Striving to accomplish something meaningful will make you (sometimes painfully) aware of the areas of your life where you fall short—your faults, your excuses, your tendencies, your limitations, and countless areas where you could improve your philosophy and skills sets. However, the process is not all “glass half empty.” Striving for a big goal will also present you with countless opportunities to become a better person.
Goals setting, real goal setting—the kind with a thoughtful, adaptive plan—is one of the most clarifying and refining processes we can go through. To say you picked the wrong goals isn’t meant to say you picked a bad goal, or a goal you won’t accomplish eventually. Rather it’s saying that the process will teach you a lot, and one of those lessons is that sometimes you aimed at something off target from what you really want, or from what’s wise to run after right now.
FOUR SIGNS YOU PICKED THE WRONG GOAL:
#1: You picked something too generic. The easiest way to spot if you picked the wrong goal is simply observe if you picked something like “get healthy” or “eat better” or “get in shape.” While none of those are bad goals, none of them are specific, and all of them involve many interrelated habits that come together to make the bigger goal possible. Something generic is hard to quantify. In other words: How do you know when you’re finally “in shape”?
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:
Write out a list of all the things you can think of that have a direct impact on a generic goal. Then, rank them by level of importance. Set your sights on one high-ranking behavior where you can create a better habit. Make the formation of that habit your goal and detail specific actions you’ll take. Do it for 30 days and then repeat. Before then, zoom back out and make sure you don’t make mistake #2, or at least make it for too long.
#2: You didn’t deal with the biggest anchor you're dragging (the biggest thing holding you back) and hoped improving other behaviors would make up for it. Often when it comes to changing our health, the anchor many people don’t want to deal with is their diet. If you don’t figure out how to deal with that anchor (or put another way, the biggest brick on the negative side of the balancing scales), you may never be able to get out of health debt.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:
“Eat that frog.” That’s a phrase one of my mentors passed on to me. What he meant by that is to attack the biggest, nastiest, thing on your to-do list first thing every day. Don’t allow yourself to make excuses. Instead, develop the approach of discovering and mapping out a plan to systematically rid your life of the biggest anchor. If it overwhelms you, consider hiring a coach who has successfully helped others with the same goal you have. Developing this mindset is quite possibly the most important part of achieving your health goals. Don’t wait until life forces you to deal with it. Do it now! Your family, friends, and legacy need you to.
#3: You picked someone else’s goal. Whether it’s joining someone else in support of their goals, or agreeing to a new behavior out of a sense of guilt or duty, often we reach for goals (going to the gym, training for a race, trying a new approach to eating) because that is what other people would like to see us accomplish or where they would like support for their own goals. While it may not be a bad goal, if the impetus for change is not from deep inside you, if it does not resonate with your why, you’ll be uninspired to run hard after it and you’ll eventually quit. Even if their goal for you is appropriate for your health situation, if it’s not your goal, trying to meet that goal will set you up for feeling like a failure.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:
Instead of agreeing to a new behavior you’re not excited about because you can’t find a good reason to tell someone else “no,” see if you can find a way to enlist him or her in pursuing something that excites you. Additionally, spend time reflecting on whether your willingness to go for someone else’s goal for you comes from an unhealthy “people pleasing” place or if you’re actually working on a new behavior because you know it’s exactly what you need.
#4: You found the cost is not worth it. When setting out to achieve a new goal, the first thing I like to tell people is to count the cost, and I don’t just mean monetary cost. Besides the financial cost, what is the cost to your schedule, your relationships, your sanity, your energy, and so on? What priorities will you have to rearrange in order to meet your important health goals? Who will you spend less time with? What hobbies and creature comforts will you give up? If the cost is too great (or too great for too long), it’s a sure sign you picked the wrong goal. Six pack abs, a figure competition, or finishing a triathlon might be great goals, but they require great sacrifice too. Are you ready for that level of commitment?
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:
Because of the potential transformative power of measuring the cost of your goal, I want to unpack this fourth one a bit more.
So how do you know if the cost is too great? To find that out, you need to have clear sense of your own personal definition of whole-life success. What does whole-life success look like when put into a weekly and monthly calendar? Even knowing your own definition of whole-life success can take a lot of work, but once you know that, seeing that kind of schedule on paper will tell you if you actually have time for an aggressive goal, or if you picked the wrong one.
Depending on how badly you may be in health debt, you may need a season of a disproportionate focus on health goals to the exclusion of other important areas of life; otherwise you’ll stay stuck in health debt. Yet, if your health and fitness goals are disproportionately at odds with the rest of your life for too long, you’ll end with a different set of problems to overcome.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THE COST IS NOT WORTH IT
Depending on your outlook, coming to the conclusion that the cost of achieving a goal is not worth it can set you (the achiever I know you are) on one of two paths. Note: they aren’t mutually exclusive.
1. The path of a balanced perspective. Sometimes when you realize the goal you picked isn’t worth the cost, you can step back from it and say: “I realized I could run after that goal, but I see how the sacrifices I’d have to make would cost me too much time with family, or away from other meaningful pursuits. While I will commit to doing my best to live a healthy lifestyle, I also know that running marathons, playing sports, competing at a high level, getting to X percent body fat, etc. takes away time from other areas of life that are meaningful.”
2. The path of determination: It’s a path of a more seasoned perspective that knows the high cost of a goal, but marries that perspective with a resolve to find an aggressive and/or more balanced way to get there. For those in health debt, this often has to be the perspective for life to change in any meaningful way. This is a path that refuses to give up, and instead pairs down big goals into smaller ones, and is ok with the process taking longer. This is the path of achievers. All of us on some level will have to choose this path from time to time, and in different areas of life, so the sweet things in life do not pass us by.
So, what is your definition of whole-life success? What are you willing and not willing to sacrifice to reach your potential? What would it do for your life if you reached your (specific) health and fitness goals? What kind of person will you become in the process? If you can answer those questions, I have no doubt you can accomplish great things. And, if you want help answering those questions, we set up our whole business around the idea of “Coaching the Whole Human.”
Here’s to your whole-life success and TRUE Health and Wholeness.