Goal Setting Systems for Fitness

Published by Jason Narog on

Goal setting

Let’s talk about systems you can use to reach your fitness goals. A system is anything you can use to your advantage to get the gains you’re looking for while maintaining a minimal impact to your regular life. I’m going to stay away from “gadgets” and try to stick more to using your immediate environment as a system to get what you want.

It is worth noting that things come up, and accomplishing all of your goals is unrealistic. If you hit 100% of your goals, well, you’re not very good at setting goals. Goals should take work to accomplish. But if you only hit 50% of your goals then you either A) set too difficult of goals or B) didn’t really want to meet your goals. Let’s just aim in the middle for 75%. And we’ll use these systems below to reach them.


Get yourself a friend who won’t put up with your nonsense. You need to check in with your accountabilibuddy at a predetermined interval or else they will do … something. This something is going to vary depending on you and the deal you worked out with them. Here are some examples of what you can have your accountabilibuddy do depending on your comfort level –

  • Shame you on social media. I believe I heard this one originally on the I’m Not You Sports Motivation podcast, although at one point when I started this blog I was planning on making a tool that would let you (the reader) post on your Facebook timeline “Hey I’m taking the 11 minute ab challenge. If I don’t post on Facebook X times per week that I did my ab workout please publicly shame me” or something to that affect. Then I learned Facebook changed their terms of service and won’t let me program a message for you anymore so I scrapped the idea and moved on to other things.  Niyi’s gimmick was posting on Instagram that he had to complete a bunch of podcasts in a limited amount of time and wanted fans to bug him to check on his progress. If you don’t want someone to shame you (or don’t have someone who is willing to do this for you) then this probably won’t work for you.
  • Anti-Charity system. I’ve heard Sean use this before to try and get back into yoga, and I’ve heard of this in a book I listened to during the same week. Google has articles on this topic dating back to 2013, and there are websites like StickK that figured out how to monetize the idea (I haven’t tried this website, I ran across it googling while writing this article.) Basically you put X dollars on the line if you don’t stick to your promised goals. I’m assuming that StickK website doubles as an accountabilibuddy, as the system I’ve heard outlined involves you giving your friend money and tell him if you don’t check in with him X times per week (or month or whatever you agree to) then they’re to take that money and donate it to some charity you hate. If we’re talking politics think having to donate to the RNC if you’re a democrat or the DNC if you’re a republican. Or maybe you donate to the NRA when you hate guns. Or whatever charity is the complete opposite of everything you hold near and dear to you.
  • Very Proactive Positive Spin Version – Your accountabilibuddy texts you before you’re supposed to be somewhere (let’s say you take an exercise class at 6pm so they text you at 4:30 to make sure you’re still going) then offer words of encouragement to get you moving. Maybe you’re having a rough day at work (everyone has those right?) and have decided that you don’t plan on going to the class that day. Said friend may be able to convince you via text, chat program, phone call, or face to face that going is in your best interest. Maybe they get really really proactive and drive you. That kind of behavior is screaming AA sponsor in my head, but hey, go find someone who is both a fitness nut and an AA sponsor (there are a lot of these people out there) and they’ll probably do this for you, because they want to see you succeed. I’m not trying to knock AA here, I just realize that this group is probably easy for others to relate to in the type of personality I’m trying to describe.
  • Hour After / Day After Person – This may work for others but it personally doesn’t work for me. If you don’t make it to your training session have someone text / email / call / carrier pigeon you about it after the fact. Something like “Hey, we missed you yesterday. Hope all is well. ” This could either be from a group fitness instructor (where I’ve seen it used in the wild) or your accountabilibuddy messaging you to see what happened to you after they got their workout in without you. I feel like this hits the guilt portion of the human brain and may serve as motivation to avoid having someone ask you why you didn’t make it to somewhere you should be.

Hire Someone (like a personal trainer)

The accountabilibuddy is essentially the role a personal trainer plays in someone’s life (outside of making sure you don’t do something really stupid while exercising and totally mess up your [insert body part here.]) They motivate you to work out, they take your money so you have a financial interest in showing up on time to a particular location, and you’re emotionally / mentally invested in them / they are in you. Personal trainers are great (at least the great ones are.) Having to be somewhere at X sharp (with a 24 hour cancellation policy so if you get sick or are going to be out of town you can cancel within reason) where someone is physically waiting for you to show up can be motivating. I’ve become pretty bad with time lately but I’m never late to work out with my personal trainer. And I never cancel. I’m guaranteed to work out at least once a week (I only go to a personal trainer once a week) because I have to be there. It’s not really about the money either, as most of us spend cash on big box gym memberships we never use (or Netflix subscriptions, cable TV packages where we watch 3 of our 2,000 channels, etc, etc.)

Hire Someone (like a personal / virtual assistant)

My brain is screaming at me that Tim Ferriss told me to hire a virtual assistant in The 4 Hour Work Week for no other reason than to get used to managing someone. You’re basically going to be paying someone to email or message you at set times to remind you to go do something. Think of this as a paid for accountabilibuddy. They’ll message you X hours before you need to go train to remind you that you need to go train. You can also give this assistant your social media passwords to go post on your behalf so they can publicly shame you from your own account. Or you could have them be nice about the whole thing and do whatever it is you want them to do as instructions.

If you go the virtual assistant route you can always assign them to complete the next suggestion on the list for you as well.

A Checklist with a Pen and Paper

This one requires you to be your own accountabilibuddy and also requires you to be someone who likes checklists. There have been studies that show writing things down frees up the clutter in your brain to allow you to think about other things so this could be helpful on helping you focus. I might start using this one for my morning pills (I take hydrogen for recovery and an amino acid) if I have any more days where I ask myself “Did I remember to take my pills?” Then again, I also wonder if I locked my door if I’m juggling more than 1 thing on the way out the door (minimalism can help with this, less things to focus on) [I always do actually lock my door] and I don’t really want to write that down as a task to check off my list (remember my intro about not setting really simple tasks so you can accomplish 100% of your goals?) so I’ll probably leave this one well alone.

Having something like:

  • Morning Stretch / Vitamins
  • Afternoon Run
  • Group Fitness Class 6:30PM

doesn’t sound like an overly complicated / too easy of a checklist to accomplish either. That afternoon run may get stomped on by an unexpected meeting with a coworker, or a sick child, or a call from the principal about your child, or …

We’re shooting for 75%. If that’s your to do list 4x a week and you take your vitamins every day (this one seems like something you should do 100% of the time), stretch 3x, run 3x, and make it to 3 of your fitness classes that seems pretty solid to me (9 out of 12, or 3 out of 4, or 75%.)

Set out to make this plan on your off day / chore day / laundry day that way you’re good and ready to go for the week. If you’re like me and you pack your gym bags for the week on a specific day add this checklist system to that day. If you meal prep as well, well do it that same day.

Pro Tips

A word of warning though – I have a similar system to this on my phone calendar. I have my group Muay Thai class listed on my calendar 4x a week [Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday.] The head instructor wants us there at least 2x a week. So… I can rationalize in my mind that if I miss Monday and Tuesday I can still make the 2x by going Thursday / Friday. But that train of thought doesn’t account for things like last second work meetings / projects and other life duties.

My calendar on my phone shows me the entire month at one time, so I see all these events all at once. And it let’s me find ways to rationalize not doing something to still hit my numbers. If you have your to do list showing only 1 day at a time then you have to take things 1 day at a time. If work or life obligations appear for something you had planned for a Friday on a Tuesday, go update your to do list for that day while still focusing on what you need to accomplish for that particular day.


Things come up, things happen. You can only control what you can control.  But having someone (or something like a to do list) around to try and keep you on track can at least attempt to help you better manage what you’re looking to accomplish. Try one (or all) of the systems suggested above and let me know which one(s) worked for you.

Also, if you’re reading this and you see it’s Sunday and see I haven’t posted the latest Workout of the Week #gbifwow, go jump on the Instagram and message me asking me why I didn’t do it.