It’s simply a fact that when people have goals to guide them, they are happier and achieve more than they would without having them.  Goals provide focus and a measuring stick for progress.  Goals enhance productivity, boost self-esteem, and increase commitment. Here are some tried-and true ways you can begin to move toward achieving your goals, and maintain resolve when the going gets rough.  Many of these guidelines apply to any goals, but I have added some goals that are specific to fitness and nutrition.

Put your goals in writing. The act of writing down what you are going to do is a strong motivator.  It prevents you from leaving your goals vague.  When writing goals be specific, make them measurable and specify completion dates.  Also record what your reward will be for achieving the goal.  This journey begins by creating and maintaining a training journal.

List the benefits of achieving your goal. When you write down your goals also indicate what the benefits are of accomplishing the goal.  Why is the goal important to you?  How will you benefit from reaching the goal or in the process of attaining the end result?  Now think about the pros and cons of not accomplishing the goals.  What barriers do you think may stand in your way?  Are there steps you can take to limit those barriers?

For example: I am gong to cook two days a week, once on the weekend and once during the week (specific).  My plan is to cook enough food so that I can take at least one home cooked item to work every day (measurable).  This is important to me because I enjoy cooking and its therapeutic, but because I know that the choices I make when preparing meals are healthier and more balanced than the food that is available to me at the quick stop locations near work (why it’s important).  I am going to start this process this weekend with no end date in sight (completion dates).  My reward for doing this will be to buy one guilty pleasure item (meaning one serving) at the grocery store (reward).

Set Realistic but challenging Goals. Challenging goals lead to better performance in athletics and better results in body changes or lifestyle changes.  The challenging goals require more commitment than easy goals, no goals, or trying to “do your best.”  Start by writing a challenging goal, if when you read it, your stomach gets a little nervous, then you are probably on the right track.  After week one, review your goal.  Is it still realistic, do you need to modify it to make it more realistic?

Identify Sub goals. Break down your plan into manageable chunks. Set long and short-term goals.  Write down at least three goals for the next 3-6 months and one long-term goal on the first page of your journal.  Be specific about what you need to accomplish.  Make sure each step is challenging but achievable and write it in your journal and review it regularly.

Track your progress. All of your goals should be measurable.  Write down minutes focused on cardio, on strength training, on stretching, and on core work.  Use the scale or even better a tape measure to review body composition goals.  Keep track of weekly totals.  If goals include better overall health, what does that really mean?  Less sick days, better sleep, better energy, increased mental focus, more joy in your life, more time for yourself.  These are also measurable, you just need to record how you are feeling and the actions you took that lead to that feeling.  So if a goal is to take 1 hour 5 times a week to do something relaxing, you would need to make a list of things that are relaxing and then record in your journal what you did and how you felt.  At the end of the week you have something quantifiable, but only if you write it down.

Be honest with yourself. When you are discouraged, feeling stuck, or are not making progress look at your meal planning schedule and your training schedule.  Did you miss four scheduled training sessions in the last month?  Was there a vacation or a family blow out celebration?  Maybe you are not getting enough sleep or your diet has been poor.  If something is not going well, write about it and then add something at the end to indicate how you can improve if that situation was to arise again.

Visual and Measurable. With weight or body composition goals, use pictures and tape measurements more than numbers on a scale to track weight and body composition goals.  Measure every week.  Do you have a photo of you at your ideal weight?  Put it on the refrigerator, or your bathroom mirror.  Someone told me this, I’ve never tried it but it’s pretty funny.  If you have trouble staying away from the refrigerator, take your bathing suit and put it in the refrigerator.  Do you have a favorite dress or pair of pants that you would love to be able to wear comfortably again?  Put it in an easily accessible spot in your closet and try it on every so often.

Daily Reminders. There is tremendous power in the simple act of putting your goals in writing and reviewing daily.  Once your goals are written out place reminders, as brief as need be, in areas you will notice throughout the day.  A post-it note on your computer, refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or in your car will suffice.  You need to be reminded of the goals frequently throughout the day.

Enlist the help of others. Find someone, a family member, coworker, friend, or teammate with whom you share a common goal.  Take your commitment public and tell others about your goals. If you have a blog include it there as well.  Having a partner, or simply putting your goal “out there” can help you stay committed and motivated.  Look for role models, people who have already achieved the goals you seek to reach.  Ask them for advice and suggestions.  Find out how they got where they are, and incorporate what you learn into your plan.

Reward yourself each step of the way. No matter how minor you think your progress is, let yourself feel good about all accomplishments.  Thank yourself, recognize your accomplishment and commitment and never let an action go unrecognized. When you hit a goal, celebrate; recognize that you met the goal.  Accomplishments should always be celebrated and not ignored.  For each sub goal you reach treat yourself to rewards that will give you a lift.

Recognizing all your accomplishments is extremely important. I never take for granted my accomplishments.  Here’s a little story from a training run this past winter.

About 7 years ago my husband and I decided to ride our bikes out to Coney Island instead of taking the subway.  We though it was quite a journey and wondered whether we would have the energy to bike back later that day.  It's 7 years later and I’m training for the Paris Marathon.  I did a long run this Saturday, 24 miles, and choose a new route I’d never run before.  I took that some route we took on our bikes that summer and ran from Red Hook Brooklyn to Prospect Park, up Ocean Avenue, past a snow covered Cyclone and hit mile 12 at the parachute drop at Coney Island.  I took time out to have some water and an energy bar and reflected on that summer day when I thought is was a big deal to ride our bikes out here.  Funny thing is on the bike it felt like a lot longer than 12 miles.  Even though I’ve run a few marathons and I know what my body is capable of there was a moment of awe.  I couldn’t believe how my life and my body had transformed since then.  I gave thanks for my healthy body and continued on my way home for another 12 miles.  I celebrated that run simply by writing about it in my blog and recognizing that 7 years ago I never would have thought of running 24 miles just for fun.