How to Set Smart Movement-based Goals for Guaranteed Success

Table of contents

How to Set Smart Movement-based Goals for Guaranteed Success

So, I’m sure you've all heard of SMART goals right? They are those goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and with a Timeframe. So, how do manage chronic pain with SMART goals?

In this article we delve into this and some other important concepts – scaffolding, progression and variation – that are worth considering before you start a new movement-based program to help manage chronic pain. We want to set you up for guaranteed success, here's how...

Why are movement goals important?

We know it's critical to stay moving when you live with pain, and there are some really simple ways you can bring movement into your everyday life. Just sit less and move more – any movement!

Decades of research on physical activity shows that the most dramatic improvement in health happens when you go from little to no physical activity to engaging in a very small amount of activity1. And how you go about that is related to how you set your movement-based goals.

How do I set specific goals for managing pain?

There are a couple of ways to categorize your goals:

Length: Set short-term (1-3 months) and long-term (6-12 months) goals.

Type: Set process goals – about achieving a behavior, such as to get in the habit of exercising – and outcome goals – about achieving performance on some fitness or health measure, such as to lower cholesterol.

Usually, short-term goals are process goals, and long-term goals are outcome goals, but you can always have a mix of both.

Here is what that might look like to, for example, lower cholesterol levels:

  • By the end of this month, I will start getting into the habit of exercising (short-term process goal).
  • By the end of next month, I will increase the amount of physical activity I do (another short-term process goal).
  • By the end of the third month, I will decrease my total cholesterol by 5 points (a short-term outcome goal).
  • By the end of 6 months, I will regularly meet the physical activity guidelines each week (a long-term process goal).
  • By the end of 9 months, my total cholesterol will be in the “good” category (a long-term outcome goal).

So let's explore some other important components:

Scaffolding

Scaffolding means that things should build on each other. You lay a foundation, then add the next layer, then the next layer, then the next layer, in order. You want your goals to scaffold into each other – to be related to support each other over time.

So, pick a couple of short-term goals that feed into a specific long-term goal; for example a 1-month, 3-month, and 6-month goal that are all related, and make your short-term outcome goals mimic the long-term goal to ensure you keep making reasonable progress.

Your goals should change over time and scaffold one to the next. This means that while you will plan to increase your lifestyle physical activity in small ways initially, in the longer term you can work towards extended blocks of physical activity in whatever way is suitable to your particular situation.

Progression

A common question I often get around goal setting is, “Eric, how much do I increase my physical activity and how often?”

The current recommendations for exercise with fibromyalgia are to progress by 10% every three weeks. Therefore, if you spend one minute being active during your break this week, you should do the same next week, but the week after, move for 66 seconds on your sitting break. It might not sound like much, but if you are taking a break every 30 minutes it quickly adds up!

With resistance exercises, such as squats, I encourage people to do 8 repetitions of everything and the current guidelines also recommend performing three sets of 8 repetitions. However, you can start with a single set if you need to and build up to three sets over time.

The principle of progression is key in exercise science, and it's important that you don't go any faster than 10% every third week. Even if you think, “eight squats is a joke, I bet I could do 30,” don’t. Pace yourself. It will make sure you build the necessary base of fitness now to support yourself 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, and 10 years later.

Variation

Another key principle of exercise science is variation – trying something new. There are benefits to doing different physical activities, not the least of which is that it keeps things interesting! If you only ever do the same thing, it gets boring, and boredom increases the chances that you will fall off the wagon.

So when planning your fitness, plot out when you want to switch things up.

You can change things day to day. Recent guidelines on exercise for fibromyalgia recommend alternating land-based and water-based exercise throughout the week. So, you might choose to walk or cycle Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and swim or walk in water Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

If changing day to day is too much of a hassle, consider alternating on a monthly basis. January you will roller skate, and February you will do Zumba. I would also recommend trying something completely new once or twice a year. Walking barefoot, hiking in the mountains, rock climbing, Pilates… whatever floats your boat!

How else can I set successful movement-based goals?

Be flexible. When you write your goals, always write them in pencil so you can easily change them to fit the reality. Some months you’ll progress faster than expected, some months slower. Try to keep in mind that we are playing the long long long game – I’m talking decades long. A single week or month is insignificant compared to 30 or 40 years.

Be realistic. When making a plan, think about the times when you absolutely know you will not be exercising. These tend to be holidays and busy work periods. Block those off as breaks from your physical activity. If you can still take your breaks from sitting, great, but I wouldn’t worry too much about anything else.

Want more?

If you want to get started but feel nervous or want some more support to bring exercise into your daily life, MoreGoodDays® now have a follow-on program (written and narrated by me, called “Exercise for Pain”). This 4-week program will really unpack some of these concepts, great exercises, and important behavior-change techniques including motivation. So, please get in touch with us if you might be interested to find out more.

Also, if you want to share your goals, stay motivated and share the journey with people who understand, maybe you would like to join in the conversation about keeping moving and living well with fibromyalgia in our Facebook Community.

  1. Piercy, K. L., Troiano, R. P., Ballard, R. M., Carlson, S. A., Fulton, J. E., Galuska, D. A., . . . Olson, R. D. (2018). The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. JAMA, 320(19), 2020-2028. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.14854

How to Set Smart Movement-based Goals for Guaranteed Success

Table of contents

How to Set Smart Movement-based Goals for Guaranteed Success

So, I’m sure you've all heard of SMART goals right? They are those goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and with a Timeframe. So, how do manage chronic pain with SMART goals?

In this article we delve into this and some other important concepts – scaffolding, progression and variation – that are worth considering before you start a new movement-based program to help manage chronic pain. We want to set you up for guaranteed success, here's how...

Why are movement goals important?

We know it's critical to stay moving when you live with pain, and there are some really simple ways you can bring movement into your everyday life. Just sit less and move more – any movement!

Decades of research on physical activity shows that the most dramatic improvement in health happens when you go from little to no physical activity to engaging in a very small amount of activity1. And how you go about that is related to how you set your movement-based goals.

How do I set specific goals for managing pain?

There are a couple of ways to categorize your goals:

Length: Set short-term (1-3 months) and long-term (6-12 months) goals.

Type: Set process goals – about achieving a behavior, such as to get in the habit of exercising – and outcome goals – about achieving performance on some fitness or health measure, such as to lower cholesterol.

Usually, short-term goals are process goals, and long-term goals are outcome goals, but you can always have a mix of both.

Here is what that might look like to, for example, lower cholesterol levels:

  • By the end of this month, I will start getting into the habit of exercising (short-term process goal).
  • By the end of next month, I will increase the amount of physical activity I do (another short-term process goal).
  • By the end of the third month, I will decrease my total cholesterol by 5 points (a short-term outcome goal).
  • By the end of 6 months, I will regularly meet the physical activity guidelines each week (a long-term process goal).
  • By the end of 9 months, my total cholesterol will be in the “good” category (a long-term outcome goal).

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So let's explore some other important components:

Scaffolding

Scaffolding means that things should build on each other. You lay a foundation, then add the next layer, then the next layer, then the next layer, in order. You want your goals to scaffold into each other – to be related to support each other over time.

So, pick a couple of short-term goals that feed into a specific long-term goal; for example a 1-month, 3-month, and 6-month goal that are all related, and make your short-term outcome goals mimic the long-term goal to ensure you keep making reasonable progress.

Your goals should change over time and scaffold one to the next. This means that while you will plan to increase your lifestyle physical activity in small ways initially, in the longer term you can work towards extended blocks of physical activity in whatever way is suitable to your particular situation.

Progression

A common question I often get around goal setting is, “Eric, how much do I increase my physical activity and how often?”

The current recommendations for exercise with fibromyalgia are to progress by 10% every three weeks. Therefore, if you spend one minute being active during your break this week, you should do the same next week, but the week after, move for 66 seconds on your sitting break. It might not sound like much, but if you are taking a break every 30 minutes it quickly adds up!

With resistance exercises, such as squats, I encourage people to do 8 repetitions of everything and the current guidelines also recommend performing three sets of 8 repetitions. However, you can start with a single set if you need to and build up to three sets over time.

The principle of progression is key in exercise science, and it's important that you don't go any faster than 10% every third week. Even if you think, “eight squats is a joke, I bet I could do 30,” don’t. Pace yourself. It will make sure you build the necessary base of fitness now to support yourself 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, and 10 years later.

Variation

Another key principle of exercise science is variation – trying something new. There are benefits to doing different physical activities, not the least of which is that it keeps things interesting! If you only ever do the same thing, it gets boring, and boredom increases the chances that you will fall off the wagon.

So when planning your fitness, plot out when you want to switch things up.

You can change things day to day. Recent guidelines on exercise for fibromyalgia recommend alternating land-based and water-based exercise throughout the week. So, you might choose to walk or cycle Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and swim or walk in water Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

If changing day to day is too much of a hassle, consider alternating on a monthly basis. January you will roller skate, and February you will do Zumba. I would also recommend trying something completely new once or twice a year. Walking barefoot, hiking in the mountains, rock climbing, Pilates… whatever floats your boat!

How else can I set successful movement-based goals?

Be flexible. When you write your goals, always write them in pencil so you can easily change them to fit the reality. Some months you’ll progress faster than expected, some months slower. Try to keep in mind that we are playing the long long long game – I’m talking decades long. A single week or month is insignificant compared to 30 or 40 years.

Be realistic. When making a plan, think about the times when you absolutely know you will not be exercising. These tend to be holidays and busy work periods. Block those off as breaks from your physical activity. If you can still take your breaks from sitting, great, but I wouldn’t worry too much about anything else.

Want more?

If you want to get started but feel nervous or want some more support to bring exercise into your daily life, MoreGoodDays® now have a follow-on program (written and narrated by me, called “Exercise for Pain”). This 4-week program will really unpack some of these concepts, great exercises, and important behavior-change techniques including motivation. So, please get in touch with us if you might be interested to find out more.

Also, if you want to share your goals, stay motivated and share the journey with people who understand, maybe you would like to join in the conversation about keeping moving and living well with fibromyalgia in our Facebook Community.