I have been exposed to the concept of SMART goals in the business world, and I have applied them to my fitness goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
A classic example of setting a SMART goal is President Kennedy’s address to Congress in 1962 when he stated, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. accomplished President Kennedy’s goal.
Two years ago, after a nine year hiatus from racing, I decided to do another 25K road race. I put my stake in the ground and committed to this goal in March by signing up for the Surf The Murph 25K trail run in Savage, MN. Having done this many times before, I wrote up a training plan to get me from my starting point in March to crossing the finish line in October. I set SMART milestones to complete a 10 mile walk by Memorial Day, a 12 mile walk by July 4th, and a 15 mile walk by Labor Day.
No sweat (well, maybe a little). Mission accomplished. It wasn’t like landing on the moon, but I loved the training, the race experience, and crossing the finish line under my time goal. In fact, this motivated me to set my new current goal: complete two half marathons a year for the next five years to give me a career total of 70 half marathons by the time I reach my 70th birthday. I completed the first two half marathons last year: one year down, and four to go now.
I have goals beyond my 70th birthday also. My granddaughter Violet will turn 16 in 2029. That will also be my 40th year doing group fitness classes. I don’t know what class will be the rave at that time, and what my physical ability will be to keep up, but my goal is to be in the gym with my granddaughter, working out with her on March 3 2029.
The definition of a goal is something that an individual is trying to accomplish; the object or aim of an action. A more descriptive definition is, “Goals are like magnets that attract us to a higher ground and new horizon. They give our eyes a focus, our mind an aim, and our strength a purpose. Without their pull, we could remain forever stationary, incapable of moving forward . . . A goal is a possibility that fulfills a dream.”
Within the goal-setting literature, three types of goals have been identified: outcome, performance, and process goals (TABLE 4-1).
- Outcome Goal: In sport, an outcome goal is usually about winning or losing. However, in exercise settings, an outcome goal is usually seen as the end result of some behavior, rather than winning or losing. For example, an outcome goal might be to win a walking challenge with coworkers or to be the first to lose 10 pounds out of a group of friends.
- Performance Goal: A performance goal specifies end products of performance, but is usually expressed in terms of personal achievement. For example, to lose those 20 pounds, an individual may want to exercise aerobically for 30–40 minutes, three or four times per week, or may want to reduce his or her caloric intake from 3,000 to 2,000 calories per day.
- Process Goal: Finally, a process goal specifies the processes the individual wants to engage to perform in a satisfactory manner (however that is defined). An example might be keeping the heart rate above 130 beats per minute for 20 minutes of each exercise session. Similarly, to reduce caloric intake, a process goal might be to eat only one serving of food at meals if an individual usually goes back for seconds, or to drink 96 ounces of water each day to reduce appetite.
Outcome goals are a good idea, but they should not be the main focus of a wellness or fitness program because they are out of an individual’s control. Rather, the focus should be on performance and process goals, as these are under the person’s control and help him or her reach the outcome goals.
The chart below is taken from the book “Wellness Coach Behavior Change” published by NASM in 2014. Don’t let Boston Marathon example intimidate you – you can apply the same principles to any goal that you have on your heart to accomplish.