Don’t Worry About the Outcome!

While studying for my Human Kinetics undergraduate degree, I was taught and encouraged to implement the SMART protocol when setting short, medium, and long-term goals for my academic and athletic endeavours.  Today, the SMART acronym has various versions, but often stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. 

In the health and fitness field, this is still a very relevant goal-setting tool, and as a fitness professional, I will often ask my clients to consider setting SMART goals.  If a client comes to me and says she would like to “get stronger”, we need something much more concrete and exact to be able to measure over time whether she has achieved (or is getting closer to achieving) her goal.


Putting SMART into Action

Here is an example of converting a very general and vague “I want to get stronger” short-term goal into a much more specific and measurable SMART goal:

Specific: Increase upper body pushing strength.

Measurable: Bench press 80lbs for 3-5 repetitions.

Achievable: A five percent increase in current strength is a reasonable goal.

Relevant: Upper-body strength for a female is paramount to help with good posture, carry out day-to-day tasks such as carrying the groceries, and for the prevention of osteopenia and osteoporosis later in life.

Timely: 12-week strength training cycle.

A SMART goal helps to clarify exactly what objective you’re trying to accomplish, helps keep the client and coach accountable, and will boost the client’s self-confidence and sense of mastery upon successful completion.   

Having worked in the strength and conditioning and fitness industry for the past fifteen years, I have worked with hundreds of athletes and clients, and have realized that setting SMART goals is different for everyone.  Athletes, who are highly motivated and on a very specific training program, will usually have no difficulty setting very specific and measurable goals.  However, a middle-aged professional with young children may have a very different outlook on his or her fitness regimen.  They are often participating in fitness for overall health benefits, to improve their quality of life, and as an outlet for stress-relief.  Increasing their bench press or squat by 5 or 10 percent may not be a psychological driving force; however, knowing they will have more energy and vigor to play with their kids could be a realistic motivational factor. 

When goal-setting, I will often encourage my clientele to think about setting behaviour-based rather than outcome-based goals. 

Outcome goals specify what will happen at the end whereas behaviour goals specify what actions must be taken to get there. 


We have the ability to control our behaviour, we do not have the ability to control the outcome.

A person may not be able to increase his or her strength by 10 percent in a 12-week period due to genetics and other limiting factors; however, a person can control the number of times they work out and the intensity they put forth.  Most likely, if you are putting in the time and directed effort, you will inevitably get stronger.  An elite competitive athlete may need very specific strength values whereas the general population by and large does not.  The lay person is usually approaching fitness with more generic intentions of staying healthy, reducing stress, and increasing their overall vigor and vitality.  Therefore, setting behaviour-based goals is a realistic approach to setting attainable short, medium, and long-range goals.   

Cycle of Success

As the client achieves their goal (e.g. going to the gym three days per week) he or she is then more likely to stay motivated and thus, likely to continue to experience future successes.  The cycle of setting a goal and achieving it creates a positive feeling of accomplishment.  This can create a sense of empowerment which hopefully leads to setting more goals (potentially more challenging) and experiencing more and more success.  Setting a behaviour-based goal that is attainable and realistic will help set you up for long-term success.  Enjoying multiple “small wins” over time can help keep the motivation factor high.  The more success one experiences, the greater the likelihood they will stick to their plan and therefore experience greater change in the long-run.  

Behaviour-Based SMART Goal

Another example could be with weight loss.  A client may want to set an outcome-based goal of losing 15 lbs in 8 weeks; however, you cannot control your fat cells and hormones, and losing ‘x’ amount of fat in a given time frame may not be realistic for that person.  Instead, the client could set a behaviour-based goal of eating an assortment of 5 servings of vegetables each day.  This goal is still very specific, but it is also measurable and within their control.  It is highly probable that this behaviour-based goal will result in losing fat mass (more vegetables consumed = feeling full = less likely to eat less nutrient dense/processed foods) by focusing on the behaviour and process necessary to achieve the desired outcome-based goal. 

Take Home Message

Setting realistic goals is a proven method to help people reach their health and fitness aspirations.  Applying the SMART principle and using behaviour-based, rather than outcome- based, goals are two methods to help set yourself up for success.  Remember, each tiny win/success/accomplishment is a step in the right direction!  Over time, each and every step forward will help foster your self-confidence which, in turn, will push you toward working for even greater and loftier goals. 

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