Traditional goal setting is dead…here is what works

It’s that time of year again and everywhere you turn you have another expert telling you how to set goals.

The problem - when was the last time those methods worked?

The most well known method of goal setting is the SMART system:






This has some important qualities, but most people who use it end up putting too much emphasis on the goal. And the problem with goals – especially big goals – is they do not have a linear success path.

Let’s pretend that you take this SMART approach to the most common goal of the new year: Weight loss.


Here is a SMART version of this goal:

“I will lose 10 pounds in 90 days.”

Great! I have my goal, now how am I going to do this? Well, there are a lot of ways, but what this goal setting technique fails to emphasize is that there is a right way and a wrong way to reach goals.

You can lose 10 pounds in only 3 days if you just cut back on water. But is that what you really want? Is “weight” what truly matters?

If we agree that this is not actually the right goal to have, then we can at least better define our goal:

“I will lose 10 pounds of fat in 90 days.”


Yes and no.

If you lose 10 pounds of fat by starving yourself, then you will also lose a bunch of muscle. And that will lead to a yo-yo effect once your body and brain make you start eating again.

So, yes, you did lose the fat, but it all came back! Your goal setting just made you worse off.

A Better Approach to Goal Setting


If we take a different approach, then you can have your SMART goal and make it actually work for you. But it’s not the goal that matters, it’s the habits that you build.

And that is why timelines can actually be counterproductive.

“What?! If you don’t have a deadline then you will never succeed!!” - All “experts.”

Well, there are plenty of people who set timelines that fail. Setting a timeline is only good when it gets you to think outside the box.

Peter Thiel talks about taking your 10 year goals and trying to see what you would have to do to accomplish them in 6 months. This is not because you will be able to do it, but because it makes you think in a way that helps you see what is most critical for accomplishing those goals and getting that stuff done now.

When you do that, you not only are more likely to reach your goals, but you probably will reach them a whole lot faster.

So, timelines can be great as thought experiments, but let’s focus on what actually matters when you have a goal you want to accomplish: Actions.

And more specifically, actions that you can take immediately and continue indefinitely. Let’s look at our goal again, but with this in mind:

“I will lose 10 pounds of fat in 90 days.”

We will keep the 90 days in there knowing that it really doesn’t matter when you lose the 10 pounds. What does matter is that it doesn’t come back. So, what action(s) can you take immediately and continue indefinitely? That is something only you can decide.

You know your life, your history, and your values. You know your beliefs, your support system, and your likes and dislikes. What will work for you will not for someone else.

With that being said, here are some that have worked for others:

  • Have a protein shake for breakfast
  • Drink one glass of water first thing in the morning
  • Stand up while on conference calls
  • Bring a snack from home (skip the coffee and muffin)
  • Switch out soda for water
  • Take 10 deep breaths before going to lunch

Notice how none of these is going to dramatically impact your life...but the point is not transformation. At least not yet. The point is momentum.

Small Changes Lead to Big Results


To make this work, you must pick an action that you can start today…and that you believe you will be able to do consistently for the rest of your life.

Make that a habit and then add something else.

People shoot themselves in the foot when they set goals that force them to take unsustainable actions. You are so much better off focusing on action and letting the goal take care of itself.

To help make this point, let’s look at a great example of how consistency vs. all out effort will reap huge rewards in the end.

When asked how he has become one of the most prolific writers of all time, Stephen King explains that he follows one simple rule: write 1,000 words a day.

He did not get great material every day, but the point was not the end product. The point was to just keep writing. And it was something that he knew he could do.

Over time, he started writing more words each day, and those words were better and better. But he didn’t just start out by writing The Shining. He wrote and he wrote and he wrote and eventually he mastered his craft.

This is how you should think about all of your goals. Start with what you can do, and just keep doing it until you have mastered it.

Where to Start


If I had to pick one habit to start with to build the most momentum toward health and fitness goals, I would have to say exercise.

Not only does exercise produce immediate benefits (better mood, energy, self-confidence), it is also what is known as a keystone habit. That means that when you are exercising, you tend to take other positive actions as well.

You eat better. You drink less alcohol. You go to bed earlier. And on and on!

You have made your health and fitness a priority by exercising and the rest falls into place more easily. The tricky part when it comes to exercise is getting started, and knowing what to do.

If you have a routine you can just get back into, great! But if you don’t then I would encourage you to consider a fitness coach.

A coach is often the best thing you can do for your long term success for three reasons:

They will keep you accountable. You could have the best program in the world, but if you don’t actually do it, then it doesn't matter. They will give you the right exercises for you and your body. Not everyone is the same, and things like past injuries, current fitness level, and health goals all play into creating the right program for you.

They will teach you how to move correctly! Yes, there are a lot of great exercises out there, but how do you know if you are actually doing them the right way? That’s where a fitness coach can really help. Because the difference between doing an exercise correctly and incorrectly is the difference between getting stronger, leaner, and more capable vs. getting no results at best, and getting injured at worst.

If you think a fitness coach is what you need to make sure you finally get the results you have been wanting, then I invite you to check out our 28-Day New Year's Reset Program.

In this program you will get:

  • Full fitness and goals assessment
  • Personalized fitness coaching to teach you the exact exercises you need to safely and effectively move better and build stamina
  • A simple meal plan to help you decrease inflammation and boost energy
  • 1-on-1 success coaching to help guide you as you work to change your diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits

You can reach your fitness goals in 2023, you just need a program (and a coach!) that can show you what is right for you.

Click here to learn more and take back control of your health and fitness today!

Mint Condition Fitness empowers people to take control of their fitness and fully enjoy the life they have built.

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Mint Condition Fitness is the leading personal training studio in Los Gatos for purpose-driven men and women to lose weight, get out of pain, and do more of the things that make life meaningful.