I have learned a lot over the years about goals and goal setting and I would like to share my personal philosophy with you in case anyone might find it useful. My insights are without question not ground breaking and likely are written down elsewhere by people much smarter then myself but I do not recall ever seeing it put together like this so I want to put it down. The thoughts that I consider “new” are at the end so don’t get bored reading the standard goal setting theory at the beginning.
Now before anyone gets too excited about my mad goal setting skills, I feel I should disclose that I had set a goal to write this post over the weekend… last weekend. So take all of this with a grain of salt.
Now let’s begin. I have done some personal training and weight management consultations over the years and have heard a lot of goals. The most common goals are “I want to loose some weight” or “I want to get in better shape”. Let’s look at these goals for a moment.
Anyone who has taken a corporate goal setting seminar will tell you that goals need to be measureable and time limited. How do you know that you have succeeded or failed to reach your goals? If you lose 5 lbs in a month, have you succeeded? Maybe you had envisioned loosing more weight or maybe a longer term plan to maintain the weight loss.
Let’s be very specific about what we want to achieve and when we want to achieve it by. Good examples would be “lose 10lbs by Oct 31”, “be able to run 3 miles at 12 minute pace by Nov 15th”, or “lose 10lbs by Oct 31 and keep it off until after Jan 15th”. These goals allow you a very clear pass or fail criteria for each goal. You either reach the goal or not.
Great! Now we know when we have reached our goals! We are done right? Not quite. Let’s talk briefly about long term versus short term goals. This is very important when, like me, you have very big goals. I need to lose on the order of 80 lbs and I am eager to take another crack at an Ironman Triathlon. I could easily say “Lose 80 lbs in 12 months” or “Complete an Ironman within 3 years” but those goals are huge and can easily overwhelm you. Also, I have learned that maintaining a difficult lifestyle change (exercise programs and diets for example) is often only possible with some steady achievements to keep you motivated. You need something in front of you that you can focus on and achieve in a reasonable time. Examples are “I will lose 5 lbs in two weeks” or even better is several tiers of goals that feed into each other. Long term goal “I will complete an Ironman in 2016”. Mid term goal might be “Complete an Olympic distance Triathlon in 2014” with the short term goals to support that being “be able to swim 500m without rest by Feb 1st of 2014 (I am a terrible swimmer), be able to comfortably ride 12 miles by December 1st, and be able to complete a 5k run using a 4-1 run walk ratio by March 1st”. I like to create goals that build towards the long term goal (start training – finish a short race – finish a longer race – be prepared for the big race).
That is all great and is text book goal setting but I have spent years doing goals like this and failing to make real changes in my life. I fully believe in all of the theory and structure of what I stated above but I have found that for my self there is one piece missing. One key part that allowed me to weasel my way out of succeeding. These goals are all focused on an outcome and leave you to decide on the path to get there. There are a hundred opportunities every day that you can slip on and hurt your progress. For example, I want to lose 2 lbs next week. I wake up and decide to have a healthy cereal instead of a pastry for breakfast. Good choice. I decide to skip the pie at lunch and have an apple instead. Great! I get to my afternoon workout and don’t really want to do it but push through anyway. Fabulous! I am tired from my workout and don’t feel like messing with dinner. I had a great eating day and did my workout so maybe I can cheat at dinner. If I grab a burger for dinner then I will make up for it tomorrow with some extra gym time and no cheats. And now you have slipped. You made the right call many times but you made a big splurge that ruined your calorie count for the day. Research plus my own experience show that people will usually undervalue the splurges and that this will sabotage your performance and that will often sabotage your motivation when you fail to meet your goals. This has plagued me for years and years.
There is a solution but it is a big change to how we view fitness and weight loss goals. Instead of making outcome goals (lose 2 lbs next week) make action goals (Go to the gym for 30 minutes 3 times next week). There is no way to weasel around that. You either go 3x or you don’t and therefore you either meet your goal or do not based on your direct actions. You can do the same thing for Dietary goals. If you are good at counting calories then you can simply set a goal like “Eat 2200 calories or less per day with 2x 400 calorie splurges per week”. Another option for those who don’t like counting calories is to try to maintain the same diet that you keep today but slowly start to remove the problems. I am currently using “Eat the same diet (foods and portions) that I have been eating but limit fast food stops to 2x per week (I am sorry to admit that my standard is on the order of 5-6 – that solves the mystery of why I am over weight).
Once you are achieving these goals, you can tune them so that you are on track for your other goals. If you are not losing the weight that you want then you simply increase the training or nutrition goals until you are on track.
I am sorry that this got so long winded but I do feel that this is a core component of lifestyle change and it is at the core of my change to eating better and making fitness part of my life again.
My current goals are simple
Long term –
Weigh 210 by 9/1/14
complete an Ironman by 12/31/16
Middle term –
Weigh 285 by 10/12/13
Start couch to 5k training plan on 10/1 (wanted some time for my foot to heal before starting a running plan – I may shift this back further if my foot is still hurting)
Short Term –
Go to crossfit 2x per week (Tuesday and Friday)
Transition to 3x per week by 10/5
Maintain current diet but reduce fast food to 2x per week.