Goal Setting and Context in Health and Fitness

The first thing I do with any client is figure out what their goals are and what they really want. This seems obvious but it’s much more common for clients to have no idea what they want than to come to me with a specific goal. Most people have really vague goals like “I want to get in shape” but when I ask them what that means to them, they don’t know how to answer. When pressed, the answers vary wildly. Being in shape means something different for everyone. For some people it means the ability to work a demanding job all day without getting tired, for others it means being a low enough body fat percentage to see their abs, and for others it means being able to run for an hour without stopping. While any variety of physical activities could be helpful in reaching these goals, each of these people will need a different training and nutritional approach.

It’s critical that when you start out on a training program you have personalized goals.  If you’re going to hire a coach you have to make sure they know what your goals are and set your program up for your individual needs.  It’s human nature to project our goals and preferences onto other people, so you must be clear about what you want. If you don’t tell your coach what you want you may find yourself working toward their goals instead of your own. I can look at a skinny high school guy and immediately be planning out how we’re going to pack muscle on them, but if they want to run endurance events or compete in a weight class sport, then we’re already at a disconnect. The client and the coach must be on the same page!

When figuring out what a client wants, or when you’re figuring out what you want, it’s important to get specific. I have found people do much better with specific goals than general goals and can get more motivated when there’s a destination in mind. Even people who do well on general goals will do better if they break down their goal into smaller goals and specific steps. If you want to lose fat, how much do you want to lose? Do you have a deadline? Do you know how to eat for fat loss? Do you know what your maintenance calories are, how to track your calorie intake, or what a calorie even is?

What we’re talking about here is establishing an overview of the road map you’re going to take. We have to know both where you’re going and where you’re starting from to establish the best, most efficient route. If you want to see your abs but don’t really understand how to eat and have never been to a gym, then we have our point A and point B. Now we can formulate a plan. The plan will look something like general education, creating a fat loss nutrition and training program, implementing the plan, creating accountability, following through, and adjusting as obstacles or new needs arise. Now the process of “getting in shape to see my abs” starts looking less like a day dream and more like a clear cut plan that can be executed and modified as needed.

So many people fail in their fitness goals because they’re just not sure what they actually want, why they want it, and what they need to do to get it. This is incredibly common and a big reason why people who start out on a journey to fitness wander in circles, get caught up in fads promising instant or unrealistic results, or get frustrated and quit. If you don’t know where you’re at and where you’re going, you’re missing context. This leaves you with no filter for good or bad information and no way to judge if something like a new diet or piece of exercise equipment will be effective for you. With a goal, a reason, and a road map you can look at a new fad or a shiny new piece of equipment and judge it based on how effective it will be at helping you reach your goals instead of falling for everything that comes your way.

Get real about what you want, and then get going!