Why we fail at our gym goals

Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz, published 14 September 2015

Throughout life we’ve been taught to set goals, make them SMART and follow through, yet when it comes down to it, we often fail miserably when it comes achieving our health and gym goals. Why is this?

It doesn’t make sense – we have this innate drive to improve ourselves and we set about doing so with the best intentions but repeatedly it just isn’t enough.

Usually cited reasons for failing to meet health goals are lack of motivation and clarity, not having a clear plan and aiming too high or being unrealistic.

These are all good reasons but arguably there’s more to it.

We often focus our health goals around ‘losing weight’ and ‘getting fit’ (the most popular New Year’s resolutions, which typically have an 8% success rate, with most people giving up by February) or entering an event.

Often this decision is driven by some sort of unhappiness about our physical person and the logic goes that by achieving this goal, we’ll be in better shape, look better and therefore be happier and healthier.

I’m not suggesting that everyone is motivated by this sort of reasoning, there’s people out there who love running and just really, really want to run that ultra-marathon and perform other amazing feats of physicality. I’m not one of those people but I’ve met them so I know they exist.

For years I’ve focused on the goal and encouraged my clients to do so too, with varying rates of success. It’s become clear now that by doing so, I’ve been missing the bigger picture. The thing that determines success and our ability to stick to a goal lies not in having a goal, or in the goal itself, but in recognising the reasons behind it.

If you can articulate why you want to lose weight, get fit or run that marathon, if your reasons for your goal resonate with you, your chances of sticking to it suddenly become a lot higher.whats your why

Of course, identifying your why may also lead you to conclude that the goal you had in mind doesn’t necessarily fit with your why. It’s good to be clear on this before you get too far.

If your reasons for setting a goal revolve around some kind of lifestyle change, your goal should reflect that you’re looking for a new ‘normal’. How many times have you seen someone resolve to enter an event, achieve it and then revert back to the way things were? If that were the aim, that’s great – goal achieved, but if that person were really looking for a new, more active lifestyle the goal should reflect that and recognise the event as a step along the way.

More commonly, you’ve seen someone resolve to lose weight, achieve it through determination, willpower and discipline only to revert back to their old habits afterwards and the weight reappears.

Again, maybe it wasn’t actually about the weight loss, but more about sustainable lifestyle and habit change.

So when you’re examining your own gym goals consider your why. You may discover the real aim is not what you first thought.