Goals: Exercise and Behavior Modification

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Define Goals

  • Attaining specific standard of proficiency on a task, usually with a specified time limit (Locke 1981)

Types of Goals and Examples

Goal Type Example A Example B
Objective Improve body image in 12 months Win powerlifting event
Outcome goal Decrease body fat to 18% and increase muscle mass by 3 kg Increase totals by 10%
Behavioral goal
(ie: strategy)
  • weight train: Mon, Wed, Fri (7 PM)
  • walk 20-45 minutes Tues, Thurs, Sat (6:30 AM)
  • implement specific dietary guidelines
  • monitor body composition monthly
  • follow new daily undulating periodized program
  • monitor signs of overtraining
  • meet with coach once per week
  • taper volume 1 week before event

Goal Setting Efficacy

  • A meta-analysis on 36 studies demonstrate goal setting in sports and exercise can improve performance (Kyllo & Landers 1995)
  • Females who set goals or who were assigned goals by their instructor made greater strength gains compared to a control group (Boyce 1994).
  • Setting all 3 types of goals improves performance (Filby 1999)
  • Behavioral goals improve performance quicker than outcome goals (Kingston & Hardy 1997)
    • Over-emphasis of outcome goals may create anxiety and reduce performance (Filby 1999)
      • outcome goals are less controllable than behavioral goals

Important Components to Goal Setting

  • Make goals specific and measurable
  • Setting short and long term goals
    • Daily training goals were one variable that distinguished successful Olympians from less successful ones (Orlick & Partington 1988)
  • Allowing individuals to set their own goals
  • Make goals public (Kyllo & Landers 1995)

Goal Conflict

Goal conflict (AKA competing goals) are goals that compete with each other, such that the pursuit of one goal detracts from the pursuit of the other (Emmon, King & Sheldon, 1993). Goal conflict can lead to ambivalence about progress toward competing goals and concomitant decrements in psychological and physical health.

Types and Examples:

  • Inherent conflict arises when progress toward one goal implies more difficulty in reaching another goal.
    • Pursuing a goal to lose weight undermines a goal to go out for ice cream with one’s friends, and vice versa.
    • Resting an injury impedes ability to prepare for competition, and visa versa.
  • Resource conflict arises from limited resources (eg: time, money, energy, etc.) available to pursue valued goals
    • Pursuing multiple sports or activities concurrently.

Goal conflict can be resolved by giving up or at least reducing commitment to one of the conflicting goals. Optimistic individuals are more likely to adopt and retain conflicting goals, particularly goals competing for resources. On the other hand, optimistic individuals have lower levels of depression and less rumination, which are potential consequences of conflicting goals (Segerstrom & Solberg Nes 2006).

Also see Self Sabotaging Behavior.

Emmons RA., King LA, Sheldon K. (1993). Goal conflict and the self-regulation of action. In Wegner DM , Pennebaker JW (Eds.), Handbook of Mental Control. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 528-551.

Segerstrom SC, Solberg Nes L. (2006). When goals conflict but people prosper. The case of dispositional optimism. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 675-693.

Other Considerations

  • Make goals challenging, but realistic
    • Moderately difficult goals can improve performance, greater than goals that are too easy or difficult (Kyllo & Landers 1995).
  • Set positive goals
    • Negative goals may trigger negative self-talk, which may decrease performance (Van Raalte 1994)
  • Set a date goal will be achieved
    • decreases procrastination
    • make realistic, but achievable
  • Commit to goals
    • Vital factor for achieving goals (Theodorakis 1996)
    • Coach or trainer can facilitate commitment
      • Make goals attractive (Hollenbeck & Klein 1987)
      • Develop self-confidence (Hollenbeck & Klein 1987)
      • Encourage self-responsibility
  • Record goals and keep them where they will be seen regularly


  • Identify objective
    • what you want to accomplish
  • Identify best outcome goals necessary to reach objective
  • Identify behavior goals necessary to reach outcome goals
    • how to accomplish your outcome goals
    • "people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan"
  • Commit and implement plan
  • Regularly assess progress
    • Fitness tests, training journal, food diary, etc.
    • Modify goals if necessary
      • Lower goals that are found to be unrealistic
      • Recognize goals or objective change throughout time
    • Recommit to goals if necessary

Client Centered Goal Setting Example

  • Ask the client how confident they are in exercises, 4 days per week for 1 hour on a scale of 1 to 10.
    • Begin by proposing a reasonably high goal (See Anchoring)
  • If the client says anything less than 9
    • continue to decrease the goal until the client says 9 or 10
  • When the client rates a goal as 9 or 10
    • have the client commit to that goal for a set number of weeks or months
  • After that time
    • Celebrate achievements (recognition, congratulations, compliment, reward, etc.)
    • Set new goals in the same way, providing the client an opportunity to achieve greater goals.
  • This technique raises self-confidence and evokes a sense of self-importance
  • The trainer provides the options, but the client makes their own behavioral goal and builds upon past achievements.
  • See more about a Client Centered Approach.

SMART Criteria

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

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