It’s great to have goals. Most of us have them, even if they aren’t written down. We may have something we want to accomplish in our minds that gives us meaning to what we do every day. Goals provide us with direction and something to strive towards so we can improve ourselves.

How do you know if the goal you’ve set for yourself is effective in getting you to your desired destination? If you’re unsure of how to set an effective goal, this acronym is a good place to start: SMART.

Specific. Any goal you set should be as specific as possible. If you have a goal that is very vague and not defined well, how will you know if you’ve achieved it? Here are a couple examples.

Specific: I want to lose 5lbs in 6 weeks.

Not Specific: I want to lose weight.

Measurable: This ties back to a goal being specific. How do you know you’ve achieved your goal? If it can’t be measured, what data do you have to support the claim that you’ve met your goal? Here are a couple examples.

Measurable: Complete “Fran” while breaking up Thrusters in no more than 3 sets each stage of the WOD

Not Measurable: Get better at Thrusters

Achievable: You need to be able to meet yourself where you’re at. Is the goal you’ve chosen realistic for where you are now with your health or fitness? Or are you setting yourself up for disappointment with a goal that’s a bit too far out of your reach at the moment? If you’ve just recently began CrossFit, do you think a “Grace” (30 Clean & Jerks for time) time of 3 minutes (Rx) in the next month is achievable? Maybe it is for someone who is extremely athletic and strong, but for someone who just recently began learning the Olympic Lifting movements with little previous strength training experience, probably not.

Relevant: Is the goal you’ve chosen to attain relatable to the broader scope of what you’re attempting to accomplish? Why is the result of the goal important to you? Does it align with your values? If you choose a goal that you don’t really care much about, you’re not very likely to attain it.

Timely: Have you defined a deadline for you to achieve this goal? If not, chances are you will have much less urgency in working to achieve it. You need to have a realistic time-frame identified if you want to make the goal challenging and meaningful enough for you to pursue it.

In summary, a few examples of well-thought-out goals may be:

  • Improve my Back Squat PR by 10lbs by the end of the upcoming 8-week squat cycle.
  • Drink at least 75oz of water per day for the next week.
  • Have ½ of my plate include at least 2 different types of vegetables for at least 2 meals every day for the next month.

Having a SMART goal is a good place to start with behavior change, but it’s only the beginning. Just because you have a goal set does not mean the universe will suddenly work in your favor to help you achieve it.

What happens when we don’t meet our goals? What went wrong? Was it the goal or was it something else?

Let me introduce you to Systems. Systems are continuous, small improvements that ultimately lead to an outcome. This outcome may be positive or negative. We cannot solely fixate on the goal itself without considering what we do on a daily basis, which has a great influence on if the goal is met later.

You want to have the optimal System in place in order for you to achieve your goal. This means paying attention to your small, seemingly insignificant habits every day. These habits are what will ultimately shape the outcome. Progress and success take a lot of time and it really does pay off to be patient.

There is a notion called the Plateau of Latent Potential. This plateau refers to the time it takes from when action has been initiated toward achieving a goal and the point at which the goal is actually reached. It is during this plateau that most people “drop-out” or quit pursuing their goal because they have not seen any results.

Consider this excellent analogy: You are sitting in a room which is 15 degrees Farenheit, with a cube of ice on a table in front of you. You are staring at the ice cube, waiting for it to melt, as the temperature of the room slowly increases by 1 degree at a time. You are getting impatient as the temperature rises. It gets warmer and warmer, slowly, 27.28.29….and eventually, at 32 degrees you see the ice cube begin to melt. The time it took from when the temperature started to warm up to the point at which the ice began to melt represents the Plateau of Latent Potential. Every degree increase in temperature had a positive impact on the ultimate goal of melting the ice, even though it was not realized until later. The same goes with your small, daily habits that may seem insignificant to you. But I promise you, the small things matter.

Progress is NOT linear. There are constant ups and downs that we must work through. We just need to have patience, trust the process, and stay the course.

I’ll close by giving you some food for thought in addressing your small, daily habits.

Habits are a product of 4 stages, known as The Habit Loop.

The 4 stages are: Cue, Craving, Response, Reward

The process looks like this: A cue (e.g. the smell of donuts) triggers a craving (e.g. hunger for donut), which motivates a response (e.g. buying the donut) that satisfies the craving (e.g. feelings of pleasure and happiness). If this is repeated long enough, the craving then becomes associated with the cue.

Let me give you another example of this Habit Loop that results in a better outcome, and how I have used it to my advantage. I have been using my Saturday mornings to train on my bike lately for an upcoming race. I have associated the end of my training session with a delicious hearty brunch, so I have something to look forward to to get me through the toughest of sessions. So, I’ve consciously made my cue to train ‘waking up on Saturday morning.’ I know this is associated with brunch and a feeling of accomplishment (both of which are my cravings). I’m motivated toward my response, which is to get on the bike and get my session knocked out. After my session is done, my craving of ‘feeling accomplished’ has been met and I’m free to pursue my ultimate craving, which is brunch.

I will write more about the topics of habit and behavior change in the future because they are so powerful and fascinating. But for now, let me leave you with this…

Use these 4 stages of The Habit Loop to your advantage and start becoming aware of them in real-world situations. This Habit Loop is literally involved in just about everything we do! Pay attention, experiment with your habits, associate them with something positive, and take note of the small beneficial changes you have been making.

References

Clear, James. (2018). Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Penguin Random House LLC.