The Map: Finding Focus and Direction for Your 2014 Health + Fitness Goals
When I was 10 or 11 years old, I got separated from my parents at a national park in Washington. Luckily, I was a Boy Scout and had my trusty park map with me. So for the next 3-4 hours, I walked back and forth across the main path waiting to run into my parents. Needless to say, they were worried sick when I eventually found them and more than a little upset when I acted like it was no big deal. “I wasn’t lost,” I explained. “I had a map; I just didn’t know where I was on it.”
Being on the path to a fitness goal is not different. It requires two things: knowing where you want to go and knowing where you’re at. Lots of people set off towards their goal with a path in mind. Atkins, paleo, Crossfit, walking, running, yoga, Zumba, cycling, intermittent fasting: these are all paths that one can take to many health and fitness goals. But none of them work equally well for everyone. And it can be easy to stray off even the most well-paved path. Ask anyone who has ever set a weight loss goal as a New Year’s Resolution.
So here’s the question: how do you know if you’re getting closer to your destination or just clutching to a map?
The Smallest Goal Embiggins
The of the simplest things you can do to keep yourself from getting lost or distracted on the way to any goal is to take care in how you define the goal it self. The goal of good goal-setting is create a goal that is as
- simple, and
- meaningful to YOU
But before you embark on the process of constructing a goal that fits these criteria, it’s helpful to remember what the point of having a goal is at all. According to Weinburg et al. (1993; 2000), athletes set goals to “provide direction and focus for their actions.” That’s right – the point of a goal is to keep you oriented and moving forward. Therefore any goal, however noble or visionary, that does not make you feel grounded and keep you moving forward is no longer a goal, by definition. It’s a burden. So, if you’ve set dozens of New Year’s weight loss resolutions or health goals in the past that were discarded by the wayside by January 15th, ditch that approach and find a new one that works for you.
Here’s an example. To many people, “I want to lose 20 pounds” feels impossibly far off and vague. Instead, try wrapping your head around a goal or Resolution that you have complete control over and is still connected to your grander destination. You need to lose weight? How does one lose weight? By eating less and moving more. How does one eat less? By deciding to eat less and actually doing it. Now, you can formulate a goal that is relevant and clear, and ultimately contributes to a habit that will snowball into the ultimate vision of weight loss.
Here’s one such habit I love to teach my own clients: “I will put down the fork when I am 80% full every day for 14 days.” Much more manageable than aiming to lose 20 pounds.
Eliminate Data Overload with a Key Metric
With a tool like MyFitnessPal, you can quickly accumulate a lot of data about your progress toward your health, weight and fitness goals – big and small – by recording what you eat and how much you move. You can also see how you’re doing, place yourself on the map to your goals in real time, and use that data as a safety net to make sure you are on track. Or you can log all that invaluable information then get distracted watching cat videos online. It’s like having the map and not knowing where you’re at on it.
Way back in 1971, Simon Herbert said that, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” How do you pay attention to what matters when you have information overload? By focusing on a key metric that is tied tightly to your small-scale, right-now goal. Say for example you set the habit goal I just mentioned, the goal of ceasing eating when one is 80% full. Your key metric would be food amount: calories. Remember – for now, you’re just trying to eat less. So for 14 days, the only number that matters toward your goal is the average number of calories consumed for those 2 weeks – that’s your key metric.
Run the report in MyFitnessPal, get the data you need, check yourself, and find out where you’re at – all the way to your individual small goals. Collectively, that will keep you focused and on track to achieve your big ones.