Setting Goals: We Need to Understand The “Why”

We’ve all been there, whether it is during the start of the school year, a New Year’s resolution or when working with a coach. It usually goes something like this:

“So, what’s your goal?”

“Well, I want to (insert goal here, which typically includes one of the following)”:

  • Lose weight
  • Gain weight
  • Get stronger
  • Get faster
  • Compete in a show
  • Be healthy
  • Be able to do 10 chin-ups
  • Do a marathon
  • Live life to enjoy it with my kids and actually have fun with them

Whatever it may be, and however general it may be, firstly we need to get specific. We need to set S.M.A.R.T goals: Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Time-framed. 

When I set a goal with a client I also want to know why. Why that goal? Answers like “Because I’m currently unhealthy and I want to be healthy” are too general.

I will use myself as an example. My goal this year is to add 5kg of muscle, to maintain symmetry whilst staying at 10% or less body-fat, to ensure I can sleep solidly through the night, and to maintain a high volume of working and learning capacity.

Could I aim higher? Sure – I’d love to get straight on the gain train to swole town. Could I set it in 6 months? I could, but then there may be some things that would need to be compromised that I am not comfortable with. Here’s the thing though, I have some higher-order stuff that is always a challenge to overcome, so if I can pace myself and make it sustainable, then I am more likely to be successful this time next year, instead of being stuck with the same goal and the same things holding me back.

At Muscle Nerds, we work with many different people from all walks of life. Not everyone presents with the same goal, but one thing I notice a lot is people setting goals they are not yet ready for.

Back to my example – I was overweight as a kid, then became anorexic and a training junky. I got better and became a workaholic and physique freak. Seeing any trends yet? I have been through a lot of therapy, and now have more clarity about who I am and what is truly meaningful to me. If my goal is too big, I may revert back to old habits. So, for me, I know this goal is achievable. Once I’ve achieved that goal, I can reset, maintain and plan the next step.

I know there may be days when I hop on the scale, or look at progress pics and  a voice may creep back in saying “You’re getting fat, stop eating you pig”. I deal with this daily, but I also know I am much stronger than I used to be, and have more trust in the process I set in place.

How does all this apply to you?

If your goal is to lose weight, or more specifically body fat, somewhere along the road there needs to be some sacrifice or behaviour adjustment. If you go on a pizza and cocktail bender every weekend, you may never allow your body to be in the deficit it needs to lose fat. Maybe you need more sleep, less stress, more movement, or reprioritisation of time, in which case we would need to have a heart to heart talk to understand why you feel the need to do those current behaviours, as well as how we can adjust them.

If your goal is to put on muscle, then somewhere along the journey you are going to need to be in a surplus of calories (i.e eat more). Muscle is expensive to put on and expensive to maintain. Your body and higher-order centres (the big squishy thing inside your skull) need to be okay with that. If your identity has been Mr Lean for a long time, then again, we are going to need to have a heart to heart talk and come to some understanding about how we work towards your goal.

Regardless of your goal, your brain has to be in on it. If not, the results may well just be frustration.

I want to leave you with this:

You’re driving along in a convertible. The sun is shining, the wind glides through your hair and you’re thinking “Damn, life is good.”

The gas light comes on and a splutter noise kicks in as your car comes to a halt. It’s clear what’s wrong – no gas. You get out, pop the hood and begin to pull the engine apart. You check the tyres and replace each one. None of this works.

You wouldn’t do the above, would you? You would see the fuel is out and call for help, or walk to the nearest fuel station. When it comes to our goals and bodies, we sometimes avoid the obvious and go searching for any other possible reason.

I am not saying that the walk to the fuel station will be comfortable. Neither will acknowledging if there is something in your way that is mental, emotional or psychological. But sometimes we need to make that journey – sometimes we need to be prepared to get a little uncomfortable before we can carry on.

– Shane O’Leary