down how you’re feeling week on week
  • Take regular measurements if this is part of your goal

Work with a professional

Whatever your goal, there’s a professional who can provide the motivation and guidance you need to achieve it.

You don’t have to enlist the help of a professional, but they’re a great resource if you’re looking for an informed and educated opinion to help guide you. Professionals can help remove the guesswork from goal setting by putting together a detailed plan that works for you and your body.

Before introducing any drastic health, fitness, nutrition, or lifestyle changes, we recommend you consult your GP.

Embrace flexibility

When circumstances change, don’t be afraid of adjusting your goals.

Life is unpredictable and can force us to change our routines to accommodate new and unforeseen people, places, and things.

If you have something pressing that demands all your physical and mental attention, you may not have the time required to stay on track with your goals.

The important thing is that we stay flexible and understand what’s most important. Write a list of what’s going on and adjust the framework of your plan. You can then work out if and how your goals are going to fit into your new situation.

Don’t beat yourself up if you fall short

We all fall short of our goals from time to time.

Whether this means not getting that personal best time you wanted in a race or losing motivation and taking some time off, beating yourself up about it won’t help.

The best thing you can do is to go easy on yourself and evaluate what happened. Try and pinpoint what happened and what caused you to fall short. Maybe you weren’t completing all the sessions in your training plan, or you let your nutrition slip early.

Use your experience as a tool to learn from so that when you do come back, you know what you need to change in order to be successful next time.

Last updated Monday 11 December 2023

First published on Friday 25 November 2016