Setting fitness goals and targets is an age-old practice. But, we know that it usually is wrought with unmet expectations: in January alone, over 90% of fitness goals fail.
Humans seem to be hard-wired for ambition when they are feeling like it, and because of this, many of us set fitness goals that are way too unrealistic. This has an ironic outcome: our method of goal-setting becomes the very reason we do not achieve our goals.
Behavioural scientists have studied fitness motivation for decades. And, we know that different types and measures of motivation have more success than others.
A new study has actually looked to quantify successful motivational goal-setting. Conducted by researchers at the University of California and published in the Journal of Health Psychology, the tasked participants with daily walking goals of varying degrees, repeatedly for an extended period of time. Researchers then looked to see what degree of motivation (how extreme or high of a goal) had the most significant motivational effect.
The Sweet Spot
The study focused on finding the sweet spot for the degree in which you up your goal above a reasonable amount. In other words, if you regularly walk for 15 minutes, or you know that you can without breaking a sweat, what is the best amount of time to add onto your walking workout to increase the fitness level? Is it 5 minutes, an hour? Three hours?
Will 5 minutes be too little to have an effect, and will 3 hours be too long to actually achieve?
The answer is to aim higher, but not too high.
Keep It Just Out of Reach
Your fitness goals should act like a carrot – a constant expression of your current ability (not your ability last month, or anyone else’s ability, either). Dr. Chevance, one of the study’s lead researchers, suggests to keep your goal setting to 10%. If you are currently walking for 15 minutes a day, always add on 10% to that goal.
The key is to keep that 10% moving, and Dr. Chevance suggests adjusting that 10% every week. In that way, you’re conquering 10% each week, and slowly moving up in difficulty while staying in the motivation sweet spot.
Worth A Try
While there is no one-size-fits all approach to fitness goal-setting, the idea that your goals should be just far enough out of your reach to push you, while still being realistic enough to actually attain, makes a ton of sense. But, as any fitness fan would tell you, listen to your body. And remember, your fitness journey is between you and you, and no one else.