Goal Setting

Goal setting is an important aspect of any behaviour modification endeavor, especially in health and fitness. It is the process of deciding what your client wants to achieve as a desired result.

Setting Individual Program Goals

Before the start of the program or during the very first class, take the time to have your clients write down 3 to 4 goals that they would like to accomplish as an outcome of being in your program. These goals should meet four requirements: They should be measurable, specific, realistic, and behavioral. For a goal to be measurable, the client should be able to ascertain whether it was or was not achieved at some point during the program. A specific goal specifies when the behavior will take place (e.g., on specified days of the week or times during any given day), while a realistic goal is one that can actually be achieved. Many clients will be quite unrealistic in their expectations when they first begin your program. It will be your job to make sure that the goals they establish are small enough that you can be certain that they will be successful. You are going to do little to enhance their self-efficacy if they do not experience success in the program. Finally, your clients should set goals that are more behavioral than outcome oriented because they have more control over their behavior than they have over a particular outcome. For example, a goal of climbing a set of 10 stairs without holding onto the handrail is an outcome-oriented goal. Conversely, a behavioral goal of attending your balance and mobility class two times a week and performing a home exercise program (that includes strength, balance and flexibility exercises) at least three times a week for the next month is one that is likely to be achieved much more quickly and will lead to less frustration caused by progress that appears to be slow. Bear in mind that a goal of climbing the stairs without holding onto a handrail is probably not a good idea in the first place because it encourages a potentially unsafe behaviour.

Your clients should set both short- and long-term goals, with the short-term goals constituting the stepping stones to achieving the long-term goals. Just as the short-term goals should be behavioral, so too should the long-term goals that you ask your clients to set. For example, the short-term goal of attending classes two times a week and performing a home exercise program at least three times a week might, in the long-term, increase to attending your balance class two times a week and performing the home exercise program five times a week.

Although it is important to set goals with your clients, it is equally important to review their progress toward those goals on a regular basis – every week or two during the early stages of a program and monthly or bimonthly as success with achieving goals occurs. In some cases, you may have to adjust some goals based on your participants’ progress, health status and long-term objectives. Always be prepared to discuss participants’ successes as well as struggles toward achieving a certain goal. In that way, you can identify what factors help your participants meet their goals and then point out these factors during the times your clients are struggling. Finally, help your clients develop their self-monitoring skills by having them keep logs in which they record their activities that are related to the goals they set. Making your clients responsible for their own behaviour is crucial if you want them to continue engaging in the behaviours and activities that will lower their risk for failure.

A common method of determining goals is to use the SMART method of setting goals.

Goals should be:

• Specific i.e. Who is involved? What do I want to accomplish? Where – Identify a location; When –Establish a time frame; Which – Identify requirements and constraints; Why – Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

• Measurable i.e. How will you know if you have achieved the goal? One can set weight goals when the aim is to register a specific number on the scale.

• Achievable – Careful planning can make most goals achievable.

• Realistic – The goal should be realistic in terms of all variables e.g. finances, time, resource allocation etc. Bear in mind that aiming high can create a good, positive work ethic, but unrealistic goals lead to disappointment and ultimately failure in the endeavor.

• Timely – Have specific time frames.

Generally, when you ask a client what their goal is they will give you their ultimate long term desire. It is important to ensure that this goal is addressed in your planning but it should be broken down into long and short-term goals. Sometimes goals are not tangible if they are set for the too distant future. Setting short-term goals will positively influence motivation and create a sense of control in what your client is seeking to achieve.

Goals need to be reviewed throughout the year, as you may need to make changes based on the progress of the client. Readdressing goals is a great way of creating space for positive motivation for your client.
Achievement of goals must be rewarded, even with short term goals. The type of reward is specific to the individual and should be agreed upon by the client and trainer to ensure sufficient motivational benefit without negatively affecting future goals.