Here are my top 8 tips for goal setting and succeeding:
1. Know the difference between intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation
A study done at West Point, US Military Academy, (7) tested cadets motivations and showed that the cadets who had higher intrinsic motivation, were driven from within and more likely to succeed than those who wanted to graduate for extrinsic reasons, like making money or making their parents proud.
If you want to succeed at something like improving your diet and physique for the long term, then, in my opinion, the desire for it must come from within not from the pressure of the outside world. External rewards aren't always strong enough to make us change ourselves, so when it comes to weight loss, reducing your weight on the scale is external motivation whereas looking to an intrinsic reason would be to become a better person or role model, improving your health to live longer or become more confident in your body.
When people focus 100% on external cues like the scales or the mirror, they can end up doing idiotic things that backfire and cause them to chuck in the towel. I am by no means saying external motivation is useless as it definitely isn’t! How often have you looked in the mirror and thought ‘Hell yeah’ which has driven you more, but only relying on external motivation can have it’s drawbacks, when you do not see what you want.
To permanently change your habits and lifestyle you’ll need to figure out how these changes will change you as a person, and why that's important to you. If you're wanting to make long term health and weight improvements then you'll need to weigh up you external motivations.
2. Do not try to change everything at once
Many fitness professionals, it is thought, feel that taking small steps towards your goals is what is needed for success. Too many people are trying to run before they can walk, trying to change everything at once. This can be related to weight loss when people try to go from eating lots of carbs to eating none.
This is not only highly ambitious, but might not always be the most ‘optimal’ approach. You do not go into the gym shooting for PBs every day so why adopt this approach with your diet?
So to make a lifestyle change stick, the habits need to be so tiny and easy to achieve that it becomes natural as quick as possible. This could be eating 2 pieces of fruit per day or cutting out the daily pint of beer. They are easy and manageable changes which will not cause unnecessary disturbance, but they will also affect other parts of your life like improving health, mood and energy.
Once that habit becomes routine, then move on to the next one. There is no rush and it does not matter how long it takes to install your habits, but once it feels like a routine, then move on to a new habit.
3. Lifestyle goals should be SMART
Habit changes will not be easy to come by or achievable if both your long term and short term health goals are not applied to all the above. In order to achieve your goals, both goals and new habits should be specific to you and not just a general goal. You should be able to measure your progress allowing you to make any alterations you may need to make. This is key to achieving your health and training goals and why markers should be measured regularly, like body weight, stress levels, body image, and training performance.
Measuring factors like this can cause disappointment, but failure is no negative thing as it is this feed back that allows us to learn and come back stronger. As Michael Jordan said - "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed."
Knowing if the goal is attainable is key. So weigh up the effort required, time scale, cost and other pros and cons. Is your goal relevant to you at this time in your life? When setting goals you need to take a look and see if they are worthwhile, right time, and does it fit in line with other requirements.
Time lines and time scales are obviously key to success, this is always emphasised in military planning. We are constantly taught to draw time lines backwards from a deadline, H hour, allowing a commitment to a deadline that increases team and individual focus.
4. Focusing on the path
I feel people do not achieve their habit changes is because they focus too much on the final results, just like the cadets in the study at West Point, US Military Academy. Nearly all conversations about health goals focus on the results as apposed to ‘how am I going to get there?’ and ‘what habits do I need to start?’
5. Monitor your progress
Track your progress with a diary. This is essential when assessing your how far you have come and how much you have achieved. This is also a good tool for realising what approaches might have failed or what approached have succeeded. Seeing your progress is very motivating.
6. Allow failure
Some of the most successful people in the world have also failed massively. This is because they have not let failure disheartened them or ruin their dreams. They have also learn from failure and reassessed the situation. Sometimes things don’t always work out, but this is life and we should learn from our mistakes and move on, back onto the path of success.
7. Seek help.
Education, training and guidance is needed for everyone, in order to succeed. It does not matter how determined, rough and tough, or wise someone is, help should be utilised to change your lifestyle habits. I am always criticised and debriefed in my line of work on not being scared of asking for help and guidance. I will admit I have seen asking for help in certain situations as being ‘weak,’ but this is by no means true or proven. Seeking advice, guidance and coaching from trusted and knowledgable resources will always result in improved results over someone going it alone.
8. Be patient
Remind yourself that Rome was not built over night and the most people successful people have been grafting long and hard for many years. There is not quick and easy path to success. So stick at it and work god dam hard. Always be asking yourself, is there some way I could be spending my time more productively. Practice, practice, practice every day god dam day, enjoy the journey and you will find success.