Hampshire Regional YMCA


A great way to gain confidence is to achieve goals you’ve set. That’s right, being successful at a task helps your confidence! Make sure your goals are achievable yet challenging enough that you’ll feel like you really accomplished something. Set multiple mini-goals along the way to your bigger goals as well.

Your job is to set some goals for yourself and plan out how you will achieve them. Instead of setting a weight or size goal, let’s make this a fitness-related one. Focusing on what you can DO with your body, rather than how it looks or how much it weighs, will also help you gain more self-confidence!

Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound. By including these details, you not only clearly know when you’ve reached your goal, but also you are more likely to succeed! In general, the more details (including sub-goals and objectives), the better.

  • Specific: applies to the desired outcome and includes details
  • Measurable: how will you know you’ve reached your goal if you can’t measure the end result? Use objective measures (reps/sets, weight, miles)
  • Attainable: is this realistic for you based on your background, experience, current status?
  • Relevant: is this goal really what you want, or applies to your life? Does it have meaning?
  • Time-bound: pick a timeframe that allows sufficient time to be successful (don’t rush it!) and that still puts some pressure on you to push yourself


A not-so-smart goal: to do overhand pull-ups

A SMART goal: to do 3 overhand pull-ups in a row with good form and without assistance by 4 weeks from today (main goal)

 A personal trainer is a great resource for helping you clarify your goals and set up a program to help you meet them! Even if you have a lot of experience, trainers can come up with innovative ideas to help you be more successful.

Performance accomplishments help us build confidence!

Doing activities and being successful—this is the number one thing that increases confidence! How much it helps depends on how hard you think the task is, the amount of effort you put in as well as how much guidance you get from others, and how quickly you succeed.

  • What does this mean for exercise? Make lots of smaller, exercise-based goals (SMART goals) that are challenging yet doable! Examples: getting one more good repetition in, putting in 5% more effort for 10 extra seconds, going an extra 5 minutes with your cardio.

 Other tools you can use:

  • Vicarious experiences: Watch others being successful at what you want to do. The less experience you have, the more you’ll rely on others’ input. Also, the more you are like the “model,” the more likely you will benefit.
    • What does this mean for exercise? Find someone who can do what you want and who is like you—watch them, talk with them, practice what they’re doing. Key point: make sure they’re doing it correctly and safely!
  • Verbal persuasion: Use positive self-talk (and feedback from others) to convince yourself that you are doing a good job. Be realistic and listen to people with good knowledge.
    • What does this mean for exercise? Talk to yourself in your head while you work out, and/or use a friend, trainer, or other person with knowledge to give you positive feedback on what you’re doing. Celebrate your accomplishments! Example: that was awesome, I did 3 more reps than I thought I could!
  • Physiological arousal: Listen to what your body is telling you about your exercise abilities–are you tired? Do you feel your muscles “burning” as you lift? Do you feel your breathing getting heavier? Is this changing over time as you get stronger/more fit?
    • What does this mean for exercise? Pay attention to your internal experience–use mindfulness practices as you exercise, rather than tuning out to music or the TV. Use these to push yourself a little further!

Other factors that influence self-confidence in exercise:

  • Get more experience! Learn more skills—get a trainer, attend group fitness classes, use the quick-start training, work out with an experienced buddy
  • Find your “sweet spot”: your work should be “optimally challenging”—hard enough to be really challenged, but actually DO-ABLE. This will give you intrinsic motivation—you want to do it just for you, not for an outside goal!
  • Stop comparing yourself to others, especially others that aren’t anything like you. Compare yourself to your own performance, instead, and make new small goals that you can reach every day!
  • Be in control of your own experience: plan out your workouts ahead of time—make sure they are reasonable and achievable!
  • Surround yourself with supportive, awesome people. Talk to the staff, let them know what your goals are, and when you’re successful. Ask a friend to help you celebrate your victories!
  • Work toward doing this for YOU and how good success feels, rather than something outside of you like a new pair of shoes or a vacation.