Many days, just making it to the gym and finishing a workout is a victory. But some days you are just going through the motions, doing what you need to maintain the status quo, and then there's days you go above and beyond and are barely able to walk out of the gym. A lot of factors contribute to the quality of a workout: how much time you have, your mental state, sleep, what you’ve eaten, etc. We can’t always control these factors, some days you just don’t have the physical energy. But working out is as much a mental challenge as it is physical. Motivation is probably the most important single factor. On any given day your motivation can overcome all other factors and lead to a great workout. One of the best ways to motivate yourself is by a setting a specific goal for your fitness.
The best way to accomplish any goal is to have a plan. When you have a goal, and a plan to accomplish it, you will start making both conscious and unconscious decisions to achieve it. This is true for anything in life, but your fitness is something that only you are totally in control of. If your goal is just to get a workout in, it’s less likely that you will get the most out of it.
The first step is to write your goal down. Having a goal that is concrete will help you maintain focus on achieving it. Sometimes there is an external event to motivate us to get in shape—a race, a competition, a social event. You might notice when it’s almost summer or you have a race coming up, the focus and intensity of your workouts increase. But often we don’t have an external event to work towards. This is when it’s most important to create a goal. The more specific the goal, the more focused you will be to achieve it. It’s important to set specific benchmarks that you are trying to achieve, such as lifting or losing a certain amount of weight, or running a race in a specific time.
Once you have a goal, you need to create a short-term plan to achieve it. This can be down to the week or day. On Sunday, you should be thinking about your plan to achieve your goal that week. Then, most importantly, set a plan every night (when you’re lying in bed is a great time for this) for the next day to achieve your goal. It’s extremely difficult to stick to a plan to achieve a goal that’s a year out; it’s easy to forget about it or tell yourself once X life event is over, you’ll get back on your plan. This is why the daily plan is so important. When you’re working towards your goal one day at a time, if you fall off, you get to hit reset that night and all that matters is you achieve your goal the next day.
When you just show up at the gym and start your workout without a plan, you're less likely to really challenge yourself. If you have an ambitious plan before you begin, such as doing a certain amount of sets or miles, you have something to push yourself towards. You'll know if you're selling yourself short if you don't meet your goal. When you make have a plan before you're experiencing the pain, you won't be as susceptible to the compromising excuses we often make when under duress. You'll know exactly what you have to do to make it a successful workout.
A great way to do this is to envision your day the night before: what are going to do first, what and when your workout will be, what you are going to eat, etc. Having a plan gives you an easy metric against which to weigh success for that day. Success, whether you’re measuring by the day, month, or year, is achieved through the effort you put into the task immediately at hand. Having a goal and a short-term plan to achieve it will help you maintain focus and motivation throughout the day.