Many people set out with great aims of losing weight and improving their health from time to time – often for a wedding, graduation or some other life event. Many experience it annually after Christmas excesses. Gyms and weight loss clinics become inundated with client self-referrals as new enthusiastic and eager customers look to improve their health. There is very often a significant fall off in interest after a few weeks as those enthusiastic exercisers get caught up in other aspects of life and prioritise other things over their previously set exercise plans.


In fact scientific research has shown that adherence to such programs is difficult to maintain for many with a large decrease in new participants after 3 months and about a 50% drop off after 6 months (Tudor-Locke & Chan, 2006). Additionally, research has indicated that only 8% of people who take up such a programme will still be adhering to that programme 12 months later (Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2012)


One must also remember that you cannot lose 3 stone or 5 stone very quickly in a sustainable and healthy way so the goals must be process oriented. You must walk before you can run and the same goes for goal theory.


The first step must be taken before making the 2nd and third step of the ladder. Set yourself a target of losing 2-3 pounds per week and make the goal realistic and achievable. If you can maintain this consistency over a period of time, then you will eventually reach your long term goal.


Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.


steps to success

Effective Goal Setting

Effective goal setting is key in helping you to facilitate your intentions. These goals must sit closely with the issues concerning what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it.  Setting of what are known as SMART goals (Doran 1981) can prove very effective.

SMART goals is an acronym that stands for goals that need to be


  • What, How, Where, When I will take action?
  • What exactly do I want to achieve?
  • How exactly I will achieve the goals?
  • Where and when will I go about reaching these goals?



  • How much exercise I am going to do?
  • How often, many?
  • How much weight I intend to lose?
  • Reach my target weight of 10 stone.



If the goal is unrealistic or out of reach, then there is a greater chance of one giving up on the programme. Trying to lose three stone in a month is unrealistic and unhealthy. Trying to get a non-runner to run a marathon within a few weeks is also unattainable. Is this goal realistic to what you can actually achieve in the set time frame? Small but achievable steps lead to attainable outcomes.


Are your goals relevant to you reaching your long term goal. Are they facilitating you to reach your longer term targets?

Time Managed

What kind of time frame are you allowing to reach each aspect of the goal. As stated previously, trying to lose three stone in a month is unrealistic and unhealthy. Trying to get a non-runner to run a marathon within a few weeks is also unattainable.

You must remember also that your exercise will be in vain if you don’t have a good diet

As adherence levels tend to decrease over time, there are factors that may help you influence and maintain your adherence (Flegal et al, 2007)

Enjoyment – People tend only to maintain participation if the experience is enjoyable. Take up a sport you enjoy or make your exercise fun and something you enjoy doing. There are numerous fun classes out there – zumba, aqua-aerobics, spinning, yoga, pilates etc while activities like hill walking, social running and cycling clubs etc have become very popular of late – and they can be FUN!

Motivation – Keep a record of what you are doing and note how you can improve your levels of fitness. Use this self-reflection to monitor your emotions about participation and your beliefs about progress.

Belief and Knowledge -read up and inform yourself of the benefits of what you are doing and eating and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Knowledge is power.

Exercise Plan – Try and set targets to increase your activity levels as you gain in fitness levels. What you find challenging today might not produce the same benefits as you get fitter so look to challenge yourself a little more as you go through the process.

Social support – One is more likely to maintain a programme if they have the social support of a friend, so get your friends involved in your regime or bring a friend to a class you are taking. It will be a key factor in you achieving your goals.

Other Tips

  • Allow yourself a treat every now and then.
  • Be prepared for a relapse every now and again and don’t let it discourage you. It will happen from time to time but use it as motivation to spur you on. If you could do it before you can do it again.
  • Use reminders – Set reminders on your phone to help organise your time and day.


Keith Begley is an accredited sport psychologist with the Irish Institute of Sport.

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