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The Importance of Goal Setting

Goal setting is the critical point of difference between success and failure. In saying that, the depth and detail in which you set your goals also increases your likelihood of succeeding even more. In the 1960’s, Dr Edwin Locke began a comprehensive study on the theory of goal setting. In his 1968 article “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives”, Locke suggested that the more specific and difficult a goal, the better the commitment and result. Locke’s theory was reiterated in 1995 by the report “Goal setting as a strategy for healthy behavior change” by Strecher et al., who explained that goal setting around specific goals led to higher performance when compared to vague, no quantifiable goals such as “Do your best”.

Locke says that there are 5 Principles of Goal Setting that are worth taking into consideration when developing your goals.

  • Clarity
  • Challenge
  • Commitment
  • Feedback
  • Task Complexity

Let’s take a look at them in a bit more detail:

Clarity – When looking to achieve success, it is important that goals are specific and measureable, with a definite time of completion. Setting a goal such as ‘lose 5cm off my waist before the 19th of July’ is much more compelling than ‘lose weight’ or ‘tone up’. Specific and measureable goals give you an ‘end’ point and something to aim for.

Challenge – If you reward yourself every time you reach a milestone within your overall goal you will be more motivated to perform and get results. These rewards do not have to be food related; a reward could be going to the movies with a friend or buying a book you have wanted to get. Also, think about what your motivating factors are when it comes to your goal. Is it to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or to fit in to a particular dress you want to wear to a wedding? Rank your motivation out of 10. To really be focused, your motivating factor needs to be at least a 7/10 or above. It is more than likely that a motivation ranked less than 7 will not inspire action.

Commitment – You are more likely to commit to your goal if it is just that – your goal! Make sure that you develop ownership over your goal – do not just write down what someone else thinks you should do. Also make sure your goal is relevant to you. There is no point setting a goal to be able to run a 10km Fun Run if you hate running and have no desire to run 10km.

Feedback –Feedback a way of getting regular result updates, and when you are not receiving feedback it can be disengaging. This is why getting feedback on a regular basis is important to keep up motivation and focus. We suggest jumping on the scales or taking measurements frequently (every week or so) to give you an idea of how you are going.

Task Complexity – While we have said that setting a specific and measureable task with a deadline date of completion is crucial for better performance, you do not want to over extend yourself with an unrealistic goal. The whole point of goal setting is to facilitate success, so you want to make sure that the conditions you set yourself will not end up being discouraging. For example, setting a goal to lose 12kg in 4 weeks might be a little bit too advantageous, so make sure you give yourself a realistic timeline in order to achieve the goal (0.5 to 1kg weight loss per week is ideal).

Ultimately, when it comes to making changes in your lifestyle habits, remember, you hold the greatest power in your life and you have the ability to create change. Start imagining your results, literally – think about what it would be achieve your goal. Additionally, when you are feeling tempted by particular foods or by the thought of skipping a training session, focus on how good it will feel to resist that temptation and make a small win towards your ultimate goal.

All the while, be patient with yourself and remember that you are making lifestyle changes – you are not on a ‘diet’ or an ‘exercise regime’, you are taking small steps to create healthy habits which will last you the rest of your life!


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