We are all motivated to achieve our goals. Unfortunately, the majority of goals go unachieved and in some cases, the long-term outcome of a huge “transformation” is actually regression.
A great example of this is with new years resolutions. Although this is a time when many of us are highly motivated to make huge changes, the science shows only around 8% of people actually succeed and many barely last the month of January.
If a doctor told me a surgery had an 8% chance of success, I wouldn’t be very happy!
So, why are so many goals falling at the wayside when we are so motivated when we set them?
Simple answer, because you can’t reply on motivation. Motivation can come and go from week to week, day to day and hour to hour.
Yes, we need to capitalise on times of intense motivation, but we must also take a conscious approach towards developing and maintaining motivation.
How is this done?
One of the biggest motivators is seeing results and therefore, it is essential that we put ourselves into a position where we are going to see lots of results in a variety of areas.
Aesthetics (how you look) is a big one, but for most, this alone will NOT provide enough positive feedback in the long-term.
If you want to create an environment that is driven by regular accomplishment, you need to set variety of well planned goals (of varying durations) and implement small habits that help you to achieve them.
Why set goals?
Because when we set goals and achieve them, we release dopamine and that makes us feel good, and when we feel good, it motivates us!
There’s a lot more to it than this. However, this is more than enough reasoning for this article, so lets get into how we set goals that are likely to be achieved, giving us the dopamine hits we all crave so much.
One goal mistake we all make:
Just setting a new goals can result in a dopamine hit, because we feel good when we make a plan. However, we often feel far too accomplished when we have set a goal.
We set one big goal, we post it on social media and get loads of likes and encouraging comments, and as we all know, them little red notification bells result in mini dopamine hits.
Essentially, we waste all these positive hormones while staring at our phone screens. We feel great, but it makes us complacent.
Instead, it is absolutely essential that a plan is made. One big goals is no way near enough, we need a variety of goals in both duration and type.
- Short-Term: 0-1 Month – have weekly goals.
- Medium-Term: 1-6 Months.
- Long-Term: 6+ Months.
Types of goals:
- Outcome Goal(s): The main goal(s) you are working towards and looking to achieve after a set period of time.
- Performance Goals: These are benchmarks you are looking to achieve on your way to the main outcome goal.
- Process Goals: These are the processes you will take to achieve your outcome goal(s) i.e. I will train 3x a week.
Of course, you don’t want to set too many goals. However, I do recommend setting at least 1 outcome goal, 1-3 performance goals for each duration (short/medium/long) and 3-5 process goals (these should turn into your habits).
When it comes to outcome and performance goals, I suggest selecting a mix. For example, I often suggest clients have:
- Body Composition Goals – strip fat and build lean muscle.
- Gym-Based Goals – improve 1 rep maxes on a number of lifts, or beat your 5km time on the rower.
- Outdoor / Events Goals – have a physical goal outside of the gym, for example, run a certain distance in a specific time, complete a specific walk or run an obstacle course race.
- Lifestyle Goals – small positive changes in your lifestyle (including having more fun and free time!)
Now that we have established the duration of goals and the type of goals we want to set, we need to ensure the goals are SMART – what would an article on goal setting be without the acronym SMART!
- Specific: The goal must be well defined and clear.
- Measurable: The goal must be defined in measurable terms / quantifiable / comparable.
- Achievable: The goal must be realistic and manageable.
- Relevant: The goal must relate specifically to what you are trying to achieve.
- Timed: The goal must be time bound.
In conclusion, make a plan and set out your goals considering the type of goals you are setting and their duration. From there, it is absolutely essential that you make each and every goal SMART – consider each letter of the SMART acronym every time you set a goal.
Remember, put them on paper and make yourself accountable to the WRITTEN plan – posting it on social media does NOT make you accountable.
Once the goals are set, it’s time to create the habits that will help you to achieve your goals.
One of the most common questions people ask is, “how long does it take to form a habit?”
This whole concept started with a plastic surgeon named Maxwell Maltz, who in the 1950’s noticed that when he performed plastic surgery, a nose job for example, it would take the patient around 21 days for them to get used to their new face.
He also noted that when a patient had a limb amputated, they would experience phantom limb syndrome (trying to itch an arm that isn’t there) for around the same timeframe.
These finding resulted in Maltz publishing Psycho-Cybernetics, and this best-selling book fuelled a whole craze – It takes 21 days (3-weeks) to form a new habit!
Problem is, more recent studies have shown various timeframes ranging from 18 to 254 days, with an average number of 66 days.
So, that’s pretty much no help at all. Essentially, depending on your personality and the type of habit you are trying to ingrain, it could take anywhere from a couple of weeks, to 8 months!
However, what was also shown, is that if your fall off the wagon from time to time, it has no measurable effect on ingraining long-term habits. It’s not an all or nothing process over a couple of weeks, it’s playing the long game, ingraining good habits and eliminating bad habits over weeks and months.
Although the concept of forming an individual habit in a specific amount of time is a bit of a grey area. There has been some exceptional work done in the field of habit development – a book I highly recommend you read is Atomic Habits by James Clear (click his name to read a short article on his website).
The book introduces habit stacking and the concept of making many small changes to achieve huge results.
One of the early examples used in the book, talks about when Sir Dave Brailsford became head of British Cycling in 2003.
Until this point, British cycling had in all honesty an extremely poor record. However under Sir Dave Brailsford’s leadership, they took 8 medals at both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics. On top of this, Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France and British cyclists went on to win 5 tours in 6 years.
How did he help to make this happen?
He improved every tiny thing by 1% and he called it, “the aggregation of marginal gains” – if you breakdown everything you can think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.
Here’s some of the changes Sir Dave Brailsford made as listed in Atomic Habits:
- Redesigned the bike seats to make them more comfortable.
- Rubbed alcohol on the tyres to give them better grip.
- Had riders wear electrically heated overshorts to maintain ideal muscle temperature.
- Used Biofeedback sensors to monitor how each athlete responds to a particular workout.
- Tested various fabrics in a wind tunnel.
- Switched outdoor riders to indoor racing suits which proved to be lighter and more aerodynamic.
- Tested different types of massage gels to see which one led to the fastest recovery.
- Hired a surgeon to teach each rider how to wash their hands to reduce the chances of catching a cold.
- Determined the type of pillow and mattress that led to the best nights sleep for each rider.
- Painted the inside of the trucks white, which helped them spot little bits of dust that could degrade the performance of finely tuned bikes.
Of course, there are so many factors as to why an athlete or team may accomplish success in competition, and we haven’t really touched on the physical training or sports psychology. However, the accumulation of tiny changes in every area really seems to resonate with people.
Essentially, rather than trying to drastically change our habits, we should start small and build 1% habits upon habits that are already well established – our aim is to hit a critical mass and for improvements to start snowballing.
Rather than just throwing in a brand new habit, we think about what habits we already have and just add a little extra, aka habit stacking.
- If you want to meditate for 10 minutes every day, rather than doing it in the middle of the day, do it during your morning coffee.
- Rather than just trying to drink more water, establish a habit of drinking a full glass of water with your breakfast.
- Sprained your ankle and need to work on ankle stability and proprioception? Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth.
- Drive 30-minutes to work, listen to an audiobook that is relevant to your profession.
- Want to get good at pull ups? Attach a pull up bar to a specific door and every time you walk through it, do a pull up – make sure it is not a door you walk through too often!
- Prior to sitting down on the sofa and watching a film, perform 20 squats, 20 press ups and 20 sit ups.
- How many other can you think of?
If this concept resonates with you, I highly recommend the book Atomic Habits.
HOW I HABIT STACK IN THE GYM
When you get up in the morning, do you question whether to brush your teeth or not?
No, of course you don’t (I hope you don’t) because it is a deeply ingrained habit and if you didn’t your breath would stink. However, a common scenario is people talking themselves our of going to the gym.
I tell all my clients, “if you can get to a point where going to the gym is never a question, you just do it like you brush your teeth, you are set!”
Once you’ve decided a time for the gym, whether it be early morning or straight after work, make it non-negotiable. It’s like brushing your teeth, you simply don’t question it.
On the way to the gym, get yourself into the habit of listening to motivational music or an audio book that inspires drive and work ethic – don’t get hung up on negative aspects of your day on the way to the gym.
Once you are in the gym, it is time to get stacking!
The gym is the perfect place to stack habits because it is so structured, especially when you are incorporating properly programmed strength training.
When you enter the gym, if you need to get changed head straight to the changing room and get changed, and get it done quickly.
First things first, PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY. A 2-minute rest period can turn into a 6-minute scrolling session before you know it.
Leave the changing room, get straight into your warm-up and work through it with a sense of urgency (often warm-ups are far too relaxed). With the right tempo, you can fit a lot into a short 10 minute warm-up, and it’s the ideal time to fit in all the little things you don’t get time for i.e. Band exercises and mobility work – Dynamic Range of Motion Exercises (DROMEs).
A well structured warm-up should be a habit stacked on your gym routine. I often say, “never judge how you feel until you have warmed up”. You might feel like crap, but as soon as you start moving, it often changes.
The warm-up should progress fluidly into your main training session. The final stage of a warm-up is the potentiation phase where we prime the body for the intensities that a required during the session. During this phase, you should make it a habit to get in the zone and concentrate on performing perfect technique with maximal intent – intent is king!
When lifting weights, we can use two key principles and this should become a habit:
- Mind-Muscle Connection: Think about the muscles you are working. For example, when performing a biceps curl, think about the biceps you are working and it will greatly increase the intensity of the contraction.
- Compensatory Acceleration: As leverage improves during a lift, make a conscious effort to keep accelerating through the entire range of Motion – we often coast through the top end of the lift.
If you apply these two principles every time you lift, it will increase your results!
After each set and between exercises we have rest periods, and these rest periods are an ideal time to focus, think, meditate or just clear your mind, so use them effectively – recover the body and mind.
What other habits can we stack in the rest periods?
- We can concentrate on our breathing – I often refer to it as conscious recovery when an individual makes a conscious effort to regulate their breathing to optimise recovery.
- Take in the appropriate amount of water in between sets and exercises.
- Work on your mindset and psychology – maximise your motivation for the next set.
- Consider how we can improve on the previous set.
- Record what we have just done – it is awesome to look back at sessions from years gone by (I wish I recorded more).
Post training session is one of the best times to add in new habits. This is because after a hard training session, although fatigued, you are highly alert and on a high from reward hormones.
Ask yourself, what could I do in this post session goldilocks zone?
- Finish with extra exercises or stretches you wouldn’t normally do – don’t loiter, get straight into them (sense of urgency).
- Having a shower in the gym? Use it as time to reflect on the session and your day ahead – how can you make your day the best it can be? (Always ask yourself questions – you’ll be surprised how analytical you can be at solving your own problems).
- Maybe you are heading straight to work in your car? Put on an educational audio book.
- Ensure you get optimal hydration and nutrition in.
- Use the time to phone or message a friend or family member who you should put more time into.
- Get away from everyone and have some you time – stop and think, or think of nothing and watch an entertaining YouTube video.
These are just a few examples of how we can stack habits upon well established habits. However, ensure you tailor the habits around YOU and YOUR lifestyle – start small and be consistent!
A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR
Hey, thanks for reading my article, I hope you found it useful.
Although the crux of this article has been about how we can set goals, build habits and optimise our gym sessions. In this day and age when everyone is promoting how to work harder and achieve more, it is also important to slow down and enjoy the moment, so ensure you find the right balance.
If you have seen success through systematic goal setting and habit stacking, I would be keen to hear your story.
At SCC, we do a monthly blog and newsletter called Meet the Expert. In this blog, we interview experts and up-and-comers from a variety of fields within health, fitness and sport. If you have something to contribute, drop us an email and we will send you our intro pack and questionnaire: [email protected]
Remember, you can grab a FREE copy of my unique Muscle Manual by clicking the banner below.