Using the Principles of ABA to Meet Your Fitness Goals

Published November 30, 2022
two women on exercise mat doing situps

I bet we’ve all said, or have heard a loved one say “I want to get fit,” “I need to lose some weight,” or “I need to get back to the gym!” It’s a popular desire to want to be healthy and fit, but why do so many struggle with starting and maintaining the health programs they chose? Well, if we look at this through a behavioral lens it’s a bit clearer to see that motivation dissipates quickly as the effort it takes to reach these goals increases and how burdensome the daily tasks can become when planning and preparation aren’t accounted for.

The best way to overcome these common barriers is to use a SMART goal system. If you’re a teacher or work in the business world you may have heard this acronym before and maybe even use it! Well, it works great for health and fitness too! The first step in a health and fitness journey is to identify what your overall or long term goal is, it can be something very specific (running a marathon on a certain date), or something a bit more vague (I want to lose weight and increase my energy to keep up with my kids). This is often referred to as your “why.” On difficult days where you question what you are doing, or the method in which you are doing it, thinking back on your why can often get you back on course. What is your why?

Now that you have your long term goal and your ‘why’ behind it, let’s get into the planning of how to accomplish it! The SMART goal system at work:

Long Term Goal: Increase flexibility, balance, and strength

  • Specific: identify what needs to be done in order to achieve your goal – what steps need to be taken to get there?
    • Learn Yoga
    • Try different types of yoga: Vinyasa, Hatha, Core, Kundalini, Restorative, etc to find what is the best fit, or if a mix of them is best.
  • Measurable: set clear criteria for each step.
    • Start with beginner yoga classes – online, local yoga studio, free community-based classes
      • 2-3 times per week to build a foundational skill set
    • Increase level of intensity as ability increases (this is easier with in person classes where the expertise of the instructor can be relied upon).
      • Increase to 5 times per week as endurance and strength allow
  • Achievable: steps and criteria for success should be realistic and attainable.
    • In other words, don’t set yourself up for failure! If you know that you will never be able to participate in yoga (online or in person) 5 times a week don’t make that part of your goal. Instead, evaluate what you will realistically be able to do.
  • Relevant: aligns with values and the overall goal
    • Example: Yoga will help me improve flexibility, balance, and build strength
    • Non-example: Walking will help me improve flexibility, balance, and build strength.
  • Time-Bound: specific date and/or time for completion (again the long term goal may or may not be time-bound at first, but smaller “checkpoint” goals should be).
    • Example long term goal has no specific time frame
    • Check-points should include regular (each class) mindful check-ins with your body and its progress. Thankfully with yoga this is inherently part of the class!
      • Are your poses deeper?
      • Are you able to hold them longer?
      • Is your balance improving?

You might be thinking at this point, that seems like a lot of work! And, you’re right, it is. Setting up and planning for goals is very front loaded, but it’s what sets you up for success. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said “a goal without a plan is just a wish.”


Written by Kerry Burnett, BCBA, LBA 

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