Staying Motivated: Using Goal Setting and Social Supports

Beginning a fitness journey can be both exhilarating and demanding, particularly for those new to exercise. The cornerstone of sustained success in any fitness routine is rooted in motivation and consistency. Motivation to exercise can be influenced by many things, and there are techniques that can be used to improve it. This post dives into research-supported methods to maintain your commitment, ensuring you not only embark on an exercise program, but also maintain adherence in the long run.

Setting the Right Goals: Understanding Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic and Process vs. Outcome/Performance Goals

Goal setting is a common method used to start an exercise program and motivate exercisers to continue. Wilson and Brookfield shed light on the impact of goal setting on exercise motivation and adherence in their 2009 study. Before exploring their findings, let’s break down some concepts:

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic goals, such as exercising for personal health, are driven by internal desires or needs, and have been shown to foster better adherence and motivation. On the other hand, extrinsic goals are influenced by external factors, such as exercising for attractiveness, which is motivated by a desire to appeal to others.

Process vs. Outcome vs. Performance Goals

Process-oriented goals focus on engaging in the activity itself, like maintaining a regular gym routine, and are correspondingly within the exerciser’s control. In contrast, outcome oriented goals are centered on the end result like losing weight, while performance goals emphasize outperforming others – both of which rely on factors outside of the exerciser or athlete’s control.

The Impact of Goal Setting Types on Exercise Adherence

The nature of a goal can significantly influence exercise adherence and motivation. The research by Wilson & Brookfield in 2009 provides a comparison of how different goal types affect exercise commitment:

The generalized superiority of intrinsically motivated, process-oriented goals is evident in their study. Intrinsically motivated goals, such as exercising for personal health and well-being, resonate more deeply with our internal needs and values, leading to a stronger commitment (Wilson & Brookfield, 2009). This approach encourages engagement with the activity and has resulted in greater persistence and adherence compared to extrinsically motivated goals (Vansteenkiste, 2004).  

Participants in the study who adopted process-oriented goals demonstrated not only higher adherence during an exercise program, but also maintained adherence after the study concluded (Wilson & Brookfield, 2009). This highlights a profound and lasting impact on exercise habits, contrasting with the temporary boost in motivation often associated with extrinsic or outcome-based goals, which had diminishing levels of adherence at 3 and 6 months (Wilson & Brookfield, 2009). Furthermore, outcome and performance oriented goals can cause exercisers to feel as if the reason they are exercising are out of their control – they have to exercise to meet an end. This can cause individuals to feel pressured to exercise (Wilson & Brookfield, 2009).

Other Goal Setting Considerations

Aside from the nature of a goal, setting specific goals and using a mode of exercise that an exerciser enjoys, can also boost motivation and adherence (Wilson & Brookfield, 2009). Participants that used specific goals (walk 10,000 steps a day) compared to vague goals (walk for about half an hour most days), as well as participants who selected their mode of exercise based on enjoyment as opposed to researcher selected modes, had significantly greater adherence to an exercise program (Wilson & Brookfield, 2009). 

While the previously mentioned strategies can be used for a starting point to set goals, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and responds differently (Jeong et al., 2023). For example, elite athletes may benefit from a performance goal more than a process oriented goal. With this in mind, goal setting should be collaborative and individualized, employing different strategies to find what motivates each individual best (Jeong et al., 2023).

Key Takeaway

The use of goal setting can be an excellent tool. Research suggests that intrinsically motivated goals that focus on the process of exercise improves adherence greater than goals that are extrinsically motivated or focus on the outcome of an activity (Wilson & Brookfield, 2009). That being said, goal setting should be individualized to maximize the benefits of goal setting (Jeong et al., 2023). 

Social Support and Professional Guidance as a Complement to Goal Setting

In addition to goal setting, the use of social support and professional coaching can be used to boost motivation and adherence. Incorporating social aspects like group exercises or buddy programs can significantly boost adherence to your fitness regimen (Lemstra et al., 2016). Using a strength and conditioning coach as a social support not only improves adherence by 65% compared to self-directed programs, but also provides safe, effective instruction and builds self-confidence in one’s ability to perform an exercise (Lemstra et al., 2016).

Key Takeaway

Integrating group classes, a workout partner, or professional coaching can significantly enhance your commitment to your fitness journey (Lemstra et al., 2016).

Conclusion: Your Path to Fitness Success

Embarking on a fitness journey with intrinsic, process-oriented goals and the right support system sets you on a path to success. By integrating the guidance of Connect Physiotherapy and Exercise’s Strength and Conditioning coaches, you not only enhance your motivation and adherence but also ensure a safer, more effective workout regimen. Remember, achieving fitness is a continuous journey, not just a one-time effort. Take the first step towards a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle by reaching out to a Connect Physiotherapy and Exercise coach today, and let’s embark on this journey together towards achieving your fitness goals.


Jeong, Y. H., Healy, L. C., & McEwan, D. (2023). The application of goal setting theory to goal setting interventions in sport: A systematic review. International review of sport and exercise psychology, 16(1), 474-499.

Lemstra, M., Bird, Y., Nwankwo, C., Rogers, M., & Moraros, J. (2016). Weight loss intervention adherence and factors promoting adherence: a meta-analysis. Patient preference and adherence, 1547-1559.

Vansteenkiste, M., Simons, J., Soenens, B., & Lens, W. (2004). How to become a persevering exerciser? Providing a clear, future intrinsic goal in an autonomy-supportive way. Journal of Sport and exercise Psychology, 26(2), 232-249.

Wilson, K., & Brookfield, D. (2009). Effect of goal setting on motivation and adherence in a six‐week exercise program. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 7(1), 89-100.

Avatar photo
Josh Langkamp

Josh is a highly skilled and committed strength and conditioning coach with a wealth of experience in physical performance enhancement and optimization. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Alberta as well as a CSCS certification from the NSCA. His perspective is enriched by his background as a boxer and his love of sports like football and hockey. Josh places a strong emphasis on individualized care and thinks that the secret to reaching objectives is well-planned exercise. Josh is a dependable guide for improving athletic performance and fitness, with aspirations to advance in his physiotherapy career.