Episode 309 – Changing How You Look at Goal Setting

Written by Jonathan

I’ve done a few episodes about goal setting usually under the premise that goals in and of themselves are more or less a waste of time, at least in the standard way that most people think about goals – I want to lose 40 lbs. in 6 months or I want to be able to do 10 push-ups in 10 weeks. I know that this flies in the face of what most other personal trainers, health coaches and self-help gurus might say, that a goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timed or more commonly known as the acronym SMART. The problem with most outcome goals is just that, they’re outcome goals they do very little in telling or describing how you’re going to get to that outcome, now you might be saying – well I will go on a diet or I will do a push-up program – which is all well and good, but what happens if you go on your diet, restricting all the foods you shouldn’t be eating or counting your points, calories, grams of carbohydrates or fats whatever method you choose to lose the weight and after those 6 months you’ve only lost 30 lbs. after setting the goal of 40 – Then what happens? Some people would just give up and go back to the way they were eating before and be mad at the diet or worse mad at themselves for not being able to do it, some people would stay on the diet for a month or two longer to see if they could lose the rest of the weight and then decide to give up on it or continue doing it if it worked, but for most people even if they do reach their ‘goal weight’ end up letting foods they know they shouldn’t be eating back into their diet and they start skimping out on exercise they know they should be doing and slowly the weight they lost starts to creep back on. In episodes 143 and 226 I talk about how outcome goals don’t matter unless you have the process goals in place and the process is all the behaviours you have to do that you think will help you get to your outcome, if you’re doing weight watchers it would be making sure you diligently track your points every time you eat, if it’s not eating refined carbohydrates it might be picking 3 to 5 low carbohydrate recipes then buying only the groceries that allow you to cook those meals and eating those over the course of the week, it’s any behaviour that you need to change or modify that will help you get to the outcome you’re looking for. In those previous episodes I called them process goals, except here’s the problem with the phrase ‘process goals,’ it’s kind of nerdy, you have to translate that a bit in your mind to understand what it really means and if you’ve been listening to this show for a while there’s a good chance you’re tired of hearing me talk about process goals, you might even be thinking here goes Jonathan again talking about his process goals, we’ve heard all this before and you know what, you’re right, which is why I’m not going to talk about process goals anymore.

I was listening to an interview with Jon Gordon, he’s an author and speaker and he works with many professional sports teams on mindset and changing how players think. He said when he works with a sports team he has them write out all their goals and of course they’re mostly things like, I want to win the superbowl or I want to catch 100 passes this season, once he’s heard the goals of all the players he says, ‘thank you for sharing your goals, can you please tear them up’ and he follows it up with this, how many other teams and players wrote down those exact same goals, probably every single one in the NFL which makes them meaningless for everyone to have that goal. I don‘t care about your goals, I care about what you’re going to commit to, to reach those goals, what are you going to commit to, to reach those goals, are you going to commit to studying game tapes before every practice, are you going to commit to spending an extra hour each day running routes, are you going to commit to understanding each player’s role on the field so you know where they’ll be and understand your options to where the ball needs to get to, what are you going to commit to, to win the superbowl.

This gave me in a epiphany, I mean honestly who cares about process goals, the short answer is a handful of researchers. Now who cares about commitments, everyone. If you commit to going to your kids ball game and then can’t make it you feel awful which means you take extra care in planning your day around this event to make sure you get there, if you commit to showing up to your anniversary dinner with your spouse, you make sure you plan your day around making it to that commitment. If we apply this to a fitness context let’s go back to our 10 push-ups in 10 weeks example. There is no way for you to know whether or not you’ll be able to get to 10 push-ups in 10 weeks, so it’s not something you can commit to, but you know what you can commit to, waking up to do as many pushups as you can first thing, as soon as you wake up in the morning. You can’t commit to losing 40 lbs. in 6 months, because you don’t have that much control over the rate you lose the weight, but you know what you can commit to, eating a giant salad everyday for lunch, you know what I take that back a bit, you can’t just commit to the giant salad you have to commit to making a grocery list to buy the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, berries, whatever it is you’re going to put on your salad, then you have to commit to making that salad every day and then you have to commit to eating that salad every day and by making these commitments and following through on them that’s how you make progress towards reaching your goal. Everyday you make commitments to other people, you make commitments to the people you work with to make sure your job gets done and it gets done well, you make commitments to your children so they get the support they need to turn into functioning adults and you make commitments to your partner so they know you love them. If you want to make a change, if you want to improve yourself in some way start making commitments to yourself. When you make the commitment to make yourself better, you’re making a commitment to reaching your goals.



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