hand writing fitness goals in a notebook with a pen

Why We Fail at Reaching Our Goals

by Mitch Davis

As a coach of 14 years, I have had the privilege of watching hundreds of athletes and clients alike reach their goals. In a much more rare occasion, I have seen individuals go on to do far greater things than they once sought out for. A young wrestler of mine had the hopes of winning a local tournament. Just a year later, he is nationally ranked. Watching humans achieve and surpass their goals is something special. 

But in order for something to be special, it must be unique. That is, this is something that happens rarely. If everyone met their goals, there wouldn’t be such an emotional impact to the individual and those supporting them. Sadly, most of us fall short on goals. I would be one to argue that a lot of those goals revolve around our physical bodies (our health and performance). So if reaching our goals is so challenging, what must change in order to experience success? 

I’ll give you the principal that I believe to be the underlying theme in every success story. I know there are many components of success, but regardless of the individual, their goal, and the path they took, there remains one foundational component. They worked with the end in mind. I am sure many of you have heard of the acronym SMART, which has several different definitions, but the overall message is to create specific, measureable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals. 

Although I don’t encourage my athletes and clients to use the SMART acronym, we do discuss the process of goal setting in a similar way. First, we absolutely must have a goal in mind. This goal needs to be specific and it must be objective. When we start an exercise routine with the goal of “feeling better” or “to lose some weight”, this allows too much “participant degrees-of-freedom” of interpretation. Although I want you to feel better, what exactly does this mean? If you’re overweight and wish to lose some pounds, what does “some weight” mean? Not clearly defining your goal is an issue. The more you can specify, the harder it will be to interpret failure as a successfully completed task. 

By having a very definable, very objective goal, you will allow yourself to create a roadmap for success. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds this year, as opposed to “losing a lot of weight”, you will be able to create pit stops along the way. In 3-months from now, I want to be actively participating in a form of exercise, I want to have started paying attention to my diet, and I want to feel committed to the process. Six months from now, I’d like to be down 25 pounds and have taken control of my life. These pit stops allow us to reevaluate our situation and ask ourselves if we really are heading in the right direction. 

By having a clearly defined goal, a realistic expectation as to when this should occur, and allowing yourself mini-goals as stepping stones to the bigger goal, you are safeguarding against self-deception. Humans are fantastic at lying to themselves and convincing self and others that they are doing what needs to be done to reach a very loosely defined goal. “I want to lose weight” can be accomplished simply by a day or two of fasting. Sure, it was water weight, but the scale says I’m done a pound. When we have objectifiable goals, we cannot escape reality and we are more likely to stay committed to the process. 

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Mitchell Davis is the Director of Remote Coaching at Power Train Sports & Fitness.  He is a PhD candidate at Liberty University where he is pursuing his doctorate in Health & Exercise Science.  He has been a coach and educator for 13 years, serving in roles such as collegiate strength and conditioning coach, high school strength and conditioning coach, adjunct professor, personal trainer, and fitness consultant.  

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