Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sometimes you have to move the goalpost

A friend told me the other day that my blog had inspired her to "get real" about the 40 pounds she had promised herself she would lose this year. Now I'm a big fan of anyone who tries to make positive changes in his or her life, but I was concerned that my friend might be setting the bar too high.

Goals are strange creatures. They can be powerful motivators or potential saboteurs. The latter occurs when they're unrealistic.

The world of fitness plans, programs and facilities seems a breeding ground for unrealistic expectations. The cycle plays out annually at gyms everywhere. In January, they're like little cities, bustling with the activity of their enthusiastic inhabitants. By March, they're mere villages, and by April, ghost towns.

I have to believe a big part of the reason for the dropout rate is frustration — the frustration of unmet goals.

Take Mr. Average Guy, who walks into the gym and sees Mr. Personal Trainer, with his massive chest and arms rippling with muscle. Mr. Average Guy thinks, "Yeah, I wanna look like that," and signs up for a membership and some training sessions.

That would be all fine and good, as long as he understood that Mr. Personal Trainer probably spends 12 hours a day at the gym, weighs every ounce of food he eats, and eats on a schedule as precise as a German train. Mr. Average Guy, lacking such single-minded drive, will most likely become frustrated at some point when, despite all of his efforts, he realizes he still looks, by comparison, average.

Or say I wanted to start running, which is unlikely, because I've always detested running, but stranger things have happened. Do you think I'd be more likely to succeed if I plunged right in and started training for a marathon, or by training first for a 5K?

There's no doubt in my mind that my friend could lose those 40 pounds, eventually. But instead of "promising" herself she'd do it this year, why not set an initial goal of 10 to 15 pounds, and when successful, follow it up with a goal of an additional 10 to 15 pounds, and so on?

A series of small goals can get us where we want to go, too. It just might require a little more time and patience, but we're more likely to reach our destination.

You know, I think I've just inspired myself. I'm going to go check out some listings of upcoming 5Ks.

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