Motivation is essential for fitness. If you lack motivation, you’ll be hard-pressed to make essential lifestyle changes.

However, as we discussed in another article, motivation is fake. It’s not something you either have or don’t have; it’s something you create through goals. You’ll find it much easier to make progress if you’re making that progress toward a specific set of goals.

Focus on yourself

Living in the information age has its problems. Social media makes it a lot easier to compare yourself to others. Advertisements make this even easier with constant images of what “ideal” human bodies look like.

With this constant barrage of imagery, remember that the physiques of athletes and celebrities are unrealistic for most people. Many celebrities have dedicated personal trainers and nutritionists, plus a ridiculous amount of free time.

Athletes train for specific sports. Their job is to exercise.

That’s not possible for the average person. You can attain an amazing level of health and overall fitness on your own time, but what works for a rugby player or Olympic runner may not work for you.

So, focus on yourself. Ask yourself questions. What does your ideal body look like? What are some habits keeping you from looking like that? How busy is your weekly/daily schedule? What ate your current physical abilities?

Most importantly, ask yourself why you want to be fit and healthy. If the answer relates to looking good for someone else, gaining someone’s approval or otherwise being healthy for someone else’s benefit, work to re-contextualize your health.

It’s your body and your life. Being happy and healthy for your own sake should be more than enough.

Use the S.M.A.R.T. method

Not all goals are created equal.

“Be stronger,” “be healthier,” “gain weight,” “lose weight” and “go to the gym” are vapid and confusing goals. You’re not working toward anything. There’s no tangible reason to take any action. If you exercise with these loose guidelines, you’re liable to end up walking around the gym wondering what to do.

When it comes to goal posting, the S.M.A.R.T. method is the gold standard. In essence, it’s a way to visualize what you want in detail.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.

Specific and measurable mean just that. If you’re unclear about your wants, you won’t be able to focus. Ask yourself what you want to achieve and why. Similarly, ask yourself how much improvement you want to make. Units of measurement make it possible to gauge progress.

Time-bound is also self-explanatory. You’ll motivate yourself much better if you have a deadline. Since a pound a week is the go-to healthy weight gain/lose limit, fitness deadlines are months-long endeavors. The same goes for strength goals.

Attainable and realistic require introspection. If you’ve never worked out a day in your life, you won’t be benching 300 pounds in a day. You won’t get six pack abs in a month if you have 20 pounds of fat and have never done a sit-up. No matter who you are or how in shape you get, you won’t be losing 60 pounds of pure fat in under two weeks — not in any healthy, legal or sustainable ways.

Be honest about your current level and go from there.

S.M.A.R.T. versions of vapid, viable and easy-to-understand goals are like this: “Bench press 50 more pounds by three months,” “lose/gain 20 pounds in two months,” “run a mile 30 seconds faster in a month,” “go to the gym Monday though Friday at 5 p.m.” and “decrease resting heart rate three beats per minute by ‘x’ date.”

Since S.M.A.R.T. goals are necessarily limited, you’ll have to make another once the first is finished. The goalposts are always shifting forward, giving you the satisfaction of achieving and the motivation to continue.

Create long-term goals

We want to be healthy for life. This means that creating a S.M.A.R.T. goal is only one step. What happens after you lose 20 pounds in two months? What informs the next goalpost and the one after that?

That’s when long-term thinking comes in.

Short-term goals are the immediate steps you’re taking and the ones right in front of you. Long-term goals are what’s at the top of the staircase. They’re what every S.M.A.R.T. goal you write is leading toward.

You still need to ask hard questions for long-term goals, but the questions you ask require even more introspection.

How do you want to look in your 40s, 50s and 60s? What activities do you want to do in the future when you have more time?

Since time tables are hard on a decades-long scale, you can make long-term goals less specific. However, make sure they can be attained by compounded short-term actions.

“Be able to hike/run/jump high/play soccer/et cetera in old age,” “keep up with your children” and “avoid heart disease” are far flung ideals made possible through many short-term goals.

For example, you can maintain athleticism into old age by creating routines based around mobility and overall body strength. You can avoid heart conditions — to the best of your ability — through cardio training.

Your long-term ideals should inform your short-term decisions. Practice long-term thinking and discover what steps you need to take.

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