Following on from my own challenges last year, I had been asked write a blog post about goal setting.
This is of course a popular time of year to make a new start and think about initiating some healthier lifestyle choices, and perhaps setting yourself some challenges. Having a goal to work towards can be an ideal way to stay motivated, but it is important to choose the correct objective for you. We can be overwhelmed in January by the marketing of various charity challenges ranging from 5k runs to marathons; ultra cycling events to open water swims. Then there is the peer pressure as you see your friends on social media bragging about what they have signed up for. The key is to choose something which is enough to stretch you from where you are at, but that is still achievable, so that you stay motivated, and don't get disheartened. As we enter March, I am hearing from people who are feeling a bit deflated by their progress. It could be that the goals we set in January have fallen slightly by the wayside. Perhaps we over committed with our goal, and have found that bad weather and inevitable sickness bugs at this time of year have hampered our progress. Well the important thing is not to get disheartened!
I have worked with Mark Maycroft, the personal trainer behind 'Marine Phys' over the past 18 months to improve my fitness, strength and flexibility, and to help me towards my own triathlon and cycling goals. Mark believes that health and fitness is made up of multiple components including flexibility, mobility, posture, muscular strength, cardiovascular condition, mental strength and health (reduction of stress, and negative thoughts) and equally important nutrition. Mark served within the Royal Marines for 8 years, with 4 years of that time as a part of British Special Forces. He left the Royal Marines to develop his knowledge of health and fitness by studying a BSc Honours in Sports, Fitness and Coaching with Exercise instruction as his specialisation. He has gained a wide variety of qualifications within the fitness industry, but not following the mainstream training approach, he decided to embrace his working background and coach outdoor related fitness, taking clients away from the mundane repetitive atmosphere of the gym.
In this blog I have worked with Mark to share some of his insights into goal setting. However, we decided that it was important to highlight that exercise and challenge setting is not always geared towards the extreme end of the scale. In other words, I realise that not everyone will be setting their sights on a 900km cycling challenge in 2018! To demonstrate this, we wanted to share a case study with you about someone who is overcoming a health issue to achieve her own personal goals.
Gemma is a 50 year old woman who has, throughout her life been active, though not following any particular exercise regime. When she was in her late teens she played a lot of basketball until she suffered a lower back injury, which went undetected for a number of years. She enjoys exercise which has a sociable element to it, such as hiking, or team based activities. In the second half of 2017, however, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent two surgeries and is currently completing a course of radiotherapy. Thankfully, the prognosis is looking positive, but the whole process has been quite physically as well as emotionally draining. Also, the surgery involved removal of lymph nodes, which has led to some loss of feeling in the arm on that side. Gemma has been doing exercises to help with this, and so recognises the importance of flexibility based exercise such as yoga. She is also considering the idea of doing some marshal arts based exercise, seeing the psychological benefit this could offer. Her diet, although never bad previously, has improved dramatically since diagnosis as she recognises how fuelling herself correctly will help her recovery. We asked Mark to suggest some strategies to help Gemma to achieve her personal goals of getting her body back to full function, whilst incorporating some elements of structured exercise which will benefit her both physically and emotionally over the next few months.
So over to Mark....
"What is a goal? A goal is a specific aim which has personal meaning which should be realistic with a rough timeframe to it. In terms of health and fitness, I try to categorise them into short (daily or weekly small tasks), medium (1-3 months in length but is focused on during your week) and long term goals (which come about from the combination of short and medium goals over 12 months or more). Then I use the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time specific) to see if the goal is suitable.
I'll cover this in more detail so you can see how its used (I find it helpful but it isn’t essential).
Is there any benefit to setting goals? Most people think of new years resolutions when you ask them to set goals and without real thought or meaning, most let them slip within 2 weeks of starting! We tend to set ourselves goals on a daily basis, without even knowing it, for example the goal of waking up at 7am to get to work on time, this is known as a short-term goal. Or one that related to exercise could be as simple as complete an hour of exercise today.
So what type of goals should I set? I like to categorise them so I can focus on different aspects of my life, this is particularly useful if/when something unexpected happens like an injury, illness or even pregnancy. Having different goal categories means you always have something focus on no matter what your current situation is and will help keep you motivated during a potentially unpleasant or hard part of your life. Below I’ve listed in my order of importance the types of goals I set.
Below are the goals I have created for Gemma which show how diverse you can be, these aren’t something she has set or needs help with, I’ve just used her as a case study:
Emotional well-being Goals
A long-term goal could be to not let her breast cancer experience affect her daily life (specific) within 12 months (time specific), this means not to check for problems or consider it on a daily basis in fear or regression and to just undertake routine check-ups when advised to (it’s hard to measure by mental well-being and thoughts, but a mood diary or even a negative thoughts change jar could be used with this.) It’s achievable and realistic. Making this a smart goal is quite hard, but with medication post treatment it will bring up thoughts and memories and so trying not to live in the past and focus on the positive will help with the recovery process.
A medium-term goal could be something to do with mindfulness and living in the moment, getting through something like this can provide you with deep gratitude for life and the simple things. But the treatment and use of Tamoxifen will bring on early menopause, this isn’t a pleasant experience for women, but look at the positives and embrace this because every day is an opportunity to be happy that may not have been around had her fighting spirit and cancer treatment not gone so well.
Research has shown that eating a low carb diet can lead to Autophagy which can aid healing but also has a lot of other health benefits. Gemma’s diet hasn’t been too bad but she should aim to eat a lower carb diet (under 100g a day) on days when not doing any intense exercise, she should do this by doing alternate days to start and within 1 month be following it daily for the duration of her recovery. Her focus should not be on calories but instead on a variety of quality foods. Her protein content (around 60-90g per day from varied sources and organic/ wild/ grass fed if financially feasible). She should aim to eat 25-30g of fibre a day from fruits and vegetables (aiming for up to 12x 80g portions a day, with most coming from vegetables and then berries to keep carb and natural sugar content within a sensible range). She should aim to consume 2 litres of water a day and add 1 litre for every hour of exercise she completes.
A short term health goal which is applicable to nearly everybody is to reduce stress and tension within the body, this can be done from aiming to get 8 hours of sleep a day, turn off all screens 1 hour before bed, use a meditation app daily (benefits of meditation) such as headspace. From her back injury and treatment Gemma has pain in her back and shoulders, she should seek to be pain free in these areas within 1-2 months by trying to commit 15 minutes a day of meditation and mobility work for any tight muscles. Our aim for her is to be pain and medication free within 1 month, but it may take a little longer and that isn’t a problem.
Just because you aren’t an athlete doesn’t mean you can’t set some SMART performance goals. I try to always have short, medium and long-term performance goals to keep me working hard in my training. For Gemma, I have set her the task of achieving a 5 mile walk once per week, I’d suggest getting up first thing and just doing it no matter the weather, this is a goal based on consistency and aimed at reducing stress, improving cardio vascular and heart health which also links to a health goal. This is short term goal because we are looking to achieve it right away.
A medium-term performance goal is for Gemma to be able to hold a normal plank for 3 minutes within 6 months, this will help improve core strength and posture but also assist with her love of gardening, walking and want to start a martial art. I suggest she starts performing a max effort plank 3 times a week, maybe as part of her morning routine after using headspace! Start the day with a positive focus!
A long-term goal would be for Gemma to be able to complete a particular yoga move that she currently finds difficult - the aim is within 12 months and if she practices yoga as a minimum once per week for 60-90 minutes I am certain this will be achievable.
Body Image Goals
As I have mentioned, I don’t like these as I think they can cause issues with anxiety, depression or eating disorders. But as most people’s exercise habits have an aesthetic purpose they can be used positively. According to BMI (which isn’t always the best judge of somebody’s body composition, since I’m around 95kg and apparently verging on obese with around 12% bodyfat. So those who are athletic I’d never advise BMI to be a definitive guide) Using this gauge, though, it would class Gemma as slightly overweight and she could benefit from losing a small amount. I am setting her the target of losing 3.5kg of fat, so this doesn’t mean the scale must go down that much, but if it does, it would put her in the healthy BMI category. This is a medium-term goal and should be easy to achieve within 6 months of just becoming more active, I am using this combined with the goal of doing 30-60 minutes of activity at least 5 days per week which will be from walking, yoga, a martial art and gardening. This increase in activity and focus on a lower carb diet will see her naturally shift back to a lower body weight within the time frame. So, the real goal is to be consistently active for 6 months and the body image goal will happen naturally!
As you can see goal setting can be very diverse and should always be unique and something you really want to do for yourself, not because it looks or sounds impressive. The use of short medium and long-term goals can link together between the four categories and are useful no matter what stage of your fitness journey you are at! Remember that although achieving your goals is important, health and happiness comes first, and so emotional wellbeing is for me the most important thing to focus on."
Thanks Mark, and hopefully there is something in there for everyone. The main take away to remember is that it doesn't matter what starting point you are coming from, you can benefit from setting a goal, whatever it may be.
As is customary, let's finish off with a song, here Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind", an anthem to overcoming challenges and achieving your dreams.
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.