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Short-term win, Long-term gain

Not too long ago, I posted an article about getting rid of your short-term goals. This write up may start to contradict that, but having a short-term win is part-in-parcel of the bigger picture and adds up to your long-term goals.

You see, your brain is wired to have gratification under immediate circumstances. As a Fitness Coach, I want you to strive for the long-term gain (or loss, if that's your case). But how does a Fitness Coach, like me, work with that type of tendency to help you see the bigger picture and achieve the bigger win?

One of my primary goals as a Fitness Coach is to motivate you and direct you down the best path that will allow you to achieve your health and fitness goals. Even those who believe they have sufficient knowledge on how to train will still struggle to remain focused on the long-term goals when they're in with themselves. This comes from how your brain is wired. What it perceives to be important in its goals and what the rewards are based on time.

Short-term changes can be impressive feats that the body can undertake if someone hasn't made changes in their fitness or nutrition in a long time. This is where many personal trainers come in to sell their strategy; their short-term plan. The client commits to the 12-week challenge in a dramatic way within the set time frame translating into the change we commonly see.

These rapid changes in exercise and eating behaviours have been found wanting due to their lack of sustainability. Although the short-term application and win can be appreciated. A challenge such as this can be useful to fitness professionals as this can help kick-start the client back into refocusing on their exercise and eating habits if the client lacks direction. However, it is important to avoid having to get into the habit of expecting rapid results performing the same thing over and over again. It should be expected that more common slower changes associated with regular training will become tiresome and adherence will become a problem.

Time and Distance

Your brain wants to preserve and keep you safe, among other functions. Threats that are far away from you are least of your worries as compared to threats that are closer. It's the closer ones that present more immediate risk and therefore demand our attention. Similarity occurs when you have rewards set over time. If you reward yourself sooner, it's perceived as a greater reward than one that will happen further down the track. This makes sense when the rewards are identical, because not having to wait for it is more satisfying than having to wait for the same thing. The issue is that this is also the case when the more distant reward is greater than the one that occurs sooner. This is all due to the fact that your brain struggles to look at the bigger picture.

There have been many studies in which participants have opted to collect significantly smaller amounts of money immediately, rather than wait to be rewarded with much larger sums. You may make the same error of attributing too much value to the immediate when it comes to decisions about your health and fitness. Having your burger and fries now, even though it does not align with your current nutrition goals, is more immediately rewarding than dropping a dress size over the next two months. Staying in bed and sleeping in is more immediately rewarding than getting up earlier, particularly in the colder months, and working out in a bid to attain results that you won’t see for many months. The salience of the immediate win can be overpowering, and cause you to run into trouble with your exercise adherence in the long term.

Celebrating the short-term win

You will be more likely to succeed if there is a tangible reward to be obtained from your work, and even more, if this reward is available in the short-term. The issue then arises, as mentioned above, that your body will initially make rapid changes and then progress will gradually slow down, so truly large and sustainable health and fitness goals actually do operate in the long-term. This is where micro-goals and regular check-ins come into play to keep you focused and committed to your larger goals.

This means, for example, that if your goal is to drop three dress sizes, but you are new to training and food choices are an issue, then the long-term win of the three-size drop needs to be broken down. This can be done in several different ways. Obviously, each size dropped, or decrease in body measurements, is one way to do this, but even so, you might stagnate for a while at one size and start to lose interest if no progress is seen for some time.

This is where goals such as not missing any training sessions, sticking to a healthy and balanced diet for a whole fortnight and other smaller goals that you can constantly work towards will help keep you focused. These smaller goals can be regularly achieved, which allows for consistent celebrations of the little wins. And thus helping increase the feeling that you do have what it takes to be able to achieve your longer-term goal, which will, in turn, increase your adherence and motivation to stay on track.

The more experienced you are with setting long-term goals (and achieving them), particularly within the context of health and fitness, the less you will need to break this down. Conversely, beginners will need very small and regular micro-goals to keep making progress without feeling overwhelmed by the perceived enormity of the goals at hand. Generally, when setting micro-goals, start small and give me your feedback – if the micro-goal seems too easy then break it down less, and if it seems intimidating or unachievable, then break it down further.

Forward Planning

This is where I as your fitness and health strategist can be an extremely powerful tool. As you approach the completion of a goal, now is the time to start layering the path to the next one. We will take the time to celebrate the completion of the goal, as this is a huge win for you, and I will ensure that we have your next goal in sight. The absence of a next step can send many people tumbling off the wagon, as no direction can prompt a regression into old habits. Don’t wait for the completion of the one goal – get in ahead so that there is already something to keep you focused during the celebration period.

Goal setting drives my work with every single one of my clients, and these are personalised to their needs, including how we structure the goals. Based on the client’s individual personality, I determine the amount and frequency to keep them interested, challenged and excited in their training.

Need help driving to your next win? Contact Discipline Fitness today!

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