It goes without saying that one of the biggest challenges of achieving our goals is staying on track long enough to see results. Take for instance new data which suggests that 25% of gym members drop out within three months of signing up, whereas a staggering 52% of members drop out after six months. Data on weight loss follows a similar trend with a number of studies showing that a mere 10-20% of participants fail to maintain a weight loss of at least 5%, while five years after completing a weight loss programme, people are (on average) only able to maintain a 3% weight reduction. Though, it is not all doom and gloom. Many of us are able to remain focused on our gym goals and achieve what we set out to. Then, once we reach our goal we set another, achieve it and set another, and so on and so forth. So why is it so easy for some of us to remain focused on our goals while for others this seems like an impossible task? Well, this is because sticking with your goals requires a calculated approach. That is, we must think carefully before we act!
Outlined below are a few mental tricks designed to help you remain focused, motivated and keep that momentum flowing!
1. Set specific goals – do you know what you want to achieve?
I’m sure everyone at some point in their life has been told to “go out and do your best”. While this may provide motivation and encouragement, it is not nearly as encouraging as someone telling you to achieve a specific goal. One of the more consistent findings in the scientific literature is that those who set specific goals are more successful in maintaining focus and achieving their goals than those who set general ‘do my best’ type goals (1). Have a clear picture in your mind of what you want to achieve and carefully define the action steps that will take you there.
2. Be clear about why you want it
Along the road to achieving your goals you may begin to question why it is you set your goals in the first place and that clear vision you once had may become blurred. Indeed, the desire to achieve your goals may also not be as prominent as it once was. An excellent way to gain insight on this is to “ink it, don’t think it”. Write down your goals alongside why you want to achieve them, what they will do for you and how they will make you feel. Then, once you are in the process of trying to achieve your goals, follow up these questions with further, deeper questions. These will help you probe the importance of the goals which you have set and understand what you really want. Once you understand what you really want, you will be much more focused on your efforts to achieve them.
3. Challenge yourself but remain realistic
Let’s take a moment to sit back and reminisce for a second. How many times have we heard someone say they’re going to lose a ton of weight (well, not literally speaking but you know what I mean!), or exercise for an hour six times per week, only to fall off the band wagon within a few weeks? The fact of the matter is, no matter how well motivated you are to do something grand, by setting yourself a near impossible task at the start of your training regime you are merely setting yourself up for failure. Rather, it is best to take a realistic look at your abilities and chances of success and find a balance between setting yourself up for failure and pushing yourself to strive for success. In this middle ground resides challenging, realistic and attainable goals.
4. Break it up a bit and assess regularly
Many of us have big aspirations such as to complete a marathon, bench press 150 kgs or lose 10-15 lbs in six weeks. These are long term goals and reflect the final destination but it is also prudent to add short term goals to a training programme as these will help provide feedback concerning progress toward the long term goal, i.e. they inform you whether you’re on track or being lead astray. Breaking a bigger goal into smaller, more manageable goals can also provide motivation by allowing you to achieve while in the process of achieving your long term goal. For example, a recreational runner who isn’t familiar with running long distances and is looking to complete a marathon within the next six months may initially view this as quite a daunting task but by incorporating short term goals into their training regime i.e. by running an extra mile per week, this will help them both mentally (by providing encouragement and motivation on a regular basis) and physically (by gradually increasing level of fitness week by week).
It may be useful to imagine your goal as a ‘vector’. ‘Now’ is the starting point and your ultimate goal is at the end of the vector.
Break up the steps on the vector – as you reach each step, your confidence and motivation increases and the ultimate goal becomes closer.
5. Add exercise variety
Bored of the same routine? Fed up of the thought of exercising on the same old treadmill? Well, research shows that when physical activity becomes more of a chore than it is fun, you are more likely to find excuses for not doing it (2). So, stop yawning, and start mixing it up a bit! Take a plunge and add variety to prevent boredom and increase your desire to train and progress towards reaching your gym goals; you may discover some muscle groups you’ve been neglecting! If you usually focus on one activity, substitute another every other day. Ideally, your exercise programme should include elements of cardiovascular exercise, weight training and flexibility. Adding variety to your training regime can also do wonders for your physiological state. That is, it stresses your body in novel ways such that you adapt to training better and broaden your physical abilities. If you’ve been exercising for a while (i.e. months), the American Council on Exercise (3) suggests you take a class (tennis, step aerobics) or join a club (cycling, ballroom dancing).
6. Make a date
Exercising with a friend adds a social element to your routine which can enhance enjoyment, prevent boredom and improve motivation - you’re much less likely to drop out of a workout session if people are waiting for you! Exercising in a good social environment can also push you to keep up with the crowd which can help challenge you to improve your skills.
A final thought…
A mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored (Unknown)
...Don’t let tomorrow be your excuse!
1. Weinberg, R. S., & Weigan, D. (1993). Goal setting in sport and exercise. A reaction to Locke. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 15, 88-95.
2. Glaros, N. M., & Janelle, C. M. (2001). Varying the mode of cardiovascular exercise to increase adherence. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 24, 42-62.
3. American Council on Exercise, Fit Facts: Battling Boredom (pdf).