It’s that time of the year again where a lot of us set some goals for the year ahead. One of the most common goals for people to set is related to increasing their exercise levels. If this is you then this blog will look at some recent research surrounding goal setting.
For many years there has been a heavy focus on setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). A common example of this would be aiming to run 10km per week. There seems to be a few issues with this goal setting approach, one is that often there are only two outcomes; you either reach your goal or you fail. This can obviously cause a feeling of failure if you’re not reaching your set goal and ultimately lead to ‘giving up’ or feelings of failure. Another example might be the goal of 10,000 steps a day. If you achieve 9,000 steps, you may feel disappointed when using the SMART framework, rather than celebrating the fact that you walked 9,000 steps!
Some recent research suggests that a better goal setting approach is to set more open goals. An open goal is a non-specific and exploratory goal, such as aiming to do your best, or simply run more. A recent study found that less active people had better outcomes when pursuing open goals compared to SMART goals. Follow-up studies then found that pursuing open goals tends to make activities more enjoyable, increase people’s confidence and provide a greater sense of better performance. This could be key in achieving long-term compliance to your exercise regime.
Another key difference between open goals and SMART goals is that SMART goals are focused on achieving something in the future, whereas an open goal is focused what you can achieve now
Using the previous example of the SMART goal aiming to run 10km per week, a similar open goal could be to see how many km’s I can run this week. When using the open goal, each time you go for a run you will be making progress, this provides a much more positive experience.
So if you are sick of setting SMART goals and ‘giving up’ throughout the year, try changing things up and setting a more open goal next time. If you need help setting exercise goals and developing a program don’t forget to ask your Physiotherapists.