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Do Goals Stress You Out? Give Yourself a Break

With the start of a new year, a big topic of discussion is always New Years goals or resolutions. For some, it's a great time of year to re-assess all you have accomplished in the year prior and ways that you can continue to grow in the year ahead. For others, goal setting at the beginning of the year is just another thing to add to the laundry list of stressors.

The last 2 years have been particularly stressful ones, challenging us on a social, professional, emotional and physical level. These challenges have made it that much harder for many to achieve the goals they have set. So naturally, many have thrown in the towel on goal setting altogether, and have expressed their desire to just "get through this year." But, goal setting doesn't need to be stressful; we hope that we can provide you with some information, resources and motivation to set and achieve some goals in a way that encourages growth and happiness and limits stress.

Goals, whether personal, professional or fitness, are going to look notably different for everyone. In our clinic alone, our fitness goals range from successfully increasing running mileage to 15 miles per week without pain after having a baby, to performing a 90 mile gravel ride without pain following an ankle injury, to successfully training for and completing a half ironman. There is quite a range of goals here, but they are all realistic and meaningful to the individual that set them.

However, even these goals are fairly big picture or large scale goals and maybe this year is not the year that you want to compete in an ironman or train for a marathon. Maybe this year (due to injury, pain, motivation, etc) is more about recreating good foundations for fitness and physical health. For our running and fitness community, we know just how important sleep, nutrition and mental health, and strength training can be to improving our performance and preventing injury.

For those that are really struggling to set a viable fitness goal for this year, maybe now is a time to check in and set a different type of goal for the year. Think outside of the box for ways to improve your performance without just running more and training harder. Some ideas for foundational goals:

  • Sleep: Increasing sleep duration and improving sleep hygiene.

  • Nutrition: Consider making an appointment with a nutritionist to create a healthy nutrition plan to maximize energy levels and recovery.

  • Stress: There are many ways to address stress ranging from meditation and mindfulness practice to seeking the help of a trained professional. Reducing stress can significantly affect overall health, physical performance and so much more.

  • Strength Training: we know that there are many benefits to incorporating strengthening into a training routine for runners. Strength training can improve power, increase performance and reduce risk for injury.

As physical therapists a big part of our job is to set goals for our patients based upon their deficits, limitations and desired level of function. When writing goals for our patients, some of the things we consider are:

1. Make your goals measurable

  • Example: I will implement 2 days of 30-45 min of strength training per week to maximize running performance.

2. Make your goals functional

  • your goals should always link back to a daily or recreational activity.

  • Example: I will increase sleep from an average of 6 hrs/night to 7 hours/night within the next 2-3 months to improve energy levels with running.

3. Make your goals realistic and achievable

  • Set a realistic time frame to achieve your goal

  • If recovering from an injury, consider healing time frames and work closely with your doctor or PT to set these goals.

  • While it can be tempting to reach for the stars with all of your goals, this is where goal setting can become very discouraging.

  • Try to set yourself up for success by setting realistic goals that can be met so that you remain motivated.

  • Goals can always be updated or progressed if/when they are met .

4. Set smaller short-term goals that lead to the bigger long-term goal

  • It is important to consider the many steps that allow us to progress towards our long-term goals and utilize these as short-term goals along the way to keep us in check and motivated.

  • If we set smaller short-term goals, we are more likely to have success in achieving some or all of the goals we create and we are more likely to know if or when we need to adjust our long term goal to make it more achievable.

5. Identify barriers to achieving goals

  • Barriers are anything that can limit or prevent you from achieving your goal.

  • Identifying or anticipating potential barriers before they occur can help you to avoid being derailed from your path to achieving your goal.

  • Example: Unable to perform strength training 1 day per week due to COVID related gym closure.

6. Plan for barriers and how to overcome them

  • Having a plan in place for how to adjust in the event that you do meet a barrier can significantly decrease stress associated with hitting a barrier and can allow you to get back on track much more quickly.

  • Example: Have some resistance equipment at home that allows you to continue with a modified strengthening program while the gym remains closed.

As we go full steam ahead into 2022, we hope this helps inspire you to set some new goals for yourself. If you need help or guidance creating or achieving your fitness goals, we are always here to help.

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We strive to be the number one physical therapy provider in Wilmington, Delaware for those who refuse to quit.

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