Goal Setting: A Basic Approach For Optimal Results

by Jordan Syatt October 3, 2011

One thing which has never ceased to amaze me is the extraordinary amount of time, money, effort, and energy people devote to gym memberships, working out, nutritional supplements, specific “health foods”, and individual research yet never seem to reach their ultimate goal(s).

For example, can you honestly remember a time when you have fully appreciated and acknowledged your hard work and effort?

Have you ever quantified your progress over a set period of time and been truly amazed with the results you produced?

In short, have you ever created a specific goal, done anything and everything necessary in order to achieve it, and then taken a moment to recognize and be aware of your accomplishment?

If you can truthfully answer “yes” to the questions above then you are far beyond the norm.

Unfortunately, the large majority of people fail to understand the importance and necessity of goal setting. While the basic concept and act of creating goals is extraordinarily simple, the thought process and self-reflection that must take place in order to effectively design a goal is not only complex but can actually be somewhat frightening.

It takes an unusually strong and motivated individual to recognize an area in which they are weak or need improvement, and subsequently make the necessary lifestyle changes in order to transform that weakness into a strength. While most people can, and do, create goals which they’d like to accomplish or would be nice to achieve, the simple fact of the matter is most people don’t have the self-confidence or knowledge to do what is truly necessary in order to realize these goals.

I think a major cause for people failing to achieve their goals is a simple misunderstanding of how to effectively create and manage their objectives. Most people tend to overwhelm themselves with numerous, and often conflicting goals which almost always lack any form of specificity. Inevitably they fail to make any significant progress, quickly become discouraged, and eventually either deem themselves genetically incapable of reaching such a goal or view themselves as unworthy, lazy, and undeserving.

Needless to say, that’s a pretty horrible mindset to be in.

In an attempt to help each and every one of you avoid this cycle of disappointment, which most people deal with on a day-to-day basis for the majority of their life, I have written this article with the goal of educating you (and reinforcing it for myself) on how to effectively create and manage an appropriate plan of action to achieving any goal you wish to accomplish.

The 9 Steps

1) Lose The Ego

In previous articles I’ve spoken about the importance of not allowing your ego to negatively influence individual thought processes and important decisions. Anyone can spot a weakness in someone else but it takes a truly strong human being to identify a weakness within them self.

Before you can take an objective view of your current lifestyle you absolutely must disassociate yourself from your ego. Once you learn how to do this and have become proficient in this skill set you will soon realize there is no goal you can’t achieve.

2) Examine Your Current Lifestyle and Find One Area In Which You Want To Improve

This is perhaps the most commonly underestimated and misunderstood step within the entire goal setting process. As I said before, more or less each and every person has individual goals and is looking for the next best way to improve him or herself.  However, the vast majority of people fail to recognize their current life situation (i.e. occupation, family life, time constraints, hobby’s, etc) is not conducive to their current set of goals and/or they have too many goals to begin with.

For example, I recently had a conversation with an old friend who was looking for advice on how to gain mass. He expressed his goals along with his concerns and I proceeded to give him the best advice I could on how to create an effective mass gain program. Midway through the discussion he told me he is currently on his Universities tennis team and is forced to do an outright insane amount of cardiovascular activity on a daily basis. He told me he therefore wanted to get big but not too big, didn’t want to worry about how much he was eating, and most importantly still wanted to competitively play tennis.

While I have no doubt he truly does want to gain mass, his current life situation simply doesn’t allow him to do what is necessary without compromising other priorities.

If you are to be successful in achieving your goals you must objectively analyze your current life situation and choose one area in which you want to improve.

What do you want to do? Get stronger/leaner/bigger/faster/become a world-renown champion of gluten-free cooking? Choose one specific aspect you want to improve upon and make sure your current lifestyle supports such a goal. If not, either choose a different goal or make the necessary lifestyle changes in order to make achieving your goal a realistic possibility.

3) Create One Specific Goal

When creating a goal, it needs to be specific! Anyone can say “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to get stronger,” but it’s utterly impossible to quantify progress if the goal doesn’t explicitly state your intentions.

To illustrate, below I’ve outlined a few examples of specific and not-specific goals:

  • Not Specific: I want to lose weight
  • Specific: I will lose 15lbs by May 8th. I will maintain/gain strength in all lifts by training 3x/week and following a full-body strength routine focused on compound movements. I will not alienate myself from society just because I am on a diet and must go out at least one night/week with friends or family.
  • Not Specific Goal: I want to get faster
  • Specific Goal: I will drop .2 seconds from my 40yd dash by June 16th. I will simultaneously gain strength in my squat and deadlift by training 4x/week and focusing on the Maximal Effort and Dynamic Effort methods. My hips are a major weakness so I will place an emphasis on improving hip strength through sumo deadlifting and sled pulling after each lower body training session.

Get specific with your goals; otherwise you’re setting yourself up for failure.

4) Write it Down

For some reason people tend to undervalue the act of writing down their goals. To be honest, I think this is simply a combination of ignorance and laziness. Prior to becoming a large advocate of goal setting (read: before experiencing any meaningful amount of success) I mocked the idea of writing down my goals. I figured, “It’s not difficult to remember a goal…writing it down is just a waste of time.”

Predictably, at that time in my life literally none of my goals became a reality. Only when I was finally able to pull my head out of my own ass and realize I had (and still have) a lot to learn did I actually try, and enjoy, writing my goals down. Naturally, it was around that same time which I began to notice a huge difference in my work-ethic, attitude, productivity, and subsequent notoriety within the fitness industry.

Get specific and write your goals down. I don’t care if you write them on a scrap piece of paper or a Microsoft Word document. Write them down and put them in a place where you’ll see them every single day. If that’s not enough to motivate you, I don’t know what will.

5) Create A Deadline

Stress and everything associated with stress tends to get a bad reputation. Stress gets the blame for hair loss, disease, weight gain, and even the breakdown of muscle tissue.

Personally, I view stress as a motivator.

Granted, too much stress can be detrimental to ones sanity and overall well-being, but I’ve found a lack of stress can lead to complacency, laziness, and insufficient motivation.

Through creating a specific deadline by which your goal must be completed you might spark a hot enough fire under your butt to get you motivated enough to do what what’s necessary in order to achieve your goal.

However, for some people creating a personal deadline isn’t enough. They know there will be no major repercussions if they don’t reach their goal which allows them to sub-consciously justify their lack of devotion or hard work.

I have a remedy for this….

If I can’t get motivated enough by myself I’ll put my wallet or reputation on the line. I’ll make a deal with one of my friends that I must complete a specific goal by a specific date or I’ll be forced to do a mortifying task (i.e. stand in a public mall with my arms and legs spread wide and yell “I AM A STARFISH” for a minute straight) or give them a pre-determined sum of money.

This should stress you out enough to get the job done 🙂

6) Create a Plan of Action

In addition to making the goal itself as specific as possible, I highly recommend creating a plan of action outlining the steps you will take to ensure you succeed. While this may sound complicated, it’s honestly very simple and becomes substantially easier with practice.

When considering your plan of action you must consider your ultimate goal, the deadline, your current lifestyle, and anything extra you may need to make the path to achieving your goal as simple and straightforward as possible.

To illustrate using the fat loss example from #3:

Specific Goal: I will lose 15lbs by May 8th. I will maintain/gain strength in all lifts by training 3x/week and following a full-body strength routine focused on compound movements. I will not alienate myself from society just because I am on a diet and must go out at least one night/week with friends or family.

Plan of Action

  • I will cycle my calories on training days and rest days
  • I will maintain a 500 calorie per day deficit on rest days and eat at maintenance on training days
  • I will eat a minimum of 200g of protein per day
  • I will train 3x/week focusing on the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift
  • I will utilize the Reverse Pyramid Training method. (Your training program is part of your plan of action)
  • I will go out at least one night per week and enjoy my friends and family
  • I will focus on enjoying the entire process of achieving my goal rather than only focusing on the end result. Happiness is now.

7) Accomplish The Goal

This part doesn’t necessitate much explanation, now does it?

8) Achieve and Appreciate The Process…NOW

Many people solely focus on the end-result of what their goals will bring them, under the impression that achieving it will finally make them happy.

In my mind this is a serious misconception and will almost always lead to disappointment.

While it would be utterly perfect to reach a goal and immediately be happy and satisfied with ourselves and the lives we live…this simply isn’t how life works. If you are constantly searching for something or someone to make you happy then you will never stop searching; you will never be truly comfortable with who you are.

True happiness is experienced by those who can live in the present moment; those who respect, understand, and appreciate the means to the end rather than only the end itself.

Regardless of whether you’re in the process of achieving your goal or have already achieved it, make sure to enjoy each and every moment as fully and presently as possible. Stop and pay attention to the little things…the things most people don’t notice.

When you can learn to fully appreciate NOW, you can learn to fully appreciate yourself and those around you.

9) Repeat

Once you’ve done all of the above, it’s time to do it all over again!

Some people view setting one goal at a time as a waste. They’ll say, “Why not try for multiple goals at once? One goal just doesn’t seem like enough.” While in theory this sounds great, in reality it’s very hard to accomplish. It quickly becomes overwhelming and eventually results in failing to achieve anything at all.

By setting and achieving one goal at a time you have created a realistic platform for you to experience success time and time again. While one goal at a time may sound inefficient and slow, think about how many goals you will have accomplished after 6 months, 1 year, or 10 years of repeating this process!

Wrapping Up

Those who succeed in life rarely achieve all of their accomplishments at once. They spend countless hours of effort and hard work being as specific as possible in order to realize their goals and create the life in which they choose to live.

Be specific, work hard, and go after each and every one of your goals with as much intensity and vigor as you can muster, but remember to be fully present in each moment and appreciate every step along the way.

To quote one of my favorite authors, “The time to live is now, for in reality that’s all there ever is.” – Eckhart Tolle

Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.


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