Don't worry, this is not another New Year's resolutions how-to article. This is a beautiful challenge to be accepted, a desperate call to action, and a massive opportunity for you to save your own ass.
Are you ready to answer that call? If not, you can stop reading right now. Otherwise, hop on board the S.S. Goalz—and chart a course to the very heart of radical self-honesty and transformation.
The Real Reason You Don't Accomplish Your Goals
You suck at setting fitness goals.
Did that hurt a little? Good. Comfort is overrated, and I need to be brutally honest. You’ve heard of growing pains, right?
Being bad at goal setting is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something you need to address directly and consistently in order to achieve your goals—regardless of whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, or do your first pull-up.
Behavior change and goal setting are at the heart of your journey to greatness. And every single health and fitness goal requires that you change your behavior—permanently.
For the last 16 years I’ve worked as a holistic personal trainer—taking a 360-degree approach to fitness and wellness. I’ve helped people of all ages, dispositions, and attitudes achieve their goals. And the biggest barrier is always a variation of the same thing: self-imposed limitations. Here are a few I hear all the time:
- "I'd work out more if I had more time.”
Everyone gets 24 hours in a day. Time isn't the problem; it's your priorities.
- "I feel embarrassed and anxious at the gym. And my body hurts after I work out."
All the more reason to learn how to heal your body and become more confident—two things exercise directly affects.
- "I don't know the best exercises to achieve my goals!"
Great! Become a student of the body. You’ll achieve your goals and learn a bunch of useful stuff along the way.
None of these are actual limitations. "I don't have enough time" might actually be "I don’t have enough time because I’m binge-watching Netflix and browsing Facebook three hours per day." It’s time for a reality check.
You are your greatest obstacle and your most valuable ally on this journey to self-empowerment. The more quickly you can be honest with yourself, the sooner you’ll be able to catch yourself in self-deception. Becoming aware of it is (nearly) all it takes to stop.
The Little-Known Fact That Changes Everything
You are—at your very core—an animal. If you approach goal setting from an overly analytical perspective, you’ll never even begin to approach your real potential.
My own personal story can provide some real insight. I’m a recovered drug addict. I was able to turn my entire life around using ritual, movement, and meditation. After years of suffering, I had a moment while staring at myself in the mirror. I thought, “I’m not a victim. I’m doing this to myself. It’s up to me to stop.”
That was the ritual part: sacrificing my inner victim who blamed everyone else and avoided personal responsibility. It was a crucial first step that let the light flood into the dark closet I’d been living in for years.
But it was only the first step. Shortly after that, I became obsessed with working out. Despite starting out scared, humbled, and lacking in self-confidence, working out allowed me to heal the damage I’d done to myself, to my family, and to my own body.
What fueled that workout obsession? Was it because I knew exercise creates new neurons in the brain in the areas affected by addiction? Hell no! Even though that’s true, I didn’t know it at the time and wouldn’t have cared if I did.
My workout obsession was fueled by girls! I was an 18-year-old boy, so all I cared about was trying to get girls to like me and—let’s be honest—get naked with me.
To put it more plainly: My fixation with women and sex saved me from drug addiction. I didn’t start working out because I knew it’d help my recovery; I did it to get laid.
This is where radical self-honesty kicks into high-gear. If you can’t be honest about what primal needs you’re lacking, you’re going to have trouble finding purpose in your health goals. Without that deep meaning, your goal is entirely dependent on personal motivation and willpower, which, for most, will be long gone by February. Primal. Emotional. And fun. You might not be a horny teenager (or maybe you are!), but the point is the same. You need to connect your fitness goals to the things in life you secretly desire but dare not speak out loud. Maybe it’s your desire to look good for someone else, maybe it’s your ability to take care of yourself, or maybe it’s your wish to overcome the proverbial bad guys in your life. If you don’t focus on the foundation, everything else will crumble. You have to set goals that honor your animal nature—your reptilian brain. Think sex, survival, and shelter.
The more you see a direct link between what you want so badly (for instance, love or friendship) and your health goals, the less you have to rely on motivation. Health and fitness are not separate from the rest of your life, so don’t separate them!
How to Master the Process and Avoid Self-Sabotage
1. Set goals that are realistic.
By far the biggest mistake people make with their New Year’s resolutions is falling victim to the quick-fix mentality. You can get quick results, or you can get real results. Pick one.
Having unrealistic expectations and then having them crash headfirst into reality obliterates your motivation.
Besides, what exactly is the rush? If you’ve picked goals that truly matter—primal goals that light you up—aren’t they worth the time, energy, and sacrifice?
2. Focus on process goals, not outcome goals.
Losing five pounds or getting rid of belly fat is an outcome goal. Doing a YouTube workout four times per week for three weeks is a process goal. The process is your foundation; all the results are built upon it and only happen after you’ve achieved your process goals, not before. If you’re not willing to show up regularly for your goal, pick a different goal—or don’t even bother making a New Year’s resolution.
Mistakes are not the enemy; lack of commitment is the real problem. If you’re committed but make mistakes, you’ll learn and grow from them. For instance, let's say you stay out late drinking with friends and miss your morning workout as a result. If you're committed, you'll see the direct correlation between drinking and not working out, and won't make the same mistake again. If you’re not committed, you’ll use the mistakes as an excuse to quit—right before you’re about to learn something and make real progress. Now that is self-sabotage!
3. Break large goals into smaller goals and measure your progress obsessively.
When I was first getting into working out, my college roommate was a football player. He taught me how to create a simple spreadsheet to track my progress. I’d print out my workouts beforehand and put them in a binder. That became my bible. If I fit in six workouts in a week, or one extra rep doing push-ups, I was thrilled, because that meant I was one step closer to a hot date.
It doesn’t matter if you go analog or use a mobile app—you need to track your progress. The most important metrics I’d suggest tracking are: How much did I move today? Was it fun? What did I learn? As long as you’re moving, having fun, and learning regularly, any goal is achievable.
4. Fall in love with the process.
If you fall in love with the process, you'll find excuses to keep trying, learning, growing, and discovering. And, most importantly, keep getting back on the horse.
This is a skill in and of itself. Life is full of obstacles, and it's rare that everything is in perfect alignment. Sh*t happens. You get sick. Or depressed. Or work/kids/partners derail your plans. The question is: How quickly do you get back on the horse? Bad stuff happens, but don't let a three-day cold turn into not working out for a month.
5. Look backward before you look forward.
Taking stock of what kind of year 2016 has been will help you create the best 2017 possible. I wrote a whole blog post about it, but basically, look back at your year and ask yourself these three questions:
- What were your five biggest success in 2016?
- What were the five biggest challenges?
- Is there any important unfinished business you need to wrap up?
Looking backward provides context, continuity, and orientation to your future goals. And guess what? If something real crappy happened to you last year, good! Not because I’m a sadistic jerk, but because that “bad" thing might be exactly the source of fuel you need to make meaningful resolutions.
Here's the truth. You haven’t made the big changes you already know you need to make because you’re scared. Making real change is uncomfortable and forces you to be vulnerable and courageous in the face of uncertainty.
Honestly, if a goal or new activity scares you (in an existential way, not in an "I might actually die" kind of way), that’s a very good sign you're on the right path. Follow the fear and know every single obstacle you face—be it internal or external—is an opportunity to get stronger and truly embrace your power to create the life you deserve.
Will it be easy? No. Comfortable? Definitely not. Worth it? More than you can possibly imagine.