I recently met a man at a gym where I consult wearing an Apple watch and a Basis watch, two heavy-duty trackers. He also tracked his food with MyFitnessPal, his sleep, his weight with a wifi scale, and a bunch of other things, too, all on disparate platforms. And after a year with all that data, his progress towards his goals had slowed to a crawl. You’d think he’d be doing better than ever, but he wasn’t able to suss through all the crazed web of the different data sets and apps to find a successful path to his goal.
Progress in the beginning of a health and fitness journey is relatively easy. Beginners just need to be pointed in the right direction and consistent and “things happen.” But things get trickier when you’re not a beginner anymore. When you hit your first plateau (the true sign you’re no longer a beginner), it suddenly matters “what” you actually do at the gym. And from here on out, you’re going to have to actually think about optimal, and how to avoid hurting your potential progress.
Data and goals are essential to optimizing, but like the gentleman with more data tracking than the space shuttle, they may be holding you back. Here are three accidental ways you could be hurting your health goals.
1. Data Is not Wisdom
In 1989, Russel Ackoff gave a speech to International Society for General Systems Research in which he coined the “Knowledge Pyramid.”
Tracking everything doesn’t lead to insights. Knowledge and expertise does. That’s why even the best athletes have coaches and usually lots of them. Experts are people you pay to help you interpret the data and help you find one path among many. Devices available today aren’t substitutes for these experts; they aren’t able to extract insights from your data to help to make these decisions. No longer being a beginner means you’re going to have to manage lots of potential options, some of which you might not even know are out there. And as Russell Ackoff noted in 2002, data can actually confuse people even more. “[People] who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.” And getting clear on what your goals are, is the first step to utilizing that data and expertise.
2. Fitness Is not Health
My mentor Dan John likes to remind just about anyone who’ll listen that, “fitness and health are not the same thing.” Fitness is the ability to do a task. Health is fuzzier. I ran a sub-3hr marathon, but I almost severed both my achilles tendons, kept getting infections, and had exactly zero libido for almost 3 months leading up to it. I was unhealthy. The World Health Organization calls health, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Put another way, health is waking up with pretty much the same chance of dropping dead as yesterday.
The reason I bring this up is that many people get hung up on metrics thinking they’re health. But most metrics measure “fitness” for tasks. And being fit for many tasks could require a temporary sacrifice of your health. Like marathon running. And that’s not bad, it just is. So ask yourself, “Do I have health goals … or fitness goals?”
3. “Goal” Trumps “Goals”
Finally, one of the easiest ways to hurt your goals, is to have more than one. In fact, I call trying to achieve more than outcome goal at a time, “The Intermediate Mistake.” Beginners’ often just want to get better. At anything. Advanced athletes know exactly what they want with crystal clarity. The “Intermediate Mistake” is not having a clear idea of what you want and pursuing it all at once.
You can’t run 6 days a week and CrossFit 6 days a week and hope to get better at either of them very efficiently. It’s great to have multiple interests and variety in your training, but as you get better, you’ll have to choose where you spend your energy and time because you have to manage recovery. I’m not saying you have to specialize in one sport, but prioritizing one goal to do first is the hallmark of clarity.
The tool I use for this with clients is called, “5-3-1st,” and it’s pretty simple.
- List your top 5 health and fitness goals.
- Of those, what are your top 3?
- Of those, what is the first goal you would like to achieve?
If you take the time to prioritize the order in which you would like to achieve your goals, you will save a lot of time and energy that you might have wasted trying to run in two directions at once.