Next week I hit a new major life milestone, my 40th birthday. Looking back at all I have achieved this year, I am in a great place physically and mentally heading into my 40s, but it took allot of work, dedication and change to get to my current level of fitness.. Previous to April of 2012, years before this, I used to have a favorite mantra that I would use as my goal whenever I entered a new round of health improvement desires:
“When I Turn 40 I want to be in the best shape of my life“.
I rallied around this cry and set it as my goal. For weeks, maybe months I would go to the gym, modify the diet and maybe loose a few pounds. Without fail, these phases of attempted fitness eventually failed and I wound back up on the couch in front of the television with a bag of chips and a chocolate bar again. The cycle repeated itself numerous times through out my thirties and I never understood why it did not work. I wanted to be fitter and healthier, especially by forty. Based on popular cultural perspective and my own perspective based on current media , the forties is when everything physically starts going wrong for men who have not taken good care of themselves. Since I turned thirty two,and later when being diagnosed with diabetes, turning forty scared me to no end.
So why did my stated goal of being in the best shape of my life by the time I turned forty not work to consistently make a permanent life style change of physical activity and healthy eating? Did this failure stem from my food plan, my exercise routine, or did something else continuously hamper my success. Years later and after numerous life style improvement starts and stops, I finally understand why I did not succeed all those years and why I currently, since last April 2012 to present, have succeeded in making positive healthy long lasting life style changes. It all boils down to understanding the difference between dreams and goals.
Dreams Vs Goals: There is a Difference
While the desire “to be in the best shape of my life” by forty sounds like a goal it really is not. Besides having a deadline, it does not give any determinants for success. What level of fitness do I consider success? What exactly does “best shape” mean? Do I mean physically strong or do I mean something else? This leads me to one of the most important factors in setting goals: Goals require a clear and defined set of conditions that allow it to be evaluated.
The second most important failure with that statement stems from the lack of a clear set of smaller goals that provides a clear and concise path leading to the larger goal. Throughout my thirties that goal was too far away to seem real and timely which lead to frequent start and stops as there was nothing to set as immediate goals leading to the larger goal.
In the end that mantra is not a goal at all, instead it is a dream or a desire. It is something I wish for, but have no action plan or method of evaluating and achieving in the end.
In comparison to my thirties, last April of 2012 everything changed for me. It started with a medical emergency and a new found desire to try something I have never done: running a 5k. At that point I could not run more than a second and was out of breath after walking to my mailbox. I was in bad shape. My brother recommended the couch to 5k running program as a way to embrace fitness be able to run a 5k.
The immediate thing I did differently at that moment, that I have since continued and refined, I set a goal: By the end of the year, probably October I will run in a 5k race. Unlike my thirties mantra, this goal was truly a goal. There were measures for success (a race) and there was a deadline. Furthermore I had a weekly plan to follow that would aid me to achieve this goal in the allotted time. This simple act of setting this first short term goal changed everything.
Within a month I established a habit of setting weekly goals and reflecting on the successes and failures of previous weeks goals. I learned how to measure success and handle setbacks and failures. The first of these failures or set backs involved an knee injury that forced me to pool running. Of course this further changed my life, as I decided I needed a longer goal and decided to shoot for a Triathlon the previous year. Once again I had a defined time frame and terms for success. I modified and solidified my habit of weekly and monthly goals and learned from each weeks successes and failures. In the end I would add a longer term goal to this list, a season of triathlons. Additionally I established a list of items I wanted to achieve by the end of the seasons, a series of goals (analysis and review of my 2013 goals can be found here). All these items and goals contributed to the success of my larger, big picture goal and in the end made the reality of my dream to be in the best shape of my life by forty a reality.
Keys of Goals and Goal Living – My Opinion on what makes goals work
- There are three major goals – long term, medium term and immediate goals.
- Long term are yearly or beyond. For me a long term goal is to run a sub 30 minute 5k. The long term goal does not have to be realizable in the specific year or time frame and can be carried over into new long term goals.
- Medium goals are goals to be completed longer than a month away. For me my first 5k race and triathlon were medium goals. They did not have the longer focus of a long goal and were achievable in a very short but doable period of time. These should not carry over unless outside stresses or other factors lead to delay or failure of the goal, then these should get morphed into new goals. For me, at the end of this year I had a medium goal to complete my first Olympic distance triathlon. Unfortunately I had three bike flats and was unable to complete the race. This goal is now one of my new medium level goals for next year.
- Immediate goals are weekly and monthly goals and in my opinion should be analyzed and reviewed frequently. For me these are often part of a larger plan, but provide the fuel to realize larger goals. These have some variability and can change from the laid out plan based on analysis and timely review. I often set up a season training plan that will get me to my goals for my races. Each week I review the previous week and set goals for the next week based on the preset plan. If needed, I set and change the goals based on immediate circumstances.
- Goals have a clear defined time limit and completion or success determinants. For a goal to be a goal there has to be a clear path to achieving it and it’s success should be measurable.
- Dreams are fine, but are wispy and really have not backing to them. I want to do an iron man someday. That is a dream that might eventually converted to a goal. It has no deadline or conceivable plan for achieving it.
Today I live by this process of setting long, short and immediate goals. Even in the off season I reflect on the previous week’s goals and set both weekly and monthly goals. I always establish terms for success and provide a method to achieve those goals. This process and habit has made all the difference in my success and health as I head into my forties and beyond. While I always dreamed of being in the best shape of my life by the time I turn 40, I know now what that fitness is and how I have achieved it. Til next time.
Do you have anything to add I might have not included in my list?
How do you deal with the struggle of setting and achieving goals?
- Defining Personal Goals for Success (brookehammondxo.wordpress.com)
- Embrace Failure (secret2anamazinglife.com)
- How To Make Dreams Come True (jenmangarofitness.wordpress.com)
- How to set your goals and actually achieve them. (mindovermatter56.wordpress.com)
- “Goal-Setting: Drawing Out Your Floor Plan” (successcoachcorner.wordpress.com)
- What’s The Real Difference Between Exercise & Physical Activity? (refinery29.com)
- Making the change (breeandelisa.wordpress.com)
- Announce Your Goals (lifehack.org)
- I followed the program but now I’m in worse shape than before!? (thedoza.wordpress.com)
- Short-Term & Long-Term Goals (hamzaofleh97.wordpress.com)