Goal-Setting for Health and Fitness

After a firm understanding of how to achieve health and fitness is attained, one must then progress to being able to translate that understanding into a plan of action by setting and achieving goals.  The following are a few goal-setting guidelines.

1. The goal must be specific and objective.

There is no way around this.  An ambiguous goal will always stay an ethereal concept that cannot be tangibly reached.  As a result, you can never truly tell if you have achieved it or not.  Your goal must be something that a hundred people can look at and all agree that it has been done.  This means that “get in better shape”, while admirable, is too vague to be of much use.  However, “lose three inches around my waist” is specific and objective.  Every person who sees that you wrote in your journal that your waist was 40 inches in January and now it’s 37 inches in April can see that you have actually lost three inches around your waist.

This also means that in order to understand if you have truly achieved your goal, you must be making some sort of record.  Measuring your waist and writing it down on your calendar/journal/computer will only take a few minutes.  Find a way to be sure that you know what you want to achieve and that you can measure how far you’ve come in an objective manner.

2. The goal must be realistic.

Unfortunately, marketers of many health products tell us that if we don’t lose twenty pounds in the first month, we’re doing something wrong.  The truth of the matter is that according to Mayo Clinic and the AND, a weight loss of one to two pounds a week is optimal.  This is because you have to burn 3,500 calories in order to burn a pound of fat.  That means that in order to lose one pound of fat a week, you have to somehow be burning 500 calories more per day than you eat.  So, if you do the math, that’s 1,000 calories per day if you want to lose two pounds of fat in a week.  If any weight is lost in excess of that, it’s likely to be carbohydrate stores in the body, water weight, or muscle mass.  Because of that, any attempt at weight loss should never exceed two pounds of fat loss per week.

To clarify, I need to point out that some diets (and especially low-carbohydrate diets) result in very quick weight loss.  I’ve personally lost seven pounds in one week by eating low-carb.  However, what I didn’t realize at that time was that the weight was almost entirely just carbohydrate stores in my liver and muscles.  And since each gram of carbohydrate attaches to three grams of water, all I had succeeded in doing was depleting my carbohydrate stores and the water attached to those carbohydrates.  As a result, I felt terrible, and I was weak.

In light of that fact, we have to realize that since our weight gain was slow, our weight loss must also be slow.  A realistic goal is likely to be a pound of fat per week, and we should never attempt to lose more than two pounds per week.  To do so would be counter-productive to the training for increased muscle mass discussed earlier.  When people lose more than two pounds per week, they’re very likely to be decreasing their metabolism by losing their muscle mass.

On the other hand, if someone is trying to gain muscle mass, that can be even more difficult.  I have personally gained seven pounds of muscle mass in one month.  However, that was because I was re-building what I had lost.  A good, moderately difficult goal for muscle mass gain is about a pound per month.  It is difficult, but it is possible if you are willing to understand and apply the NSCA’s recommendations for muscle-building and the AND’s recommendations for extra eating.

3. The goal must be time-based

Every goal must have a deadline.  Our minds work much better with a deadline than they do without.  A deadline is what separates the do it yourself project that takes a year from the one that takes a week.  This is another method of being sure to measure your goal and give yourself something of a progress report.  It is essential for you to realize what you’re doing right and what you need to change. If you never step back to analyze your progress, you’ll never understand what works for you and what doesn’t.

Although I don’t know who to attribute it to, the quote “Inch by inch life is a cinch and yard by yard life is hard” stands true.  The first step is always to establish your long-term goal.  However, psychologically, it is extremely helpful to break down each long-term goal into a series of short-term goals.  For example, if I were to tell you, “I need you to lose 52 pounds this year” it would sound daunting.  However, if I were to tell you, “I need you to lose one pound this week”.  That sounds achievable.  Almost easy.

But the end result between the two requests is the same.  In instance one, you’re losing 52 pounds.  In instance two, I would repeat the request 52 times, and you would be able to comply each time.  So essentially, the large task of losing 52 pounds has been down-graded from one mountain to a series of achievable speed-bumps.  It’s all about your perspective, and your own ability to make each goal palatable to your mind.  Also, each goal achieved will provide inertia to propel you to achieve the next.  You just have to focus on one at a time.  When the next one comes, attack it head on.  Until then, focus on the first short-term goal at hand.

4. The goal must be moderately difficult

The goal must be moderately difficult because if it’s too easy, it won’t seem like an accomplishment.  Your tendency will be to believe that your achievement of the goal meant nothing since it was easy.  Which is, honestly, true.  You will be unable to disconnect your mind from that reality because it is literally reality.

However, the alternative extreme is equally problematic.  If you make goals that are too difficult, then you are very unlikely to achieve them.  After failing a few times in a row, you’re likely to become disgruntled and give up on the whole idea of improving your health.

The happy medium between these two extremes is creating a goal that is both difficult and achievable.  This goal should not be too easy, and it should not be too hard.  As a result, it must be something that you believe you can do, but it must also be something that will require strong commitment in order to achieve.

Don’t be discouraged if you fail on around half of these moderately difficult goals.  That’s how they’re designed to be in order for you to be able to relish the joy of achieving something hard.  Failure should never be feared.  It is one of life’s greatest teaching tools as long as you realize that that is its purpose.  If you fail at one of your goals, sit back and analyze why you think you failed.  Then, modify those things that you think caused your failure and try again.  You’re never permanently down until you give up.

“I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work” – Thomas Edison when asked about his early failures with battery storage experiments.

5. The goal must be chosen by you

This point is likely to cause some level of revulsion within you due to our American culture.  The key point here is that you have to be selfish.  This is only because we have to counteract the indoctrination we’ve been pummeled with that talks about always putting others before ourselves.  Sometimes others don’t have our best interests at heart or they simply don’t realize that they are a hindrance.

Now, before this invokes too much angst within you, let me clarify.  There are times to be selfless, but there are also times to be selfish.  There is virtue in the mean between the two actions.  Even if you come from a Christian worldview, Jesus talks about being selfless often, but he also says “love your neighbor as yourself” in Matthew 22: 39.  He implies that if you don’t love yourself, you can’t love your neighbor.  Also, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul writes, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”  The Bible isn’t as one-sided on the issue of selflessness as we are often lead to believe, and I am extremely grateful for that.  Why?  Because there is nothing noble in allowing yourself to be put down.  If you allow others to put you down, disrespect you, or tell you that you’re not good enough, you have just given license to that practice.  You have allowed that practice to continue on to the degradation of the next individual.  This is morally wrong.  I stand with both God and the Declaration of Independence in saying that I believe all men are created equal.  The greatest society to live in is one where each individual is valued and where both the rich do not steal from the poor and the poor do not steal from the rich.  While this obviously applies to economics, it also applies to self-esteem and self-reliance.

This selfishness is a virtue in the case of improving your health and fitness because if you’re greatly overweight, and your friend asks you to go to dinner at a grease pit, then you must say no.  You must be sure that you fight for your health despite the fact that it may hurt your friend’s feelings.

However, this is a blessing if you are willing to look at it correctly.  If your friend is willing to honor your goals and do what they can to help you through them, you know that they are a true friend who truly desires the best for you.  However, if your friend demeans your goals to improve your health, what does that say about their character?  Are they truly someone that you want to be around if they are going to attempt to undermine your progress?  I honestly couldn’t care less why they refuse to support you (If they’re jealous of your progress, if they feel insecure around you because you’re becoming healthier and they aren’t, if they genuinely think that you don’t need to do it, etc).  In their resistance to your attempts to improve your health, they have proven that they are not an ally in this endeavor.  If someone is doing things to coax you one step closer to heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, they are destructive.  They are not your friend.

Sadly, this is very commonplace.  When someone achieves success, others tend to try to pull that person down to their level once again in order to heal their fractured ego.  People will typically do this by either degrading what you have accomplished to say that it either isn’t an accomplishment at all or they will try to undermine your progress so that you’re back to square one standing next to them.

If you truly desire to live a long, full life with abundant health and fitness, you must be surrounded by people who will encourage you in that endeavor.  They don’t necessarily have to be going along for the ride with you, but they must honestly want the best for you.

In an ideal world, if your friends aren’t already healthy, they will be inspired by you since you were able to achieve your health goal.  You’ve made the concept of being able to lose fat and gain muscle something tangible to them rather than an extremely difficult or impossible goal.  Now, you’ll be able to turn around and support them both with the encouragement that they offered you and with the empathy that you will be able to provide since you’ve been in their shoes trying to take those initial steps towards health and fitness.

As a result, this goal must be your own.  You cannot be driven by someone else into lasting change in your life.  This must be an internal desire that is for your own good.  However, please realize that the end result of this is not fully selfish.  By challenging the status quo of being overweight, you will free others to do the same.  This is what will turn around America’s obesity epidemic.  This is what will let you and your friends live long, healthy, enjoyable lives.

Summary of Goal-Setting:

All of that is summed up in the following.  First, you have to have a clearly-defined, objective goal.  Next, you have to truly believe that that goal is possible for you.  After that, you must fully commit to it and have a positive attitude about pursuing it.  You have to convince yourself that it is worth pursuing and that it will make you happy.  Finally, you have to apply persistence.  There will be days when you want to give up, but if you will choose to push through those days, then you will reach your goal.

For the rest of “The Simplified Science of How to be Healthy” go here.