3 Mistakes People Make When Setting Fitness Goals, According to Jen Widerstrom

Set yourself up for success in 2020 and beyond with these take-home tips from the trainer.

January is a familiar time for goal setting, brainstorming, and committing to new things, particularly health and fitness goals. But where many people go wrong—and what sets them up to abandon their plan almost immediately—is that they choose goals that don't make sense for them. (BTW, it's OK to quit your New Year's resolutions sometimes.)

This year, I want to help you avoid that. So I'm going to outline the biggest mistakes I see people make when it comes to setting fitness goals, specifically. Then, I'm walk you through a process for setting goals that will allow you to achieve more than you ever thought possible.

Mistake #1: Treating your body like the enemy.

Simply put: When you fight against your body, it's going to fight back.

When you start a new fitness and nutrition plan, you're asking your body to do a ton of new stuff. Most of the time, you're working out a ton, stressing a bunch, not eating as much as you usually do, and not sleeping enough. And because you're working so hard, you can't understand why you're not seeing the results you want.

If you think about your body was a disgruntled worker, it would be overworked and underpaid. No wonder your body isn't doing what you want. You're ignoring it and bossing it around. Cravings, fatigue, and a scale that won't budge are all signs of your body rebelling.

Mistake #2: Using social media to define your goals.

Social media has become a huge part of the fitness and health world. But social media also not-so-subtly tells you what your body should look like. Before you know it, you're doing certain workout programming because you want to look like the person who created it or copying the diet of a famous influencer for the same reason. (

Here's the thing: It's like baking a cake and only using half of the ingredients. Because eating the same food and doing the same workouts as someone you see online isn't going to mimic their exact same results.

When you search for answers outside of yourself, you lose the power to make your own choices. Don't look to social media to tell you what to do with your body. You know what to do with your body. (And if you're not sure, keep reading. I've got you.)

Mistake #3: Choosing goals that don't make sense for you right now.

Most people come at fitness goals thinking, 'let's just get this shit done', and go all-in with fast and drastic changes. They're on their best behavior for a few weeks, but it's hard because their plan is so extreme. Eventually, they fall off the wagon. This is why the planning stage of goal-setting is so key. You need to understand the why and how behind the mission. That's what will set you up for success.

With all of that in mind, here is the step-by-step guide that helps you make incremental progress toward crushing any goal. (P.S. Check out my ultimate 40-Day challenge to help you tackle any goal.)

Goal-Setting: A Step-By-Step Guide to Success

Step 1: Look back.

Before you can effectively plan ahead, you have to look back. Do a review of your health and fitness goals and behaviors during the past year. Ask yourself: What went well and what didn't? Think about it. Write it down if you need.

It's important that this process does not come from a place of judgment, but rather from a place of research. I'm not asking you relive your entire year, but you can use your past experiences to say, 'I know what threw me off, what helped me stay on track, and where I need to go'.

And try not to get hung up on stuff that didn't work out. Just be curious. If you didn't do so well with a goal, ask yourself why. What was going on in your life at the time? Was there anything you could have done differently?

Step 2: Include your body's point of view.

Your body is your home; your anchor. Start to treat it that way. Many people treat houses, cars, and dogs, better than their own bodies. Admittedly, I meal prep for my dog, but I don't always do it for myself!

Now, it's totally okay to want to change your body. Whether it's weight loss, getting stronger, gaining weight, or whatever else, you need to include your body in whatever fitness program you choose. So ask yourself:

  • What is your natural/healthy weight? Not your "high school" or "skinny jeans" weight. Where do you naturally feel happiest and healthiest? (See: How You'll Know When You've Reached Your Goal Weight)
  • What is my metabolism like right now? Have you dieted a lot already? Are you pre-menopausal or menopausal? Both of these situations can impact your metabolism.
  • What is my schedule like? How many days a week can you really make it to the gym? Then, what time most days would you be able to work out?
  • What do my relationships need? How much attention do you need to give to children, your partner, your family, and your friends? How much energy will that require?

Knowing where you stand in all these areas will help you gauge what you can reasonably take on right now. Prepare yourself to only take on what you can realistically commit energy toward.

Step 3: Pick a goal that's for you, not about you.

Last year during the 40-day challenge, I had everyone in our SHAPE Goal Crushers Facebook group pick three goals to work on that had nothing to do with anyone else.

No one could do it.

People kept coming up with goals that had to do with their kids, their spouse, their work—anything but themselves. People really struggle with this.

Take some time to write down one or more goals that are truly for you and only you. Some examples of goals that are just for you are:

  • Improve my mile run time because running makes me feel strong and powerful.
  • Go to CrossFit twice a week because I love how I feel after lifting weights.
  • Commit to cooking dinner at home three nights a week because it's healthier than going out and improves my relationship with food. (See: Everything You Need to Stick with Your Resolution to Cook More)
  • Lose 15 pounds to get back to my "healthy, happy weight" because I like how I look and feel at that weight.

Some of you will have one goal. Maybe you can only handle one new thing—that's totally fine. Some of you will have more than one goal. That's awesome too.

Step 4: Always do your prep work.

Now that you've chosen your goal and set the stage, you're ready for the most tactical step. This part is about recognizing what you need to do to help achieve your goal and writing it down. Take five minutes and write out what you need to do today to get to your goal tomorrow or the next day or month. It can be super simple. Here's an example of what your list could look like:

  1. Breakfast: protein and carb
  2. Lunch: protein and vegetables
  3. Dinner: protein, carb, wine
  4. Work out
  5. Meditate five minutes
  6. Watch The Office

Anything that you want to see happen in your day, write it down. It's not just a to-do list. It's a life list, so you can put fun and easy stuff on there, too. Sometimes I honestly write "shower" because it's an easy thing to cross-off.

Step 5: Make time for mindset maintenance.

The power of positivity is a real thing.

As you work toward your goal, make sure you stop to smile and remember that you're alive. It might be hard to work toward your goals at times but embrace the difficulty. This is good.

You get to be a part of your day. You get to be a part of these goals. You get to do this.

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