“Setting and keeping goals is continuous,” says Marla Gold, director of The McGill Cardiovascular Health Improvement Program (CHIP). “You need to revisit your goals — and how you’re getting there — in order to be successful.”
Dream big — and then get real. Most goals start with a big dream. “Start by asking yourself the ‘what ifs’ of getting more physical,” advises Marla Gold. “For example, ask yourself, ‘What if I was fit and lost some weight?’ Then write down all of the benefits that come with it. This will help you later.” But do note that your work has just started.
Know what you need to do to get there. “This step involves preparing for action, and that means doing some research,” she says. Your research can consist of reading books, using reputable Internet sites or getting professional advice — including that of an exercise physiologist (or kinesiologist) or your healthcare provider. “Getting the advice of a professional doesn’t have to cost a lot of money,” she advises. “A session with an exercise physiologist or attending a public talk on exercise and fitness may be all you need to get started.”
Once you have a clear understanding of what action you can take, you can break down your dream into a specific goal.
Set a realistic and measurable goal. For this step, combine the new information that you’ve found with what makes sense for you and fits your lifestyle. “Being realistic means knowing yourself,” explains Marla. “What activities do you like? Is the activity convenient for you; for example, do you have to travel far?”
But she also stresses that your goal must be measurable, so if you plan on taking a two-kilometre walk three times a week, using a pedometer (even an inexpensive one) can help you keep track of how far and fast you’re walking. Whatever activity you choose, use our ready-made progress chart to help motivate you to keep at it.
Have a plan — and a back-up one. Once you’ve set your realistic and measurable goal, think about what’s involved in keeping that goal. “First off, schedule exercise in your calendar. If you don’t book it, it won’t happen,” says Marla. “Your plan should also include backup plans should something keep you from your activity.” For example, if the weather doesn’t permit a neighbourhood walk, use an at-home exercise DVD, walk around the mall or visit an art gallery.
Use the buddy system. According to Marla Gold, having an exercise partner is a good way to get both encouragement and inspiration from someone. It also helps remove any barriers or excuses, like when you just don’t feel like getting off the couch to lace up your walking shoes.
Set the stage for success at home. “Once you have a plan, write a contract with yourself and your family,” advises Marla. “Spell out why you want to exercise more, what’s involved, how often you plan on exercising, when you plan on doing it, and what you and your family need to do in order to make it happen.” So, if walking after dinner means someone else has to load the dishwasher, then you need the support and involvement of your entire family for this to happen.
Don’t mistake “getting off track” for “failure”. “Don’t fall into the ‘all or nothing’ trap,” says Marla. “Perfection doesn’t exist so missing your exercise time once in a while is fine. Just get back into the swing of things as soon as you can. If you’re skipping exercise on a regular basis, then it could be that you need to revise your original plan.”
Revisit and revise your plan as needed. If your original plan isn’t working, it could be that you’ve set your goal too high, too low or simply aren’t getting as much pleasure from the activity as you thought. Whatever the reason, don’t simply abandon ship; rather, change the course you’ve set and try something else.