Focus on process, not results . . . although we want results

Here’s the tricky bit about fitness goals: you can’t really control them.  Almost all of the metrics for fitness that are commonly used as goals or benchmarks or measures of success such as bodyweight, run times, lift amounts, etc. are secondary effects.

For example, let’s say you wanted to lose twenty pounds.  It’s easy to make that your goal and create a plan to lose one pound a week for twenty weeks.  So you create a diet plan and a workout schedule and you get started.  The problem is that your body is a complex system.  You might follow your diet and workout plans to the letter, but some weeks you might lose two pounds (or more) and other weeks you might not lose anything.  At the end of twenty weeks you could have executed your plan faithfully and still failed at your goal.  The same holds true for any fitness goal.  Running faster, lifting more, doing more pushups, anything.

That isn’t to say that fitness results are random or not correlated to diet and exercise.  They are, but it’s a complicated relationship.  It’s important to have goals if you want to improve (or maintain) your fitness because those goals help you structure your regimen and develop your plan.  But in my opinion it’s much more important on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis to track and adhere to process or program related benchmarks, than it is to only track your goal metric.  Your goal metric should be something that you only return to occasionally to assess the effectiveness of your planning and effort.

For example, on my goal to achieve 100 consecutive push-ups I don’t grade myself on how many push-ups I do each day.  I might be tired one day, I might do my pushups after a cardio workout or on a floor surface that doesn’t provide ideal traction.  There are a ton of things that could impact the number of pushups I do and failing to hit a specific number or to reach a specific number by a specific date could be frustrating or interpreted as a personal failure rather than a data point.

My Beeminder tracker is set up to track whether or not I do the workouts.  I didn’t make my plan to do a certain number of consecutive pushups every day or every other day or anything like that.  I track my workout consistency, do what the workouts in the program require and then every couple of weeks or so do a diagnostic test to see what my goal metric performance is.  Then based on those tests I can decide to tweak my plan to improve my performance.

Likewise, if I was trying to lose weight I wouldn’t use my daily weight as a performance metric (although I might still record it daily, complicated, I know).  I’d have goals related to caloric intake; exercise intensity, duration and consistency; and rest and stress reduction goals.  Then I’d concentrate on achieving those objectives and periodically check my weight to ensure that my plan was having the desired affect.  If my overall weight trend wasn’t what I wanted I would adjust the parameters of my plan to get the results I want.

This is a tricky issue because if you aren’t careful it can lead to fatalism about your results (or lack thereof) rather than treating it as feedback about the effectiveness of your plan.


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