The benefits of setting yourself a fitness goal

At the time of writing this blog I'm in Auckland, having just returned from a spin class. The last thing I felt like doing this morning when the alarm went off was to drag myself out of bed and train. At 6am, with Stan the instructor yelling "come on ivery body, join me now, piddle faster, piddle faster. Come on – pump your ligs" to the background music of London Grammar, my inner dialogue was questioning why on earth I wasn't still tucked up under the sheets.

But after 'piddling' through those doubts I felt much better about having squeezed in another session, knowing that in a few weeks' time I will be riding 330km in a three-day charity cycle.

Having a fitness goal is a compelling motivation to get out of bed – especially knowing if I don't make it to the top of Kangaroo Valley on Day 2, I will never, ever hear the end of it from QB, Coombesy and Shagger.

If you find it hard to stay motivated in your fitness program, the best advice I can give is to lock in a fitness goal (or two) throughout the year.

Get specific

Jason Murray is a managing principal in executive recruitment company Korn Ferry's leadership and talent consulting practice. An infantry background meant fitness was always a part of his life - until he found himself in a new job and with a young baby. "I had always been fit but suddenly I found the busyness of work and life had taken over," he says.

"I started going for the odd run, but it wasn't getting me excited. Then I realised I was missing the challenge of training for something specific. That's why I am running the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea in September next year."

Everybody, even elite athletes and highly disciplined people, struggle at times to stay motivated. You are much more likely to engage in regular fitness training if you have a goal or an event to aim for. Rather than just turning up to the gym and stumbling on the treadmill like a zombie on autopilot, try one of the following to invigorate your fitness schedule:

  • Fun run, triathlon or a half-marathon
  • Charity cycle or a mountain bike race
  • Ocean swim
  • Paddle race
  • Conquer a bush walk, climb a mountain, or train for the Kokoda Track
  • Do a charity walk with friends.

Says Murray: "Regardless of the discipline and resilience that military training provided me, I find that without a clear and looming goal ahead of me, life can get in the way and you end up training easy, doing what feels good, and especially letting the nutrition slip. I find that I get the most motivation and focus out of goals that really stretch me out of my comfort zone."

In the book Psychological Foundations of Success, Stephen Kraus explores the three reasons why goal setting (such as a fitness goal) increases performance.

1. Direction: Goals provide direction, and channel focus and effort. Goals are empowering tools and help you make the right decisions.

2. Motivation: Goals stretch and push you out of your comfort zone, resulting in increased effort and persistence. Identifying the gap between where you are now and where you want to be creates motivation and the desire to close the gap.

3. Strategy refinement: After setting a challenging goal, people think longer and more creatively about how to accomplish it and how to measure progress towards achieving it.

On your bike

Matt Comyn, the group executive for the Commonwealth Bank's retail banking services division, is a major supporter of an upcoming charity ride; .  

"Everyone in my team has busy schedules so fitting in training can be a challenge, but doing it together, for a set event and for a good cause, is a great motivator," he says.

"In a fortnight, my colleagues across CBA and some of our key clients will be riding more than 300km as part of a charity event we are doing with cancer awareness organisation Tour de Cure.

"The CBA CAN4CANCER tour has been a great fitness goal for the 80 of us participating and it has the added benefit of providing camaraderie outside our normal corporate roles by getting us to encourage each other along on our weekly training rides.

"With cancer affecting one in three adults in Australia a year, the early morning rides have certainly been made more bearable with us knowing our efforts are supporting an important cause."

Try locking in a fitness goal to add variety and purpose to your training program. It is amazing how much more disciplined and focused you'll be when you have a goal to train towards. And the exhilaration and achievement you'll feel by accomplishing a fitness goal is particularly rewarding, especially if it's really challenging.

Seven steps to achieve your fitness goal

1. Do some research and target the event you are training for.

2. Lock it in the diary. Don't just talk about it, commit.

3. Tell other people. Making yourself accountable to others is one of the best ways to keep you focused and on track (a bit of friendly sledging from your mates when you slacken off always helps).

4. Reverse engineer. Work backwards and calculate exactly what you need to be able to achieve your goal. Do you need to be able to swim, run, cycle, paddle at a set distance? Do you need a coach to work out a training plan?

5. Join a squad. Training with a group of like-minded people will help you train specifically, keep you motivated and engaged along the way, and provide some healthy competition.

6. Lock training sessions in your diary. Treat them like any other important meeting you commit to throughout the week.

7. Taper. A week or two before your challenge, wind back the training. You want to turn up the starting line fresh and ready to go.

Follow these steps the rest will take care of itself.

Do you have a defined fitness goal? What activity/event are you training for?