"The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score"
One of the many reasons people aren't successful at reaching their fitness goals, is that their fitness goals aren't S.M.A.R.T. The number one goal I get from clients is weight loss, so that's the example I'm going to work with, but you can apply this goal setting approach to any type of goal.
So, let's say you "want to lose weight". Great, you know what you want to achieve, but now what? How are you going to get there? The truth of the matter is, no matter how hard you try, or how badly you want it, you can't just "lose weight". You have no control over this. You need a plan. You need a S.M.A.R.T goal. Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based.
Specific- "I want to lose weight" is not specific. "I want to lose 20lbs" is more specific but "I want to lose 2lbs/week by exercising 4 days/ week, eating 5 small meals and drinking 2 L of water" is even better.
Measureable- we can measure weight loss on a scale, take girth measurements and use callipers or other tools to calculate body fat percentage. You know if you are exercising 4 days per week if you are doing it, and you can physically measure your food and water intake and track them in a food journal.
Attainable: your goal should be realistic. If your goal is lose 20lbs in one week... not so realistic (or healthy) but losing 20lbs in 10 weeks is much more attainable (and healthy). Setting an attainable goal also sets you up for success. Who wants to fail? Not me. Set something you can achieve so you can win!
This will help motivate you to keep going and to set new goals.
Realistic- is it realistic to set a goal of working out 6 days a week if you've never worked out before, work two jobs, take night classes and have 2 kids? Probably not. Set a goal that you can commit to. Maybe start with 2-3 times a week and see how that goes. If after a couple weeks you feel you can do more, great! Re-evaluate and set a new goal! Again, set a goal you can win at!
Time-based- when you were a kid, if your teacher gave you an assignment without a deadline, how likely would you be to finish it? Have a deadline and mark it on your calendar. I used to write "shopping trip" in my day timer because by then I would need new clothes ;)
Of course your fitness goal doesn't have to be weight based at all. You can set a S.M.A.R.T goal to run a 10k, take the stairs without losing your breath, run around with the grandkids, do a fitness competition... the possibilities are endless. I prefer setting performance based goals over outcome goals. An outcome goal is to lose __lbs. A performance goal is to workout 3 days/week. You can't control an outcome and but you can control your behavior.
Now that you know how to set S.M.A.R.T goals, you can get to work on setting yours!