Setting Smart Goals: Planning The Future You Want

Setting Smart Goals

Setting Smart Goals

There is nothing really quite as satisfying as setting smart goals and accomplishing them.  The feeling of making progress gives you a feeling of ecstasy about life.  This is why simple tasks such as doing yard work, lifting weights and cleaning your office make you feel good.  They are a short term progress solution.  But what about the longer term?  What happens when you make very smart goals and progress doesn’t seem to come?  This is the true test of whether or not you actually made smart goals. 

As a trainer for close to seven years, I have seen many people from all walks of life that walk into the gym with all kinds of high flying plans.  Unfortunately, more often than not, these high flying plans often get shot down in flames.  As a result, these people often give up.  It is not that these people didn’t have goals, they just didn’t have smart goals.

In this post, we are going to explore this topic of smart goals and find out how to create smart goals for a lifetime.

What Defines Smart Goals?

If I ask a person what their goals are when they first walk into the gym and they respond with a picture of a fitness model on the cover of a magazine, then I know this is not a smart goal.  Not that striving to be a fitness model is an unrealistic goal, it is perfectly realistic.  For most people, however, it is a goal that is far beyond their level of commitment to their fitness. 

Now if I ask a similar question to somebody else and they respond with a weight loss goal of 20 lbs in 6 months.  Then I know that this individual has a smart goal.  It is realistic and it is at a skill level within this person’s current ability.

What Are Smart Goals 

So with the above examples, what defines smart goals?  A smart goal has to be realistic, meaning it has to be within a person’s current ability.  It has to have proper timeframes defined.  In example 1, the person had no timeframe.  The person in example two had a clearly defined timeframe.  Also notice how the relative magnitude of the goals.  Becoming a fitness model is a goal with a very large magnitude and losing 20 lbs has a much smaller magnitude.  Therefore, smart goals are goals with a smaller magnitude that are realistically within a person’s current ability level and have a set timeframe.


Smart Goals In Life

There is an African proverb that says “little by little, a little becomes a lot”.  This sets the tone for smart goals in life.  More often than not people set goals that are way too large an are simply not tangible.  Although I admire their ambition, until I actually see it happen I’m not buying.  We think that making big plans means that were being brave.  This is not the case, it actually takes more confidence to set smaller goals and stick to them. 

The lure of instant gratification is always lurking around the corner.  Many people make big unrealistic goals simply for that purpose.  They want to tell every person they come across about their big plans.  This makes them look like a visionary in their own mind.  But for those “in the know”, we know that this is just foolhardy. 

Since we know what smart goals are, the question then becomes, how do we apply the principle of smart goals in life.  Let me give you some examples. 


A good personal goal is to form a new perspective toward your life and toward yourself.  A great book about this is The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday.  In the book, Ryan mentions a quote by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.  “The impediment to action advances action.  What stands in the way becomes the way”.  In other words, your problems are not at all problems, but opportunities for you to grow. 

So if you have a weight problem and you need to lose weight, then that now becomes you way.  You play for a D1 team and need to increase your squat, getting stronger now becomes your way.  Own a business but can’t make any sales, making sales now becomes your way.  Make obstacles your opportunities as a personal goal.


Of all the goals out there, none are more important than financial.  When it comes to beating anxiety, finance reigns supreme.  The leading cause of failed relationships is poor finance.  Not surprising considering that people buy things they cannot afford.  Likewise, athletes and fitness professionals have a hard time with personal finance as well. 

Unless you are a top level athlete, or fitness competitor, in a sport with a large spectator base, you are probably not going to make a living solely off of competing.  Competing is a zero-sum game.  Meaning that only one person, or very small group, get all the benefits while everyone else gets nothing. 

So if you plan to spend a lot of time competing in the future, it would be a smart goal to get a financial playbook to keep beside your bed table, along with your training log.



Your only as successful as you are healthy.  If only most people knew how unbelievably toxic the food they eat really is.  In fact, if their digestive system ever “sprung a leak” with any of these toxins in them, the individual would probably die. 

The very food you eat has a tremendous influence on who you are as a person.  If you eat crappy foods, then you will feel crappy, look crappy and perform crappy.  There is no question.  Now this won’t be obvious right away, but over time the cumulative effects will be felt. 

I didn’t mention exercise because nutrition is much more important in my opinion.  Things like eating plenty of carbohydrates, proper hydration and post-workout nutrition are ignored by most people.  Most progress in training and sport is entirely from nutrition and not from the actual training itself.  Not to mention that recovery is very dependent on nutrition.  Make proper nutrition a goal.



Having a good spiritual goal is important because it gives you peace of mind when things don’t always go your way.  Learning how to meditate will allow you to take a step back and to see the big picture.  It will also allow you to calm down and not take yourself so seriously.  If you start to get too serious about your work you will exhaust yourself and your resources.  This will ultimately lead to major burnout.  Avoid burnout at all costs and add meditation to your spiritual goals.


Smart Goals In Training

Okay, just to recap, smart goals are goals that:

  • Have a realistic expectation
  • Have a set timeframe
  • Are relatively small in magnitude
  • Have room for expansion
  • Are within a person’s current ability level

Having this in mind from our list above and from all of our other previous examples.  How can we implement the above knowledge into physical training?  By defining what sport, or what look we are going for with our training.  One you have this picture in your mind, keep it fresh and re-read the above bullet list.  Suddenly, a plan will start to form in your mind. 



It should be of no surprise that strength is a smart goal.  Getting stronger will help to improve all areas in your life.  In training it will get bigger and stronger muscles/  In life it will make you a tougher and stronger person mentally.  I often hear people that will tell me that they want to get bigger.  They want more muscle mass.  So I tell them that in order to get bigger you have to get stronger first. 

It makes perfect sense, if you want bigger muscles, then you have to lift more weight for more repetitions.  Getting stronger will allow you to get bigger muscles.  Getting stronger will also help to give you more confidence.  Let’s face it, getting under massive weight requires a lot of guts.  The ability of an individual to do this day in and day out speaks volumes about that person’s character.  If you can get under heavy weights in a gym setting then you can get under heavy weights in life.



This is probably the most important one of the smart goals for athletes.  The ability to develop massive amounts of explosive strength on the fly is vital to you success as an athlete.  Why do you think that most high level sports programs have strength requirements?  It is because getting stronger will help you to become more explosive.  But what about the average joe?  Does training for power have any benefit to them?

For the average joe, power training absolutely has a place in their smart training goals.  For one thing it will teach them how to properly absorb and transfer force.  It will also strengthen their joints when a random shock might occur to them.  Thus power training will assist in injury prevention.  A truly smart training goal.



Flexibility training will aid the athlete in ensuring proper movement patterns, similar to mobility (more on mobility later).  After you train your muscles get very stiff.  This stiffness needs to be addressed otherwise it can impede proper movement.  Training alone isn’t the only reason why people have stiff muscles.  Sitting down can have tremendous consequences on your muscles as well.  Before any serious training program can begin one needs to address these issues.

The human body has a tissue system known as the fascial system.  The fascial system is a hidden interconnected layer of tissue that exists throughout the whole body.  It is a source of free elastic energy and is our chief differentiation from primates.  The system molds itself to whatever shape that we are in the most in order to facilitate our daily movements.  So sitting down molds our bodies fascial system into a very unhealthy shape.  Make flexibility a smart training goal and get your healthy shape back.      


Can you take the grind?  Can you take the workload?  If not, then you probably need more endurance.  The average gym goer may call it endurance, athletes call it conditioning.  The ability to persevere and not get winded is endurance.  Increasing your work capacity and getting more done in less time without gassing out is endurance.  Many lifters do not like endurance, in particular guys, because they think that it will make your muscles smaller.  This is just another fitness myth

Endurance will help you to recover quicker between workouts.  It will also help you bounce back from tough workouts.  No matter what your training goal is, endurance will always be a smart training goal.



Mobility and flexibility are very similar.  Flexibility is the ability of a muscle to reach full range of motion.  Mobility is the ability of a joint to move through full range of motion during a specific movement.  The amount of mobility you need all depends on what sport you play.  If you are a weightlifter, then you need a lot of mobility.  If you are a football player, then you need less mobility. 

The bottom line is everybody needs some form of mobility.  There should be at least 10 minutes dedicated to mobility work every day, preferably after the workout.  No excuses!  Take 10 minutes out of everyday to make mobility a smart training goal.


How To Set Smart Goals

How To Set Smart Goals

1. Know Thyself

In order to set smart goals you must first know yourself.  You have to own up to your strengths and weaknesses.  Don’t let your weaknesses drag you down.  They are merely pointing out and exposing the weak points in your armor.  These weak points will let you know where to set your goals.  Take procrastination for example.  If you are the kind of person who chronically procrastinates.  Then that is now where you need to set a smart goal.  Ending your procrastination.

The goals are not going to be the things we like to do, they are going to be the things we don’t like to do.  Now do you see the problem.  If we return to our earlier procrastination example, how do this affect ones training?  If you need to lose weight and exercises like a crazy person, but don’t work on your diet, then you are not going to lose weight.  “But Tony, I don’t like dieting, I find it really boring and frustration.”  So as a result, this individual will procrastinate and not work on the very thing they need to work on. 

Detach your emotions from your weaknesses and get to work fixing them.  This is the most important step towards making smart goals.


2.   See The Finish Line

In order to gain the momentum necessary to do the work, you have to actually visualize yourself achieving the massive success you so desperately crave.  The hardest part of any new venture is to see yourself actually successful.  At first when you try to do this it is very difficult because the brain has negative defense mechanisms.  It has negative thoughts that go on autopilot in order to prevent you from taking action. 

Imagine the primitive human lurking around on grassland with wild animals around.  At any minute, a vicious animal can jump out at you and you could be eaten alive.  In order to protect you from this, the brain used negative thoughts to prevent you from going out so you wouldn’t get eaten. 

If we apply this to today, we see that the ego tries to keep you down so you don’t feel any pain.  The ego likes to seek pleasure and avoid pain by any means necessary.  This makes visualization very difficult in the beginning.  Therefore, one really needs to take some time and program positive thoughts into your head.  One of my favorite techniques is to use positive affirmations. 


3.   Start To Plan

Now that you know yourself and can see the finish line, the next step is to plan for your smart goals.  Start to write down the one big ticket prize that you want.  This could be a house, sports car, ripped body, supermodel wife, etc.  It could even be all of these.  Then once you know your big ticket item, figure out the road you need to travel to get there.  Set smaller yearly, monthly or even weekly goals to guide you to your big goal.

For example, say that you want to became a master of calisthenics.  Your main goal would be to accomplish several bodyweight feats of strength, such as one arm pushups, one arm pull ups, levers, handstands, muscle ups, etc.  So in order to get there you should try to get as lean as possible so you have less weight to deal with.  Master the basic calisthenics exercises.  Then build technique with the advanced exercises.  Finally build endurance with the advanced exercises. 

Sounds simple, right?  Well, it is simple, but it is far from easy.  For most people, a goal like that can take several years.  Most people will not be able to accomplish a goal like this.  It has nothing to do with training potential either. 

Why Most People Do Not Accomplish Their Goals

The main reason why most people do not accomplish their goals is because they cannot delay instant gratification.  Fear exists at the beginning of any new venture, but instant gratification exists throughout every stage of any great undertaking.  When the going gets tough the ego will seek an escape for some pleasure seeking.  Try to fight it all you want, but this is how our brains are wired.  I’m am not saying that to be successful you must resist these urges.  That’s impossible!  What I’m saying is you need to control them. 

Here’s how to do it.  After you accomplish one of your monthly or weekly goals, go have a night out.  Enjoy yourself.  This will create the habit of getting a reward from doing hard work.  Building this kind of mental endurance will keep you in the game for the long haul.     

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