How To Set Realistic & Achievable Goals

How To Set Realistic & Achievable Goals

Every January I see and influx of enquiries for coaching from people who have decided that the new year is the time for a fresh start.

Most commonly their e-mail goes along these lines ‘I want to lose 4 stone by April’.  The weight and timescale vary but often the numbers are just random as they do not know whether their goal is realistic or reasonable.

Usually they have a life event in mind when it comes to the time frame, commonly a holiday or a wedding.

The amount of weight usually is just a number that has been plucked from thin air to bring them to what they perceive as a ‘good’ weight.

But if that approach is not always realistic, then how do you know what to aim for?

These are the questions I use with my clients to help them explore their goal and their REAL motivation behind them.


What are your goals specifically?


It might sounds like a blatantly obvious question but it’s the most important one.  More specifically, getting it right is the most important thing.  It’s the foundation for everything.

The most popular goals I hear from clients are ‘I want to lose weight’, ‘I want to get stronger’ or ‘I want to build some muscle’.

There is nothing wrong with these goals as such but the problem you run into is how do you know once you’ve achieved them? Choosing Your Goals

By not being specific about your goal you have no way to track how well you’re doing and this can often lead to a loss of motivation and focus which ultimately causes people to just give up.

Let’s take weight loss as an example as it’s the most common.

A client weighing 100kg, looking to get down to 70kg because ‘that’s what she used to weigh when she was happy’.

There are 2 ways you can look at this, either by amount of weight or by percentage but for the sake of simplicity we will look purely at scale weight.

then as a general rule, weekly weight loss would look something like this

  • ½ lb \ 0.25kg per week for those who are already very lean
  • 1lb \ 0.5kg per week for ‘normal’ to slightly overweight
  • 2lb \ 1kg per week for anyone slightly more overweight to obese

Expectations about what’s realistic depend on your starting point as the above classifications are vague and do crossover somewhat.

It’s also worth noting that the more obese someone is, the more likely they are to be able to drop weight quicker in the initial period of dieting.


When do you want to achieve it by?


Hopefully you now have a specific goal in mind.

In our example we are looking to drop 30kg, whilst ensuring that most of this is from fat. Setting SMART goals

Let’s assume that the diet will run from 1st January to 1st August – that’s 30 weeks.

30 weeks x 1 kg per week = 30kg.

As you may be aware, weight loss is never linear.  Some weeks you will lose more than other weeks or your weight could remain the same or even increase.  This is perfectly normal, providing it doesn’t last more than a few weeks.

What we are interested in is long term consistent progress.

The truth is that life gets in the way and dieting should never rule your life so the occasional ‘blip’ is to be expected.

So in theory this will be no problem at all. However, life will still be there.  It’s important to stay focussed on your goals and not fall off the rails but you still need to enjoy life at the same time.

Let’s assume we only achieve a weight loss of 20kg—that’s still a HUGE drop and will make a massive difference to your health and how you look.

But we know that our timescale is realistic at least so there is no need to change it.

But by giving ourselves a revised target of 20-30kg it can take the pressure off and prevent disappointment.  If someone offered you a 20% drop in weight you’d probably take it!

That’s not to say that it will not be possible to achieve more but slow and steady wins the race.

Sacrificing muscle mass when dieting is ultimately self-defeating as it will also cause a drop in strength and metabolism, making dieting more difficult.

It is always a good idea to aim to eat as much as possible whilst still making progress towards your goals.


Break it down


Setting yourself some smaller targets or check points to hit along the way will help you to feel like you’re making progress.

It’s all too easy to get despondent when following a long term goal and to look at how far you still have to go.

Sometimes it’s better to look at how far you’ve already come – the glass is half full mentality.

But the mind is a cruel thing and despite knowing this it can be easy to panic and abandon your goal.

If you’re dieting over a long period of time (the best way) then schedule in a diet break periodically.  This doesn’t mean an all-out binge but maybe just forget about tracking your food and enjoy life for a few days while remaining sensible.


Who is in your corner?


Your strongest asset will always be someone else.

Someone to keep you going when times are tough and remind you why you’re doing it.  Better yet is someone to give you honest feedback and possibly to change your plan for you.

This can be on social media, a friend or family member or a colleague.  Hiring a coach is advisable if you want the benefit of moral support AND knowledge.

Just having someone there to be accountable can make all the difference to your motivation.  You can lie to yourself but when there’s someone to report to there are no excuses.


Why is this important to you?


Without a strong motivation the numbers you set will become irrelevant.

All too often people set goals without knowing why or just because they feel they should.

Without a really solid reason for wanting to achieve your goal, you will have nothing to fall back on when things get tough and will soon lose the motivation to eat and train for your goals.

Your motivation needs to be that driving force that gets you out of bed when it’s cold, dark and early, that stops you dipping into the cookie jar or that forces you to manage that one extra rep at the end of your workout.

Finding out what your motivation is can be difficult and time consuming.

The reason you first come up with may not be your true motivation.

The easiest way to find the true motivation is to adopt what I like to call the ‘toddler approach’, which you will be all too familiar with if you have children of your own.

Sound familiar?

That’s a toddlers ‘go to’ question and it should be yours.

Let’s use our example from above to demonstrate this.

‘I want to lose weight’

WHY?Why set goals?

‘Because I want to look better and have more energy’


‘Because I look fat and am always tired and grumpy’

WHY (is that important to you)?

‘Because I want to be a role model for my child(ren) and for my wife to find me attractive’

WHY (is that important to you)?

‘Because I want the best for my child(ren) and want to be healthy so that I can live for as long as possible and see them grow up and have children of their own.  I also want my marriage to last forever and for us both to be happy’.

So from our initial goal which was somewhat fleeting we now have something that will push us through the toughest of days, workouts or hunger pangs.

Delving this deep into your goal might be difficult to do on your own and you may therefore find it easier to ask someone to help you.


I don’t want to lose weight


Not everyone does, it’s just the most common goal.

The process however remains the same whether your goal is muscle gain, sports performance or increasing strength.

As a rough guide those looking to add muscle should aim for approximately

2-3lbs per month as a beginner

1-2lbs per month as an intermediate

0.5-1lb as an advanced trainee who is close to their maximum potential

Strength gains are highly dependent on the individual therefore any progressions are best discussed with your coach or an experienced lifter.

Commonly people use arbitrary bench marks based on current body weight and experience but your goal will really depend on your current ability and whether you plan to compete in powerlifting or not.


Just do it!


Although goal setting is the most commonly overlooked part of many people’s health and fitness endeavours it can also be the most obstructive.

I often speak to people who have set countless goals and formulated plans but never actually get started.

‘I’ll start on Monday’

The problem with this is that Monday never comes.

Think back to your motivation for your goal – how important is it REALLY?

If the building you were in was on fire would you wait until Monday to get out?

So to summarise – make a plan, make sure it’s smart, get going!

What are you waiting for?

Set goals & take action







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