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Goal Setting – It sounds easy – it’s not!

We know that setting goals is the only way to reach them. However goal setting doesn't just happen. Good goal setting is a skill that needs to be learnt. This article will look at how to set short term goals to help our clients head towards their dream long term goal.


How many times have your clients said “I want to lose weight”? Is that a goal?.....Not yet. When I was a rookie PT I assumed losing weight was enough of a goal. It took me a long time to learn that helping your clients set goals is harder than it looks. The key to good goal setting is to set goals that are reachable.  Reachable goals are important to you, controllable by you, specific and positive.  Reachable goals do not involve bulk changes in a short time.  This is because large and rapid changes are resisted by your body and mind.  They are not supported by your current environment or thinking and will cause more damage than good if success is not achieved... This article will look at how to set small reachable goals.   


Set goals that are important to you:

Goals that are important to you will motivate you.  You will work much harder toward your own goals than someone else’s.  Your goals carry personal meaning and reward. Ask yourself, “Do I want this goal for myself or because someone else tells me I should want it?” 


Below are 2 example goals. One is important to the person one is not. Which is which?

  • I want to use the stairs today because I like to stay active while at work.
  • I want to eat less so people will see I am making an effort.


We can rewrite the goal that is not important to the person and make it important to the person.

  • I want to eat less so I lose weight and feel better about myself


 Set goals that are specific:

Goals must be specific so you know when you have reached them.  Knowing when you reach a goal gives you pride in yourself and motivates you to set and reach more goals.  Ask yourself, “How will I know when I have reached my goal?”  If you have an exact way of knowing that your goal has been reached, then it is a specific goal.


Below are 2 example goals. One is specific, one is not. Which is which?

  • I want to get good food at the shop
  • I am going to walk the dog for 30 minutes every weeknight after dinner.


We can rewrite the goal that is not specific, so that it becomes specific.

  • I want to buy vegetables at the shop on Monday to have with every dinner this week


 Set goals that are positive:

Goals should be stated positively.  Positive goals tell you what you can do.  They create a positive picture in your mind.  Negative goals only tell you what not to do, so you cannot act on them.  Ask yourself, “Does my goal create a picture in my mind of what to do?”  If it does, then it is a positive goal. CLUE: Negatively stated goals often have the words “cannot”, “do not”, “will not”, or the word “not” in them.


Below are 2 example goals, one is positive, one is not. Which is which?

  • I won’t eat takeaways this week
  • I’ll go dancing each Friday to enjoy myself and see friends.


We can rewrite the negatively stated goal and state it positively.

  • I will eat home cooked meals every night this week



Set goals that are under your control:

Goals need to be under your control.  By setting goals that are under your control you can act on them without being dependent on others.  You can achieve your own successes.  Ask yourself, “Once I get the help I need, is this something I can do myself?”


Below are 2 example goals. One is in the person’s control, one is not. Which is which?

  • I’ll only be happy if my partner comes walking with me.
  • I am going to take time to be active every evening.


We can rewrite the goal that is not in the person’s control and state it so that it is controlled by the person.

  • I will ask my partner if they want to come walking with me. If they say no I will still go and I will enjoy it.


Why set goals at all?

Goal setting is not an easy skill to learn. As personal trainers it is important that we learn to help our clients learn to set reachable goals for themselves that are important, specific, positive and controllable. If we help our clients set and reach goals on a regular basis, results happen without us having to spend our whole PT session yelling “3 more” and “you can do it”.


The goal-setting sheet that is linked below is a good tool to help practice setting reachable goals for you or your clients.


Goal Setting Form