More Thoughts on Goals

I just got back from a writing residency at the Banff Centre. I had a number of projects on the go. The biggest was my participation in NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month). That’s an initiative whereby tens (or hundreds) of thousands of people commit to trying to crank out a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30. I wanted to get a good start on the 50,000 words needed to “win.”

Having just two weeks in Banff gave me a deadline that I used to propel me on to maximum productivity. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but a few days into NaNoWriMo I realized I could, realistically (while in Banff, not in my regular life), write about 5,000 words a day.

This experience gave me a new respect for and understanding of the power of goals. Not only did I meet the goal almost every day (but for one), I managed to complete my 50,000 words in just ten days. I would not have accomplished this without the goal.

How does this apply to fitness?  When I first started blogging back in September, I claimed to be anti-goals.  At the time, I had what I called “goal-resistance.”  But this experience with NaNoWriMo over the past couple of weeks showed me how powerful a motivator a goal can be.

When I got home, I made some definite commitments in my training. First, on my trainer’s advice I am going to introduce intervals into my running. Second, I have now officially begun the “ease into 10K” program in the hopes of being able to run a 10K relatively comfortably by mid to late January.  If these goals operate anything like the 50,000 words / 5,000 a day goal did, then simply having the goal will get me out the door on days when I otherwise would not go.

I am also re-committed to my goal of altering my body composition (reducing the percentage of fat and increasing the percentage of lean mass).  I hope that having a specific goal in mind for this (25%), with a timeline (by February 1, 2013), will keep me making good choices at all the holiday parties ahead.

I’m sure this is basic commonsense to many people. But to me, I feel like I’ve re-discovered the positive side of goals. Rather than feeling like traps, they now feel once again like positive ends that will keep me focused.

14 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Goals

  1. Hi Tracy, I think goals are absolutely essential. I track EVERYTHING I do. I spend 30 minutes every morning tracking various aspects of my work and my life. And right now I’m working to track even more. Doing this has helped me accomplish a great deal. Congrats on your success with NaNoWriMo. Setting the goal helped you to do this!

  2. I too was previously an anti-goal-ite. But I too have come to see the value of them. They assist you to focus on what you really want. I believe that my ambivalence about setting goals, which still exists in spite of the fact that I now set goals for myself, is somehow connected to a belief or at least a feeling that goal-setters are maddeningly intolerant people. And I have always run from, and to be honest, I have always shunned such people.

  3. I’m a big fan of goals and measuring and tracking! I get frustrated with people (I try not to be intolerant, hi Craig!) who say they want to get better at something but don’t have a definition of ‘better’ and who have no way to measure progress.

    But two reservations about body fat percentage as a goal. One is more directed at you and the other is my own. Originally your goal was to be at 25% by next September. That seems reasonable and doable. February seems a bit drastic. What changed your mind about the time frame?

    The other worry is one I’m still thinking about and will blog about. To achieve changes in body composition, changing behaviors is measurable. Eat six servings of fruits and veggies is like ‘write 5000 words.’ You know exactly what you need to do to meet the goal. For me at least, weight and fat loss are tricky, slippery creatures.

  4. I agree with everyone. Daphne, without what you instilled in me about goals, I would never have made my NaNo word counts (though the goals were probably more extreme than you would recommend over the long term). Craig, people can be extremists about goal-setting. And Samantha, I think you’re right. Maybe I should ease up on the goal — I didn’t remember that I’d put a September date and frankly I don’t know what reasonable changes are in that area because I’ve never measured it before. I also agree that goals needs to be measurable. Right now, it’s making sure my snacks include fruit.

  5. I liked your Sept goal in your original bod pod post. We’re only a few months into our two year countdown. Don’t want to get there too soon! Besides fat-muscle ratios can be tricky. Lots of skinny people have it wrong. I like that it’s not just weight loss but that makes it easier in some ways, trickier in others.

  6. Yes. I think I was just rushing because Banff was a set-back in that department.. I want to see some measurable progress by February, but I like the long range plan!

  7. There are methods which if applied will allow most people to reach healthy goals. I think that is the point. The goals themselves have to be healthy vis-a-vis the individual. In my experience, intolerant people prescribe goals for others, and consider others to be weak, or worse, if they do not conform or attempt to conform to prescribed ideals. Many goals are unhealthy, i.e. for women, wanting to be a Barbie; for men, wanting to be Fabio (or a young version thereof). But many of us actively avoid setting what would be healthy goals for us, even if we secretly really want to acheive those goals, and even if these goals are achievable. We avoid setting such goals because they are usually difficult goals for us to achieve, in the sense that they are “against type” (a nebulous phrase, to be sure). So we avoid setting these goals in numerous ways, e.g. by setting difficult goals for ourselves in activities or methods of operating which are not “against type”, or worse, by denigrating the goals and labelling them as unhealthy in some way. I am trying hard to consider what it is that I really want, and to go for it. I will continue to howl at the moon on occasion, I know. Thing is: I just don’t want to anymore.

  8. That’s right. I think, for me, the other reason I can be goal-averse at times is that I *very* easily can turn goals into obsessions. So it’s less about goals themselves (whether attainable or not) and more about my relationship to goals. I do like smaller, attainable goals. They’re easier to work with. So if I have a big goal, my best bet is to break it down and not focus on it too much. The smaller ones are always realistic. Bigger ones that prove themselves to be ‘against type’ can then be adjusted as I go. I’m also tired of howling at the moon! And of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting that “this time it will be different!”

  9. I think you’re right too, Tracy. Not only do the goals themselves have to healthy; the process of achieving those goals must also be healthy. Like you, I am at times given to obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and one of those times is when I set difficult goals for myself. My modus operandi has always been: “By hook or by crook, I’ll make it work! I might lose, but I won’t back down. Why? Because f— you.” It’s gotten me many things – many victories; it’s also allowed me to exceed my own limitations on occasion. But I’m not at all positive it’s made me very happy. Because the win is always sweet, but it is so fleeting – and then I just need to win at something on a personal level, yet again. Thank you for the insight. (Boy, do I have a lot of work to do. But nevertheless, I will find a way to win! 🙂

  10. I just found your blog, and am really enjoying reading it. I’m 46 and on a mission to build muscle, lose fat, but mostly, be happy in my skin and be able to MOVE. I struggle with setting goals because in the past I’ve set some that have been too much of a stretch, then I’ve hated myself and given up. I am just now trying out goals again. My first semi-mini-goal is to be able to squat 135 pounds on my birthday in mid-January.

  11. Very cool. I too am going to start setting semi-goals. I think it a very smart strategy – hopefully one that will work for me on many levels. My first semi-goal is to maintain my weight at 200 lbs. (a healthy weight for me, as I am almost 6’2” tall, have a fairly large frame naturally and will be 50 next year) and be back to benching sets with 75 lb. dumbells by March, 2013. In a little over six months, I went from being able to bench only 35 lb. dumbells to being able to bench 90 lb. dumbells. I then injured myself and had to forego chest and shoulder exercises for about 4 months, although I continued to weightlift (back, arms, legs, gut). I then regained the ability to train chest and got back up to being able to press 80 lb. dumbells rather quickly. I then lost a lot of strength (and endurance!) while losing alot of weight (although I continued to train). It is difficult for me now to bench even 65 lb. dumbells, so I think setting a mini-goal of doing sets with 75 lb. dumbells in 3 or 4 months is reasonable. My long-term goal is to bench 120 lb. dumbells like my 20 year old nephew, but I’m going to put that to the back of my mind for now!

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