A New Approach to Goal Setting
We’ve all been exposed to ideas about goal-setting. Some of us love goals, and ardently set them, pursue them, and complete them. Some of us set some goals, but don’t end up following through. And some of us are so turned off of the idea of goals altogether – due to past failures, perhaps, or in resistance to the idea that we “have to” set them – that we don’t even bother.
I’d like to talk about a very practical method of goal-setting that takes a lot of the pressure off and increases results. Before I do though, let’s figure out why we would set goals in the first place.
For one, our minds are habitual machines. Most of what we do, think, and feel is exactly the same as the things we did, thought, and felt yesterday. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to how you brush your teeth or towel yourself off after a shower – you do it in the same way or same pattern EVERY DAY, day in day out. How does this relate to goals? Well if most of our behavior is pretty much on auto-pilot,then nothing changes until we consciously do something new.
In order to do something new, we need to know the second most important piece of the puzzle: our minds are goal-seeking mechanisms. In other words, whatever we focus on, our mind sees it as a goal to be achieved and will begin coming up with strategies, behaviors and ideas that will help to achieve that goal.
Just think about the last time you were trying not to fall down by saying to yourself “don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall!”? What happened? You fell. What were you imagining in your mind? Yourself falling down. Your brain got the picture of you falling down and went “ok, we can do that” and caused you to fall down. This is just how the mind works.
So to relate this to fitness goals, we might as well get our minds on our side and start picturing where we want to go. Whether it’s an increased level of flexibility we want, a certain weight we wish to achieve, or a certain level of muscle mass we’d like to be sporting, the process will be MUCH easier if we’re giving our brain pictures of where we want to go.
This is why having a goal is so valuable, because it gives us a target to move towards, and something to measure our improvements against. It’s the same reason why, when you go on a trip, you have a destination in mind – so you know where to go! If you went to the ticket agent at an airport, and she asked you where you’d like to go, the answer “I don’t know…anywhere but here” would not be much help! She would need a definite destination, just as we do when setting fitness goals.
Now all of this might make a lot of sense, but there still may be an emotional aversion to goal-setting – the reason why does not matter.
Here’s a way around it. It’s called the “Minimum, Target, and Outrageous”, or MTO, system of goal-setting. It’s very simple and works like this:
You set 3 different goals for yourself, a minimum goal, a target goal, and an outrageous goal.
So let’s say I haven’t been active for years and I want to get back into shape. I could set the goals as follows:
- minimum goal – 5 minutes of light cardio per day, 5 days per week;
- target goal – 15 minutes of light cardio per day, 5 days per week;
- outrageous goal – 45 minutes of light cardio 5 days per week.
The beauty of this system is that the minimum goal is so easy, success will be a breeze. Anyone can spare 5 minutes, 5 days per week to do some light cardio. Even better, though, is the fact that once you’re already out there doing your minimum goal, you’ll probably just keep going to reach your target goal, because you’ve already started, and that’s half the battle right there.
Then, on certain days, if you’re feeling particularly inspired, you can go for the gusto and reach for the outrageous goal. Either way, you’re successful. The minimum goal is so easy, you won’t be able to justify not doing it. Once you’re out there, you’ll probably end up going for the target or outrageous goal, and this will leave you feeling like you over-achieved, which is a great feeling!
Of course, this could be applied to anything – weight loss goals, muscle mass goals, healthy eating goals, you name it.
What matters is that you set a target and give yourself the support and structure that will facilitate real progress. With the MTO goal system, you are taking the pressure right off and giving yourself those great feelings of success every time you get out there and take action.
So if you’re someone who has struggled with setting and achieving goals in the past, this might be the ticket to get you into action and feeling capable and motivated as you never have before. Enjoy!