Goal Characteristics For Success


Everybody knows the importance of goal setting when it comes to fitness and weight loss. But what are the parts that constitute effective goals? What is the difference between a successful person, that reaches his/her goals and a dreamer who always plans but never actually takes the necessary steps to eventually unlocking their true potential? Is it something in the way the goals are constructed that makes the difference between success and failure?

This topic has been researched quite extensively and the results are quite conflicting. One of the reasons is the lack of definition for what “goal setting” really is and the fact that the term is quite abstract makes it hard to study in a sequential manner, so the studies use different methodological setups and the results are hard to compare between one another. Lee, Locke and Lantham who have contributed massively to the research on goal setting in workplaces define a goal as “that which one wants to accomplish; it concerns a valued, future end state.” 

Based on their work, another group of researchers developed a four-step goal-setting process, oriented more towards goal-setting strategies in nutrition counseling situations. The study pointed put the following four vital parts:

1. Recognizing the need for change
2. Establishing a goal
3. Adopting goal-directed activity and self-monitoring it
4. Self-rewarding goal attainment

Despite the conflicting results in research on effective goal setting strategies the aspect of Goal Characteristics and the potential successful outcome is pretty straight forward. Is there an aspect of the way the goals are written that can predict a more favorable outcome and increase the probalility of the subject to take the necessary action steps to complete the task?

Goal Characteristics

In a meta analysis by Locke et al 99 of 110 studies showed that proximal,specific, difficult yet attainable goals resulted in higher task performance compared with ‘no goal’ or ‘easy goals’. Furthermore, adding feedback and rewards to the goal setting progress increases motivation and task performance. Let’s take a look at why these are vital parts of effective goal setting:


Goals can have a proximal (short term) or distal (long term) focus. Proximal goals mobilize instant actions and are more unlikely to be postponed compared to distal goals. That’s why all long term goals should be divided in to short term goals and the greatest focus should be short term.
An example: My goal is to lose 1 pound until next Friday vs. Until next new year my goal is to lose 50 lbs. Which do you think has the biggest potential to lead to instant actions?

Specificity :

A specific goal provides a clear and narrow target and makes it easier to track the progress. A goal such as: A 225 lbs. bench press by the end of my next training cycle is a better goal than I want a stronger bench .

Difficulty :

To induce effort , a goal has to be difficult. This forces you to step out or your comfort zone. The mild stress makes the task a lot more interesting and keeps you motivated. Still the goal needs to be realistic and attainable for you to stay motivated and keep striving for it. Unrealistic goals are more likely to lead to frustration and increase the risk of giving up. Ask yourself when setting a goal: What results can I expect in this given timeframe if I made this goal my biggest priority? Always aim high, but stay realistic.


Keep track on how close you are to reaching your goal. That’s a good way to stay motivated and make necessary adjustments to your plan. Plan in regular evaluations. Define your current status compared to your goals and make adjustments to the plan. You can do this yourself or have somebody else do it. For body composition changes, regularly taking photos of your current condition are a great way to give yourself feedback on your progression rate. Tracking strength or limb measurements is another way to do the same thing.


An important factor for continuous motivation and continued goal striving. They can be internal (pride) or external (recognition). When talking about changing body composition – Posting your progress pictures on Facebook, getting comments from friends and family or celebrating every 10 lbs weight loss with a new clothing item might be examples of rewarding activities that will keep you going.

Putting it all together:

So much for the theoretical part. Next week I’ll try to break it all down and fit it into a nice little system that will increase the likelihood of you getting and staying motivated by you goals and actually taking the necessary actions that will get you one step closer to unlocking your true potential.

In the meantime ask yourself: What action you can take TODAY that will get you one step closer to reaching your goals? 

Now do it.

–> Click HERE to jump to The Complete Goal Setting Manual

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Complete Goal Setting Manual

In my article Goal Characteristics For Success I talked about the science behind goal characteristics when setting goals thus maximizing the chances of your goals leading to the necessary actions to complete them. But how can you bridge the performance or weight loss…Read more ›