Goal setting is a critical part of achieving real fitness success. Building a strong, healthy fitness lifestyle requires layers upon layers of hard work. It’s important to know where you’re going with all of your time and effort.

Setting goals is a skill in and of itself. If a goal is to big or too broad, you’re not likely to achieve it. If a goal is too small and easy it doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. Not setting goals and flying by the seat of your pants isn’t really an option either.

1. How many goals should you set?
This is a personal choice. Meeting goals requires personal change. Your attitudes, behaviors and beliefs must change in some way to meet your goal. If you set too many goals, you’ll find yourself facing too much change and failure is more likely. However, if you don’t push yourself at least a little you won’t get out of your comfort zone and work hard to reach your goals.

Rely on your experience with setting and achieving goals. How many goals did you set last year? How many did you meet? Did you find only setting one or two goals wasn’t enough? Or did you find setting seven or eight goals was too much? Start by writing out your goals regardless of how many there are. Review your list and think about what’s important? Think about how much time you have available to work on your goals. Give it a little time and you’ll find the right number of goals for you.

2. Make your goals specific.
Setting specific goals that are measurable, realistic and achievable gives you a great opportunity to meet your goals and create a habit of constant improvement. The more specific your goal the more you understand the work you must do. For example, setting a goal of losing 20 pounds is good but its not very specific. How are you going to lose the 20 pounds? What activities or behaviors do you have to meet to achieve the goal? “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year” is a very different goal than “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year and keep it off by reducing my daily calories to 2,500, keeping my fat and sugar intake within range and working out Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week.” This kind of specificity helps you identify the steps you need to take to create an achievable goal.

3. Make your goals measurable.
“You can’t improve what you don’t measure” is a well-known quote that offers a lot of value. Certainly, there are things you can’t measure well such as willpower and motivation. But you can measure things that are important to your success. For example, its easy to keep track of the days you make it to the gym. If your goal is 3 times per week, you can track your progress over time. If your goal is to reduce calories you can record your eating and approximate how many calories you’re eating. Putting things in black and white make them real. Be honest with yourself and know what you are doing.