You would be hard pressed to find someone in the gym who isn't there to reach some kind of goal. Whether it be fitting into a pair of old jeans, getting a six-pack or losing 10kg, the universal belief seems to be that anchoring your work to a goal will better direct your efforts. But what if goal setting might be doing more harm than good?
Setting Large Goals Can Destroy Your Motivation
Let me be clear: There's a time and place for goals, but small, incremental ones, which I'll explain later on. The goals I'm talking about now are the grand (and fairly arbitrary) aims. The type that pretty much everyone in the gym seems to believe, with cult-like dedication such as: "I'm going to get shredded in three months" or "I'm going to drop three dress sizes in four weeks."
There's a reason people make these goals, of course: they're sexy. Let us be honest, "I'm going to look like a Victoria's Secret Angel" is far more likely to get you out of bed to your morning workout than "I'm going to eat one less bread roll at dinner."
But the problem is that you don't match up to that ideal, and you won't for a long time. Once you set a goal, you're creating an automatic juxtaposition between who you are now, and the best-case-scenario "perfect" you. In fact, announcing this goal can ironically make you less successful.
What's more is that the way the body works, not everything you do to try achieve that goal will actually bring you closer to matching that perfect image. It would be lovely to imagine that you lose an inch around your waist every time you step off the treadmill, but it just doesn't work that way.
And that leads to frustration. As put by Dr Bojan Kostevski:
Rapid response is crucial to provide positive reinforcement and keep you on track. When practicing basketball shots it is essential that you see which balls enter the basket and which don't, so you can adjust accordingly. Outcome-focused fitness transformations provide a very abstract and delayed feedback system. Physique changes simply happen too slow and often in a nonlinear and unpredictable fashion. Essentially, with traditional goal setting, you're throwing basketballs into the dark.
It turns out that there's something more powerful, albeit less sexy, than goals.
Aim to Enjoy The Process Instead
Instead of aiming for lofty ideals, focus on the immediate, and aim to enjoy and maximise every step of the process, or create flow.
Borrowed from positive psychology, flow is a state of functioning in which you're fully immersed — mentally and emotionally — in the activity taking place. The implication of this is that instead of focusing your concentration on some distant goal, you're turning your efforts to what you can presently do to bring you there, thereby helping you work efficiently and effectively.
This is where the small goals come in. If you're aiming to lose weight, set yourself the aim of hitting your calorie and macronutrient targets within 5 per cent for the day, or if you want bigger arms, aim to add in a few sets of bicep and tricep exercises after each workout.
While achieving flow is a highly individual process, setting mini-goals can help like these can foster the necessary emotional environment to induce the psychological state. It helps to create a direct link between the work you put in and the result of your actions, thus helping you emotionally justify the effort. For an excellent article that elaborates on goal setting, check out the link below.
Why you Need to Stop Setting Goals [Schwarzenegger.com]