The Danger of Goals

In my very first post, I stated that I wanted to train for and complete a Tough Mudder event. I also gave myself a timeframe of twelve to eighteen months to do so. The second I wrote that “what and when” statement, I gave myself a goal.

I’m a fan of setting goals, because I believe that, overall,  goals are a good thing. Far too often, though,  I see lots of people setting goals just for the sake of meeting them. This approach almost always leads to failure or relapse, mainly because it’s misguided. I don’t believe it’s the fault of the person who sets the goal–after all, we’re told from a very young age to set goals and do whatever we can to achieve them. Now, while this advice is given with the intent to inspire, many people focus so hard on their goals–the “what and when”–they stop caring about how they reach them.

Much more important than the goals we set, are the habits we pick up to reach those goals. Those habits, for my money, are worth much more in the grand scheme of things than the goals they lead to. Goals are a endpoint–you reach them, and think, what next? Habits, however, can be life-long, keeping you focused and on the right track. Think of it this way: if you were still in school, would you rather be taught based on the questions on a test, or would you rather have a teacher that would give you worthwhile, usable knowledge that would come in handy the rest of your life (and would, coincidentally, also help you pass a test)? Another example: would you rather be the student who does nothing all semester, and stresses out trying to cram the night before the final, or the student who avoids stress at the end of the year by doing their homework, studying regularly, and participating in class each day? In both cases, the latter is definitely the best option–you get the most bang for your buck that way, and you become a more well-rounded person.

Lets take that stream of thought over to fitness. When most people set a fitness goal, they’re usually looking to either lose weight or to be able to lift a certain amount. In either scenario, the question they immediately ask themselves is: how much weight? So, using whatever math based on whatever statistics, they come up with the almighty Magic Number–a number that, once they reach it on the scale or barbell, will turn them into a demi-god–a being so powerful it can consume copious amounts of alcohol and turn it to gold, has sexual prowess that would’ve made Wilt Chamberlain jealous, and/or quickly jumps to the top of the corporate food chain faster than you can say “Bernie Madoff”.

So, we get our Magic Number. We chase it. We place it on a pedastal. We obsess over it to the point where we focus on nothing but the finish line and how fast we can get there. This fanaticism ensures that our methods become unhealthy and, in what becomes a huge blow to our confidence later on down the road, unsustainable. For those trying to slim down, crash diets or fad diets take the place of healthy eating habits. For those trying to bulk up, steroids or other growth meds can end up being more important than the weights being lifted.

There are some people of the opinion that these crazed dietary and drug plans aren’t dangerous; their stance is that, as long as those people who are on the 200-calorie-a-day, lemon-juice-and-recycled-paper diet are “just doing it to get a head start”, and as long as the muscleheads–who are injecting the same shit into their bodies that made four turtles and a rat the top pizza consumers in New York City during the early ‘90s–are “just giving themselves a confidence boost”, then there’s no real issue. Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but you can’t have your own facts. With that in mind, I call bullshit.

For the sake of hitting a goal, and with the desire of instant gratification, too many people are taking what they feel is the quick or easy way out. In the long run, though, steroids, growth supplements, fad diets, and super calorie deficits are unsustainable. Sure, you might hit your Magic Number, but what’s the point? You feel like a fried turd, and can’t enjoy your success. What’s worse, as soon as you get off the juice or get back to eating regularly, you slip back to where you were before, if not further. That is a serious blow not just to your physique, but to your confidence–a blow that can be avoided with one change:

Set your goals with the idea of instilling beneficial, long-term habits.

In other words, set up a “what and when” statement, but focus more on the “how” aspect. In order to change your body, you have to change the lifestyle that gave you that body. In setting up healthy eating habits and regular exercise routines, you may not see the results you want as quick as you’d like, but under the surface you will undergo a physiological change that, in time and with continued effort, will do you much more good over your lifetime than a rumbly stomach or juiced needle.

I’ll say again that it’s good to have goals–as you long as you take the time to understand how you want to achieve them.

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2 responses to “The Danger of Goals

  1. nice post mike. i am with you. my actual goal is to be a happy, healthy person who is fun to be around. I am a helluva lot more fun to be around when i have gone for a run or hit some weights recently.

    One thing I would add is–in the event that your goal is something like the Tough Mudder, or a Half- or Full Marathon, or a long triathlon–set short and mid-term goals, some of which you know you can achieve and some which might be a coin flip. Learn from success and failure and keep yourself from getting a) bogged down in the hugeness of your big goal or worse, b) bored.

    So stoked for you! (and for me!!)

  2. Nice post. I agree completely. I’ve tried many of those “get skinny fast” diets in desperation, lost the weight, only to gain it back.

    This time around I’ve realized that I have to take it, and myself seriously. A real change, and a life change. And it’s not that hard, once you get into the habit it becomes second nature. I know what to eat, how much to eat, and when to say no.

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