It's an all-too-familiar scenario for many of us: You make a determined promise to lose weight and get into shape, only to fizzle out a few weeks (or even days) later and fall way short of your goals. As a result, you can feel like a failure, and your discouragement can sometimes lead to counterproductive behaviors such as emotional eating, which can further compound the problem. The interesting thing is that the reason is probably not that you're lazy, unmotivated or unable to persevere; in fact, you could be failing simply because your goals are too unclear.
It's Time to Get "S.M.A.R.T."
When it comes to losing weight and getting fit, effective goal setting can make all the difference between success and failure. If you haven't yet heard of the "S.M.A.R.T." goal setting system, apply this simple five-step tool to your fitness goals, and you'll stand a much better chance of achieving your desired outcome.
S = Specific
It's difficult to hit a target that you haven't clearly identified. In order for your fitness goals to be effective, they have to be specific, which means that statements such as "I want to lose weight" or "I want to get into better shape" simply won't cut it. You have to have a clearly defined finish line, so you can know when you've arrived at your goal. So instead of saying "I want to lose weight," try "I want to lose 10 pounds within the next six weeks."
M = Measurable
Imagine a highway with no mile marker signs; at any given time, you wouldn't know if you were 20 miles or 500 miles away from your destination. Before you embark on your fitness journey, how do you plan to measure your progress along the way? The best way to make your goals measurable is to start by measuring your current fitness level. For example, if you know you can jog a mile in about 11 minutes, you can then set a goal to reduce that time down to eight minutes.
A = Actionable (or Action-Oriented)
This is where the rubber meets the road, because this step requires you to determine the type of training you'll need to adopt in order to achieve your goal. For example, if you want to eventually be able to jog a mile in 8 minutes, you can establish a training schedule that includes jogging 4 times a week, and increasing your pace at certain intervals in order to decrease your overall completion time.
R = Realistic
Many dieters fail on this point because they have unrealistic expectations about how fast they can shed those unwanted pounds. This is understandable, because our entire society tends to lean toward seeking a quick fix for weight problems, and those miracle diet pill commercials don't help either. Don't set yourself up for failure by setting an unrealistic goal such as "I will lose 15 pounds in 15 days;" keep in mind that losing weight too rapidly is actually unhealthy for your body. Instead, stay on the realistic side by setting a goal to lose about a half a pound to two pounds per week.
T = Time-Bound
There's something about setting a deadline that boosts your motivation to get going; leaving things open-ended will only produce feelings of uncertainty and/or indecisiveness. If you plan on making your weight loss and fitness goals a reality, set some specific time frames in which you plan to achieve your objectives. Give yourself a deadline for your final goal, and have several "checkpoints" set up along the way to ensure that you're staying on track. This will help keep you from skipping out on workouts early on because you might feel as though you have time to "make up for it" later.
Keep in mind that while the S.M.A.R.T. system is an extremely valuable tool, it's not a "miracle cure;" you will have to put each step into consistent practice in order to see results. A personal trainer can help you set up this type of system and stay on track. Losing weight and getting into shape is a process, and it will not happen overnight. But keeping the course day after day will get you there.