When it comes to health, one of the most powerful things a person can do is write down their goals. One of the first things personal trainers are taught is to help clients develop SMART Goals around their fitness.
I encourage people to set their sights on quantitative changes in their daily behaviors rather than body composition. In other words, I think it’s more useful to think about how you’d like to see your routines change than how you’d like to see your body change.
The reason for this is that everyone’s body responds to exercise differently. Given the same diet, daily habits, and exercise routine, two different people might experience significant differences in weight loss and muscle gain (go here to see why you should exercise even if you’re not seeing the body composition changes you’d expected). When this happens, many people can become demotivated and begin to lose sight of the reason they began an exercise and healthy eating program in the first place.
If we focus on setting our sights on changes in our behaviors and habits, we’re sometimes far more likely to stick with our plans.
“By the first week of March, my habits will include:
- Eat nearly all real foods
- Eat small balanced meals every three hours
- 50% of food you eat = vegetables
- 80-100g of protein per day
- fish twice per week
- Drink at least 92 oz of water per day
- Sleep at least 8 hours per night, consistent sleep schedule
- Health balance between work and having fun – do not think about work at least one day a week – two when possible
- Exercise five times per week”
This plan is not for everybody; it’s just an example. But if you set goals like this, rather than, “I’ll lose ten pounds by the end of the month,” you might be more likely to find long-term success.
Losing weight and gaining muscle are fine goals, but too many people have unrealistic expectations for how quickly they’ll happen, especially if they’ve been sedentary and eating an unhealthy diet for a long time.
Changing your habits can be challenging. Keeping a journal of everything you eat, the time you ate it, and what was going on around you when you ate it is often a useful way of keeping yourself on track.
The challenge with setting goals like these for many people is that our culture too often sees being healthy as synonymous with looking good. Even though we say we want to be healthier, we unconsciously (or consciously) might mean we want to look better. But being healthy should really be your priority. It will, after all, mean you’ll likely live a longer, happier life. Looking good will be a byproduct.