The Power and Process of Setting Goals - Fitness & Bodybuilding

Process of Setting Goals

You must first believe in yourself to succeed

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Whenever I see articles on the power of setting goals or on motivation and all the intangible elements that fall under the heading of "sports psychology," I immediately assume someone has written a puff piece that is probably going to lack substance and information. The truth is, there is a distinct difference between people who set goals and those who do not. It isn't that the person setting goals always goes home with the spoils. It's just that the process of setting goals and following a plan teaches us an important lesson along the way while putting us in closer proximity to winning. Although goal-setting may seem like an activity reserved only for high school chess-club nerds, it's actually an indispensable part of sport.

At the heart of it the process of setting goals allows you to choose where you want to go in life, whether in career, sport or personal matters. When you know what you do and do not want to achieve, you can formulate a plan free from irrelevant activities and distractions that can cause misdirection.

I think the most interesting part of setting goals is that the process wraps long-term vision in a package of short-term motivation. From many small goals met emerges a much larger "big picture" goal that a person will eventually meet as a result of achieving day-to-day goals. Sharp, clearly defined, everyday goals allow an athlete to experience success from many different angles before ever getting near an ultimate goal.

Deciding goals can be arduous, however, and that's likely why many people don't bother themselves with the process. Let's face it. Knowing what our individual propensity for a particular sport or activity will end up being is almost impossible. That's why, initially, goal-setting is a marriage both of trial and error and of pure heart and desire. You may want to become a professional bodybuilder or a Hollywood actor, but your capacity and talent for accomplishing either is anyone's guess, including your own. Your goals must allow for the accounting of unknown territory.


The first step in deciding sport-related goals is the determination of your level of commitment to the sport. If you can't picture long, nauseating hours in the gym, or you don't like doting over yourself in the mirror, and you can't envision wearing skimpy bikini briefs in front of a crowd of a thousand frothing physique fans, bodybuilding might not be your cup of tea. If, on the other hand, you want nothing more than big biceps and a way to attract a livelier social life, then your goals should be quite different from those of someone who wants to eventually win the Mr. Olympia. Keep in mind that envisioning an achievement as big as winning the Olympia requires talent, tireless dedication and a heart as big as Texas! An objective that monumental isn't a lighthearted pursuit or a walk in the park. Genetics and guts are hard to come by.


Naturally everyone has to start somewhere. They may or may not have felt an instant attraction and love affair, but it was a start. Don't be afraid to dream big, even on that first day, but remember you have to constantly realign your goals to allow for accumulating knowledge about how you fit into the sport and what your potential may be. That's why you must learn quickly what you have to master to achieve your goals. Anyone can sit in the audience as a spectator and pick a physique apart. Most of us who have been around for any length of time, and are unbiased about the bodies on-stage, know what is lacking and what gives them an aesthetic edge over other physiques in the lineup. Gazing at a finished product doesn't mean you have any knowledge of what the bodybuilder went through to reach that final stage of preparedness and condition. If you're planning to be that man or woman on stage in two years, you'd better educate yourself on exactly what you'll have to do to accomplish your goal. If attaining that condition or presence is impossible or unlikely, you might be wise not to travel down that road at all.

TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE, JUST RIGHT: How To Set Realistic Goals

First and foremost you must set goals that are in accordance with the correct skill level. Too often I see bodybuilders who set goals such as "I will win the 2012 Mr. California heavyweight and overall" when really, that man couldn't get past the most basic local show, especially in a heavyweight class. Rather than set your sights on a lofty target right out of the chute, compete five or six times over a couple of seasons to see where you fit in. Overestimating your abilities is one of the biggest mistakes in bodybuilding because this is a sport whose athletes are susceptible to a macho attitude. Setting goals too high will shake your confidence for future outings and paint your bodybuilding experience with negative brush strokes.

Underestimating is bad too, though not as potentially humiliating as overestimating one's abilities. You must have the confidence and stage presence to be able to stand next to the best and look every bit as confident as they do. No one likes a whipped dog or doormat, so you have to believe you belong on stage, even if you have prepared less than perfectly for that day.

Set goals that are attainable, sane, and that engage your excitement for the sport. A newcomer to bodybuilding is easily pleased, believe me. Just arriving at a contest venue is so exciting for most first-time competitors that merely getting out of the car is worth the price of entry.


Goals sound like the noblest and most correct of all mental concepts, but they can go wrong like anything else without a system of goal-setting and a solid plan. Beware of vague goals. Be specific in how you outline what you want to achieve and how you intend to go about it. A goal without a plan or a plan without pre designated parameters is a one- way ticket to failure. Believe it or not, even many pros are guilty of this kind of faulty goal-setting. Be careful not to set too many goals at one time. Overwhelming yourself is a great way to ensure you never meet any of your objectives. You may have the best intentions, but too often (particularly among novices) enthusiasm runs rampant and the newcomer overzealously tackles too many goals at once.

Try not to set your sights too high or too low. Both overestimating and underestimating are negatives that can impede progress and prevent success. The point is to establish goals to fit the situation, your overall progress, and your current level of development. Aim high but don't set the bar so high you can't even touch it. That's called sabotage!


The ultimate feedback isn't a friend standing in the posing room with you, declaring you look like a million bucks and will crush the competition. The ultimate feedback is your success or failure. Outcome isn't everything (nor should it be), but learning from mistakes can be as valuable as taking home a trophy. Treating the contest as a learning situation permits you to assess many different factors. The result should be a measuring stick by which you determine how well you both set and met your goals. If you missed your mark, what was the reason? Did you start dieting too late? Did you set too vague or easy a goal? Or did you fall short of excellence because you didn't know what to expect? The answers to these questions are valid lessons, and they all pertain to goals and goal-setting. Do me a favor, though, whether you're just starting out or are an old hand at competition. Sit down before your next competition and outline some of the objectives you want to achieve by competition day. If you've never before set a concrete goal and have just gone blindly into contest prep, I guarantee you'll do even better the next show with a plan on paper. Set plenty of attainable, short-term goals to ensure you'll achieve your ultimate goal of finishing in the top five. Good luck!


» achieve more

» establish a clear direction

» improve performance

» improve the quality of your training

» increase your motivation to achieve

» increase your pride and satisfaction in your performance

» improve your self-confidence

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