How to NOT Suck at Goal Setting

Do you remember your New Year’s resolutions from January 1st, 2010?

It probably went something like this: After waking up slightly (or seriously) hungover, you said to yourself “this is the year I’m going to get in shape!” or “this is the year I’m going to lose weight!”  Maybe it was “I’m going to get out of debt,” “quit smoking,” or “start a business.”  You strapped on your running shoes, threw your cigarettes in the trash, cut up a credit card, and/or spent a few minutes researching how to register for an LLC.

Two weeks later, things are going strong – yay success!

And then BAM you get sick/go on vacation/have a bad day at work and you give yourself a few days off “until things get less hectic.”  All of a sudden it’s January 1st, 2011 and you realize that you don’t even remember your goals from last year.  Fortunately, a new year is a chance at a new beginning.

Here’s how to not suck this time around the sun.

Be specific

“I want to lose weight” is a crappy goal.

“I want to get in shape” is incredibly vague and useless.

When setting a goal, you need to be specific as possible.  If you want to lose weight, how much weight exactly do you want to lose?  When do you want to lose it by?  I won’t get into my issues with using just weight as a sole judge of success (because I do so here), but it’s certainly better than nothing.  If you want to get stronger or faster, by what magnitude do you want those things to increase?

Pretend you’re driving a car – setting a vague goal is like saying “I’m going to California.” Awesome, where in California exactly are you going?  As Chesire Cat famously states in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

Be specific, sucka!

  • If you’re going to “lose weight”, how much weight do you want to lose and by when? 25 pounds by June? 100 pounds by November?
  • If you’re going to “get in shape,” by what metrics will you measure yourself? Is it a marathon completion? 225 lb benchpress? Black belt in Karate?

After you’ve established your goals, write them down and hang them on your door/bedroom wall/office cubicle. Look at those goals EVERY SINGLE DAY so that they’re always at the front of your mind.

Are you insane?

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I know waaaaaaay too many people that say “continually try to lose weight by dieting and running on a treadmill for hours.  Every time they last a few weeks and then give up, only to try again two months later in the same way with identical results.

If you tried to “get in shape” last year and it didn’t work, CONGRATULATIONS – you found one method that doesn’t work for you.  This year, unless you’re insane (which is certainly possible), you need to either try a different method or attack a previous method from a different angle.  Look closely at your previous failures and figure out what went wrong – learn from those failures and apply them to your upcoming goals.

  • If you failed because you hate running and gave up, try weight training.
  • If you failed to lose weight by counting calories, that might not be the method for you. Try the Paleo Diet.

Remember, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again – if something new doesn’t work, quickly learn from it and MOVE ON.

Track Your Progress

Do you know why video games (specifically role playing games) are so darn fun and addicting? Because you get to watch your character constantly grow stronger/bigger/better/more powerful.  Even if you only get to play a game for thirty minutes, you can still see that your hero went from Level 7 to Level 8, increased his strength by two points, defeated the boss at the end of the 3rd dungeon, and so on.  Every minuscule detail is tracked, recorded, and progress is easy to observe.

Games wouldn’t be nearly as fun if you had no score to count, levels to gain, or experience points to earn.

Keep track of your progress. Level up your life!  Track your weight weekly, measure yourself with a tape measure to see if you’re losing inches around your waist, hips, chest, legs, etc.  If you’re lifting weights, track your workouts on an excel sheet or a site like DailyBurn.

If you know what you did yesterday, you know what you have to do today to be better:

  • If you ran a mile in nine minutes yesterday, will you run a mile in 8:59 or less today?
  • If you did three pull ups last week, can you do four this week?
  • Squatted 150 pounds on Monday? Nice!  Can you do 155 on Friday?

Small victories, tiny levels, tiny improvements, but always steps in the right direction.

This is the premise behind OMFG, the Online Mutliplayer Fitness Game that we’re putting together on the Nerd Fitness message boards – turning your real life goals into a fun game that tracks your progress.  Check it out if you’re looking for something fun and quirky.

Adjust on the fly

Let’s say you set out to lose 80 pounds, and you only lost 75 pounds before switching over to a muscle building routine. You might never lose those last five pounds, even though your body composition continues to change drastically.  Does that make you a failure?  Negative, Ghostrider.

Goals change.

Life happens.

If you’ve set specific goals and continue to track your progress diligently, you can make adjustments throughout the year when necessary without any issue.  As long as you are better off today then you were yesterday in some way, that’s a win.

Decide WHY you want it.

Sound familiar?

  • “I want to get in shape but I don’t like ________________.”
  • “I want to lose weight but I just CAN’T give up _________________.”
  • “I don’t have time for that because of ______________.”
  • “I want to build muscle but there’s no way I can eat all of that _________.”

Fine, then don’t do it, and stay the way you are!  It’s as simple as that.

I’ve received a number of emails over the past year from people who ask “Can you help?  I know I should get in shape but I’m just not motivated to do so.”  As Jeff Bridges says in True Grit “I can do nothin’ do for ya, son.”  I cannot create motivation out of thin air – I am no conjurer of cheap tricks.  That motivation needs to come from within you, my friend.  Why do you want to get in shape?

  • Did your doctor tell you that you had to?
  • Did your wife tell you that she’s worried about your health?
  • Did you just have a kid and decide you want to be around to see your grandkids?
  • Are you in great shape and want to compete on Ninja Warrior?

Your motivation can come from anything and anywhere, but it needs to be YOURS. As Nietzsche says, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”  Do you have your WHY yet?  If so, suddenly giving up bagels for breakfast and soda for lunch no longer seems like such a huge sacrifice.  When you find that one thing you want more than anything in the world, it’s going to be pretty hard to stop you from getting it.

Early morning workouts, paleo diets, saying no to popcorn at the movies, not buying ice cream at the grocery store – changes like these might be tough, but if they are the means to the end you desire, it will happen.  Suddenly these agonizing adjustments become less of a chore and more of just who you are.

Check out this great definition of determination, and then go get it.

Go Public

Do you like being known as a slacker?

A loser?

A liar?

Hopefully not.

Take your resolutions public, whether its through your own blog, by joining the Nerd Fitness message boards, or even just by telling your close friends and co-workers.  Ask them to email you weekly/monthly and ask how things are going.  One of my friends is currently in an interesting contest; each person involved will have to pay $500 to the others if he doesn’t get below 10% bodyfat by June.  It’s extremely tough to get down to 10%, but with 500 bucks on the line I have no doubt he’ll get there.

Find a way to build a support group of people who not only encourage you when you’re doing well, but pick you up when you’re slacking.  Harness the power of your friends, co-workers, and community.  You don’t have to go it alone.

Yesterday is Gone

One of the rules of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion is that we don’t care where you came from, only where you’re going. It doesn’t matter if you’re 300 pounds overweight, smoke five packs of cigarettes a day, $100,000 in debt, and at a dead-end job while living in your parents basement.  That was you yesterday – today you get to be whoever you want.  Build your own epic destiny, pick a super power, and start becoming superhuman.

Yesterday is gone. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Let’s do this.




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