I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my goals in recent weeks, not only in my professional life but personally as well. There is a whole slew of things I want to accomplish before I’m 30 such as gain a couple top notch fitness certifications in Pilates and yoga, write a few articles, still be able to accomplish a round-off back handspring tumbling sequence, dance again, oversplits, etc. The sheer amount I want to do seems daunting at times, particularly when I look at financial and locational constraints. It is often frustrating to be in the middle of nowhere and underpaid (or not at all) for the services you provide by people who do not care about what you do.
However, my spirits are always bolstered when I see that what I do–how I persevere–helps others. Today, for example, a female marine was in the same room as I doing abs and getting in her last-minute stretch before she had to change for work. I was in there working on maintaining and increasing my range of motion, otherwise known as flexibility. As I worked into my right oversplit, she finally worked up enough courage to ask how I grew so flexible. I asked her a couple of questions and explained how she could work into a split, working with her for a few minutes. The biggest thing I told her to remember was patience. These things take time.
Which brings me to setting reasonable goals in your fitness regimen (and other areas of your life). As I keep reminding myself daily, achieving goals takes time, energy, and resources. In fact, they take more of these things that you originally think. That is okay, good even. It can keep us from burning out or getting injured. Slow and steady wins the race.
It is how you plan your fitness goals that will result in your success. Here are a few ways to help establish appropriate goals so as to not 1) injury yourself, 2) frustrate yourself, and 3) see slow, steady results:
1. Know Thyself: this old oracular pronouncement should be applied all areas of life. In the health industry, this applies to the limitations, contraindications, and complications of your body, any diseases or illnesses you might have, and your current physicality. The best way to find out where you are is to test yourself. Talk with your doctor before starting a regimen and get his/her advice; seek a second opinion if you are not sure of the solidity of that advice but do not ask personal trainers (PTs) to give medical advice as it is outside their professional scope of practice. If after talking with the doc you are still unsure how to proceed, spend the money on a fitness assessment at a gym and a few training sessions with a PT to get you going in the right direction. These will give you a starting baseline from which to grow and tips to keep you from getting injured.
2. The Tortoise and the Hare: somewhere between 80-90% of people quit their new regimens within 6 months of beginning them. There are a number of reasons why: they aim too high for their current fitness or dietary abilities; underestimate the time, energy, and resources necessary to achieve their goals; tackle too many changes at once; do not keep to a schedule; let life, friend and family derail their progress; get frustrated when they cannot accomplish what they think they ought; burnout or injury from doing too much too quickly; they hate exercise, dietary discipline, or both; or feel intimidated and overwhelmed. Remember: slow and steady. It is better to feel slightly frustrated because you are not doing quite the maximum speed, weight, range of motion, etc., that you feel you are capable of doing than to overwork and suffer burnout, injury, or frustration from unattained short-term goals.
3. Divide to Conquer: we all have long-term goals. A lot of people want to lose X-lbs or change their diet. Again, trying to attain your goals in one step is much, much harder than chopping it up into five, six, or ten short-term goals. Start with one behavior you would like to change. Work on it. Then when you have that under control, add another. Most of us cannot go cold turkey, so why get frustrated when reaching for goals can be fun, rewarding, and motivating?
4. Think Behavioral, Not “Symptomatic”: a healthy life is not about tackling the extra pounds or cutting out the processed food. These are symptoms of much bigger issues. A healthy life is about changing your unhealthy habits that promote things like overweight and obesity. Yet sometimes these unhealthy habits are symptoms of hidden issues within your life. It is always best to tackle these underlying issues first before starting a health and fitness regimen, so seek out proper professionals if necessary.
5. It is Okay to Seek Help: many who suffer from anxiety and depression will benefit highly from beginning a regimen with doctor’s supervision. If you are unsure that you are struggling with an issue such as an eating disorder, depression, etc., but want to change your lifestyle habits to healthier ones, I suggest being honest and straightforward with yourself and then seeking professional assistance.
Go out and define your goals! You alone have the power to change who you are.