STAYING FIT: Does setting goals help?


          About this time of the year, many people begin setting new goals - some call them resolutions, while others think of them them as steps to success.  Whatever the name, we list things at the start of a new year that we wish to improve, change, or get rid of.  Setting goals gives us the opportunity to see how transformations occur.
          You may have heard about SMART goals.  These goals are Specific (instead of some general idea), Measurable (how, when where, how much, etc.), Achievable/Attainable (something you can actually do), Realistic (use common sense), and Time-Specific (with a concrete deadline).  It’s a widely-used system and is effective.
          So, for example, you might set a goal of entering and finishing the Jamie Jenkins Holly Jolly 5K (specific), on January 30 (timely), in less than 50 minutes (measurable).  It’s achievable and realistic because you’ve been walking at least a mile a day for the past several weeks - you’re ready.
          We don’t often set goals like that.  We tell people, “Yep, this year I’m going to be more healthy,” or “I want to exercise more in 2012.”  Fine sentiment.  Positive direction.  But these are abstract goals and desires.  Behavioral research is consistently finding that concrete goals actually work best, especially when fitness-related.
When we first consider a fitness goal, we may just focus on the purpose of it.  We are a bit removed from actually working on fitness, so these types of thoughts are okay for now.  But once it nears the “kick-off” time, you need to consider the details of how you will act on your resolutions.  Concrete thinking provides excitement and a sense of urgency.  It’s time to do this now!
It might be wiser and more effective to stop thinking about how exercise will help you be more confident or what a great thing it is to start being healthy.  It would be better to think about changing into exercise clothes and lacing up your shoes, walking out the door of your house and starting up your block, and how you will be swinging your arms as you head up that first hill.
Concrete thinking helps you avoid the temptation to postpone taking action toward your goal.  Immediacy and urgency actually help your brain kick the rest of your body in gear.
So, what goals will you set in the coming year for health and fitness?  Remember to be SMART about it.  Strive to be concrete in your thinking and in your actions.  Have a happy, and healthy, new year!
Have a topic you’d like addressed in this column?  Contact me at the email below and let me know! Let’s keep moving together!
Coming next month:  Fitness Mistakes to Avoid
 Dr. John A. Page is an associate pastor at Athens First UMC. Go to for his book  “The Almighty in the Ordinary”. Email John at