Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not feeling motivated? Get SMART

Dropout rates in exercise programs are notoriously high, as much as 50 percent, according to some estimates. So what keeps some people pushing onward, long after others have permanently racked the dumbbells? In a word, success.

How many people want to commit to long hours of hard work — in any endeavor — when they do not see any progress as a result of their efforts?

In some instances, it may be the very goals we set for ourselves that undermine our ability to succeed. Perhaps we have reached too far in envisioning what we want to accomplish, or set our sights on something that cannot be measured, making progress seem elusive.

There's a model for setting goals that goes by the acronym SMART. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

Without SMART goals, planning can be difficult, feedback missing, and motivation lacking.

Say I show up at the gym one day, seeking the services of a personal trainer, and I tell her, "My goal is to get really strong." That's more of a nebulous wish than a goal.

It would then be difficult for my trainer to design a program that will keep me engaged, and difficult to determine whether I've succeeded, because I never defined what I meant by strong, and I never set a deadline for accomplishing my goal.

Instead, it would be better to reframe my goal in this way: "I'd like to increase the amount of weight I can bench-press by 5 percent every month until I can bench-press and lift my bodyweight in 12 to 16 months. " I now have a clearly defined and attainable goal whose progress can easily be measured.

Having a defined set of steps to reach your goal can help keep you focused and motivated. It is much easier, for example, to think about losing 2 pounds a week than to think about having to lose 50 pounds.

The SMART principle need not be confined to fitness matters. It can be applied to any goal you might have, whether it's earning a college degree, learning a foreign language, or finding a new job.

So go ahead and "get SMART." If you fall a bit short of your goals, at least you can say, to quote secret agent Maxwell Smart from the old TV show of the same name, "Missed it by that much."

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