By: Zach Columbia B.S. NASM. FPT
You’ve probably heard the saying before, “Every marathon begins with a single step,” or something to that degree. As we approach the end of January and the end of the first month of working towards your goals for the year, now is a good time for reflection. Oftentimes, we think the path towards our goals is going to be a straight line. That’s never actually case though. The path towards a goal always requires zigzagging around countless obstacles. So much so in fact, that it can become difficult to see how far you’ve moved the needle. That’s why having scheduled checkpoints to review your progress is critical as you work towards your goals.
It’s true, every marathon starts with a single step; and if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, eventually you’ll be able to turn around and see how far you’ve traveled.
However, working towards a goal is not as straight forward or easy to measure. Let’s say your goal for the new year is to lose 20lbs of body fat in 6 months. By doing some easy math, you determine that in order to lose 20lbs of fat in 6 months, that’s a little over a pound a week. Seems completely obtainable if you make some minor changes to your diet and go to the gym 3 times a week. However, math and biology are two totally different things. In your first week, the scale jumps up 5lbs. What? You may be thinking. The next week you’re only down 2 lbs. Then, you cheat a little bit on your diet and you only lose another pound in week 3. By the time you get to the end of the first month, what did you accomplish? Well based on the scale, a big fat nothing!
You may not realize it, but actually you achieved a lot.
You established new habits and recognized when you did something contraindicative of accomplishing your goals. In reality, you moved the needle way more than the result on the scale and set yourself up for success in month two.
As a coach, so often I find myself trying to “talk people of the ledge,” so to speak and convincing them to stick with it. Rarely does human nature align with our goals. It’s usually the polar opposite. If you think about it, why would anyone set a goal for something they could easily accomplish? We typically only set challenging goals for ourselves, and then we get discouraged when we work really hard and it doesn’t play out how we anticipated. It’s natural at that point to think, “maybe I don’t have it in me,” and give up.
In order to prevent this from happening, you have to do two really important things.
First, when you’re coming up with a plan on how you’re going to accomplish your goals, you need to schedule checkpoints for yourself. Monthly checkpoints are a great way to reflect on your progress. Second, you need to stop focusing on your goal!
Focusing on your goal is one of the best ways to make sure you never actually accomplish it.
I know that seems contrary to what you would actually think, but it’s true, especially when it comes to reflecting on your progress. If you set out to run a marathon and start focusing on mile 26 right from the starting line, you’re in for a long, long race. Instead, a much better approach is to focus on your plan for accomplishing your goal and celebrating the things that get you closer to the finish line. In my example earlier of losing 20lbs. If you focus on the 20lbs, but you only lose 1lb in your first month, you’ll naturally be discouraged. However, if you know that working out 3 times a week and eating right will get you to where you want to be, then every time you complete a workout or make a good choice at lunch, you just got one step closer to the finish line.
If you started the new year off with a specific goal and no plan to get there, then you set a wish, not a goal. However, if you have a goal and you have a plan, the next step is to schedule checkpoints into your plan. During your checkpoint, stop and reflect and your progress, but don’t reflect on how much closer you are to your goal. Instead, focus on the things that you did, that you know were steps in the right direction. Focus on the positives not the negatives. Be proud of yourself and keep working towards your goals one step at a time.