07/26/2013 01:36 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2013

3 Ways Data Can Help You Set a Better Goal

Most of us have an ideal state of fitness we'd like to achieve, but getting there is another story. Setting goals can be a great motivator for pushing yourself -- whether that means running a half marathon or losing a few pesky pounds. Just the process alone of getting a target in writing keeps you accountable, even if you fall off track from time to time. What's more, the data we collect along the way to achieving that goal is powerful, and can transform how we go about improving our fitness.

Here are three ways you can start to use data to set and achieve better fitness goals:

1. Treat data tracking like a journal.
Countless success stories feature food journaling as a great way to lose weight. People who journal are typically more successful in their weight loss because they can identify patterns in what they're eating right (or wrong) over time. The same can be said of tracking fitness data. Tracking helps you identify which days or weeks are better than others, and why.

Whenever you head out for a workout, keep tabs on things like the time of day, speed, elevation climbs and mileage. This type of journaling can push you to be more consistent in your fitness, which is a big part of hitting any goal. While tracking all that data may seem like a lot at first, once you've started to collect stats on your workouts -- even over a short period of time -- you can start digging in and making the most of that information, by switching up certain variables to find the right recipe for success.

2. Measure along the way, and hold yourself accountable for small goals.
I'm all for setting an aggressive, long-term goals -- I'm the CEO of a startup, after all, but data can help break big lofty ambitions into more digestible month-by-month or week-by-week targets.

If you're looking to lose weight, for example, rather than thinking about it all in one big chunk, break that into the calorie counts per week needed to meet that goal, and watch as your workouts chip away at those! (Pairing an app like RunKeeper with a nutrition tracker like MyFitnessPal can take the guesswork out of this process, too.) You can also push yourself to burn more calories this week than you did the week before, for an added challenge.

Targeting a certain time and pace for a race is a popular type of running goal, and one where it's easy to get unrealistic pretty fast. Most newbie marathoners aren't going to qualify for Boston on their first go at it, now, are they? Rather than pulling a new personal best time goal out of thin air, examine what your average pace has been over the last several months or weeks. Make it a goal to improve that pace by a small but significant increment (say 10 seconds per mile). Once you've hit that target, you can push yourself faster the next week!

Closely monitoring and measuring your progress by the week also helps ensure you won't be leaving an unrealistic amount of work to be done in the final weeks before the goal's deadline.

3. Learn from failure instead of giving up.
If you do fall short of a goal, it's important to not give up altogether. You can use data from your past weeks or months to find out why you fell short. Maybe the goal you set was too unrealistic. If you set out to exercise five times a week and only made it to two on a regular basis, adjust your goal to working out three times a week. And work really hard at achieving a smaller milestone first!

In a case where you do fall short of a goal you set, data can help make smart decisions about what to do next, instead of acting on sheer emotion and throwing in the towel. It never feels great to fail, but it can feel a lot better if you just hit the reset button and set a more achievable goal for yourself. Maybe you aren't even close to running your 1,200 miles for 2013. But going for 500 miles is better than staying on the couch, right?

At this point, you can also look back on the data to set a better course of action for this modified goal. Were you more likely to exercise in the mornings than evenings? Then set the alarm clock earlier every day and stop tricking yourself into thinking you'll get out there after work. Are Sundays are best for you because you're well rested? Plan the tough workouts for then. Tracking your exercise data along the way can make it easy to draw these conclusions and adjust.

When it comes to getting better over time, data (and the convenient, seamless way your smartphone tracks and analyzes it), can be great tools for chasing down tough targets. In addition to helping you recognize how you can improve, you can see how far you've come and be proud of the accomplishments you reach. There's an awesome community of people out there tracking and encouraging others along the way, too -- so you'll be in good company!

Has tracking helped you set better fitness goals in the past? How?

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