Check out these coach to athlete scenarios about goal setting
Coach: “So, losing 15 lbs is what it’s all about for you? Cool. I think that’s a great goal because you want to look great in your jeans for date nights with your husband. It will give you confidence and make you feel better about yourself, so let’s do it! We need to make sure you train 4-5x/week, make some adjustments to your diet and get your sleep on point. If we nail all those things, that 15 lbs should be gone in 12 weeks or so.”
Coach: “So, fitting into those jeans again is why you want to lose 15 lbs? Cool. I think the confidence you can gain from that, or even just training to find that kind of confidence again, is going to change you in so many ways. However, I don’t want to sacrifice your health and fitness long term for a short term goal. Crash dieting and training non-stop NEVER work long term. If we focus on training first, we can see how nutrition and recovery naturally adjust before making tweaks there. Losing that weight might take 3 months or 3 years, but we will do plenty of incredible things along the way and keep your confidence to wear clothes like that our top priority.”
Now, after reading the first one, you were probably thinking, “heck yeah, that sounds awesome! Why wouldn’t everyone do that?”
And to a certain extent, I agree. Why wouldn’t someone just dig their toes in the sand, dial in their training, their nutrition and get some impactful sleep to make drastic changes to their physique in a short amount of time. It seems like it should work.
But, if we think back to when that was possible, our life situation probably looked like this:
- Single, maybe dating
- Living in an apartment or condo
- No kids, maybe a pet or two
- Weekends meant socializing with friends and minimal obligations
- Getting 8-10 hours of sleep was in your control
And, if you are reading this and thinking, “hey that’s me!” then get after it and earn the best looking and feeling body you have ever experienced.
But, I imagine, most of you reading remember that part of your life. It’s not the reality now. And for some who have had obstacles impeding the selfish part of their personality, it may have never been the reality.
It’s okay, the first scenario isn’t that great anyway and here’s why.
If, at any point, you falter from your nutrition or sleep during that 12 week period, God forbid your training, you are behind. And now you have to play catch up. Fit in 1 more workout or a two-a-day training session before and after work. Plus, you couldn’t sleep the night before because you were anxious about waking up early to get that morning training session in. So now you are behind on that.
And then, week 12 comes and it’s weigh-in time. Now, no matter what the results are, or if the jeans fit, you won’t feel satisfied.
If you lost the 15 lbs, you think, “I wish I looked better than this, I probably need to lose another 5.”
If you didn’t lose all 15, Coaches need to duck!
This is an objective based approach. Anything less than the final measure being where it was supposed to be is a failure. And deviating from the intended path for any part of that 12 weeks is also seen as failure, especially if the end result isn’t what was expected. It’s not fun for anyone and there is a lot of justifying of behaviors for why the goal was or wasn’t achieved.
So let’s look closer at Scenario #2, because a few things in there stand out that are different than a typical conversation.
First, the coach talks not just about the confidence that comes from wearing the jeans but training to find that confidence. It’s a vision of feeling confident due to actions you have taken as an Athlete versus a lack of water retention or crash dieting to get into the jeans.
Second, the coach doesn’t put a time period on the weight loss because we, as coaches, can’t actually put ourselves in our client’s shoes, no matter how bad we want to. Each person deals with stress in their life differently, training truly can’t be quantified to know if that person is really pushing themselves to their physical limit and what someone tells you they eat is almost never spot on.
Third, and where things get cool, is the coach focused on a constraint based approach. This is where he or she stated, “If we focus on training first, we can see how nutrition and recovery naturally adjust before making tweaks there.” See, losing 15 lbs or fitting into skinny jeans isn’t necessarily in your control.
What if you have big water weight fluctuations when you train regularly, but your body feels better and the aches and pains of daily activity are non-existent?
Or, what if you get stronger and feel more confident in how your body looks in the mirror and carry yourself better at work and with your spouse, BUT those skinny jeans that fit your legs before you actually trained don’t fit. Is that bad?
And, worst of all, what if you start training consistently, your eating habits and sleep quality improves due to the training and your energy levels are better for the time you do have with your family and spouse but the result is you lost 5 lbs and are plateaued there? Devastation?
I hope you picked up on my sarcasm with those 🙂
See, a constraint based approach allows for you to set a goal like, “Having the confidence to wear clothes that show off my physique,” as something that isn’t specific in nature nor has a definitive end date.
But it allows you to recognize that progress is the goal. Seeking to move steadily in that direction every day means you are focused on getting better.
Better might mean you trained on a day when you didn’t want to
Better might mean you skipped that last drink for a glass of water at the end of the night
Better might mean you start to look at yourself differently in the mirror and see confidence
And, better might mean you actually dropped a pound or two.
“But when a measure becomes a target, it is no longer a good measure” That’s Goodhart’s Law (learn more about Goodhart’s Law here)
So as long as you take every day to find ways in which you can make improvements and don’t look at one or two days of weight gain as failure but instead a measure of your actions, you can learn.
Maybe you start to realize that you hold water after a hard training day so it might be best for your mental well-being to only measure your weight 1x/week and not after a hard training day.
The constraint based approach actually puts progress in YOUR hands. The only person responsible for the results you are seeking is you. And you can make the choice to tighten the constraints as far as you want. Or not.
Sometimes you want to look good for a class reunion or rock that halloween costume, so you have to tighten them down for a few months. Other times, you have to deal with your parents getting sick and your kids being home doing school virtually. So you loosen up the constraints on nutrition but try to keep sleep habits and training habits going. You just have to seek different ways to find better during those times.
I know this totally flips the SMART goal setting approach on its head. But it might be the best process I have found to keep climbing the mountain without ever reaching the pinnacle.
Because, as it’s been stated so many different ways, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Focus on the present and enjoy it!