It’s important to have goals.
But, if you’re like me, you’ve set goals before that went unreached.
There is a way you can ensure you reach every goal you ever set. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
The path to goal achievement has seven simple steps—levels if you will—progressively narrowing your focus on your goal. You can look at each transition from level to level as a sieve that filters people out. If 10 people enter the funnel, only 1 or 2 will hit their goal and enter the realm of continuation.
The Filter Effect, as named by Nia Shanks, a fellow fitness writer, makes so much sense.
So how far down the funnel did you make it during your last goal?
Let’s go to work, starting at level 1.
1.) Vague Goal
This is simply setting a generic goal. Getting fit, losing weight, learning Spanish, or becoming the foremost cheese connoisseur in the western hemisphere.
At this level, we’re super excited about how we’ll look, who we will be and how life will change once we’ve reached our goals. We visualize our future, more wonderful selves, and get lost in fantasy land.
Tragically, this is as far as many folks will be able to reach into the funnel to goal achievement.
In 2014, I had the goal to get leaner than ever before. I’ll use myself as an example to show how this worked. Below is my transformation.
2.) Plan of Action
This is the level where you determine what it will take to get where you want to go. Level 2 takes you from where you want to go and lays out the steps to get there.
I sat down with about 30 people in the last week and talked about their goals and aspirations. After they told me their lofty goals and desires, I asked the necessary steps to get to where they want to be. Most of them had yet to think about this. So I helped them simplify and boil down what they needed to do to the essential.
A common issue at this level is having way too much on your plan of action. If you have too many things to get done, you’ll usually default to doing nothing.
The solution is to simplify.
For me, it was the following:
1.) Hire a coach.
2.) Follow the habits the coach laid out to the best of my ability.
3.) Do some sort of exercise or movement every day.
Sure, I could have made this more complex by adding in things like eating lean protein, veggies with every meal, eating slowly, food journaling, taking supplements, strength training 3 days per week, do cardio the other 4, etc. These are all good things. But the key is to start slow and add slower.
You can tweak and change things. Make your plan clear, actionable, and doable.
3.) Execute Plan
So you’re making your way down the funnel. Level 1 is easy, i’m going to get in the best shape of my life. Level 2 is your plan, strength training 3 days per week and following the paleo diet or whatever.
And we come to level 3. It’s time to get your butt to Village Fitness and off to Whole Foods to buy some Kale chips. This is where things come to a screeching halt.
This is a tough level. We know the value of hitting our goal. Getting super lean and awesome will feel amazing. But, it’s pouring rain outside and staying under the cover is ever-so-tempting. Snooze button, anyone?
It’s really hard to take the first step. Often just getting over the first hurdle and getting started doesn’t happen.
Here’s your solution:
1.) Follow the plan. Even blindly follow it. Don’t question when your coach asks you to do bench press or eat carrots because you think pushups and broccoli are better. People get lost in the minutia. Focus on the big picture and execute.
2.) Delay gratification. Our brains want to be gratified now. That’s probably why I’ve checked Facebook thrice while writing point #3. Sometimes I find myself opening a new tab and typing in Fa before even thinking about it (palm to face).
When you feel the desire to stop before you complete the task at hand, check yourself. Notice what’s going on.
“Ahh, I’m looking for ways to distract myself because what I’m doing in meaningful and difficult.”
Then, get back on track.
Don’t worry, you can sit on the couch and watch Game of Thrones after you hit the gym.
Delay what your brain wants. Do what’s important but difficult. It will be worth it.
For me, this meant simply following the plan and habits the coach I had laid out. It also meant getting to the gym or getting some sort of exercise in almost every day.
Ok, now you’ve actually started working towards your goal.
It won’t always go according to plan. You want to get to the gym at 5am. But, the kids are sick and up all night, your neighbors dog was barking, or you stayed up later than expected watching the Daily Show.
The threat of derailing challenges are imminent. Eventually something will happen to make reaching your goals more difficult.
Let’s say you’re on your way to achieving your goal of losing 10 pounds. 7 pounds down. All of the sudden, your stupid best friend invites you to the best gastropub in LA. You go out, have a great time, and a giant bacon cheese burger. The aged cheddar and brioche bun are amazing. Your whole weekend is derailed. You eat poorly the next day and it carries over into the following week. You step on the scale Tuesday and are horrified to find you’ve gained every pound back. You give up and determine your destined to be fat.
You will encounter a challenge, or 100, on your way to reaching your goal.
This is where most sensible plans gets ripped to shreds by the refiner of goals: life.
The solution is to prepare for the inevitable. You have to be ready for things to not go as expected.
It’s silly to think something won’t happen to derail you. Be ready for anything and you will achieve your goals. Be fluid and adaptable.
Back to our gastropub example. How could we crush this? Well, I would still eat the burger.Maybe you have a light breakfast and lunch in preparation for your high calorie dinner. You could even halve or split it. The first bites are the best anyways. The next day, you go for a long walk, not as punishment, but to reset your focus on your goal. You eat clean all day and get back on the proverbial wagon.
The important thing isn’t avoiding messing up. The important thing is to adapt and learn from our mistakes.
When challenges arise, don’t cower in the corner and retreat. Don’t drown in a pool of self-pitty. Accept the challenge. Better yet, meet it head on. Punch it square in the chops. That’s the only option if we want to achieve our goals.
When I was working towards getting lean, obstacles constantly came up. I love a good burger or a nice Belgian beer (not exactly the most physique friendly foods). So I worked on eating slower and rolling with the punches. I also established minimums during extra-busy times. During finals week, I would set a minimum to get to the gym twice. Then I would never allow myself to miss my minimum.
Wow. I’m proud of you.
You faced many challenges and obstacles to get to this point.
But now what happens when getting to your goal takes way longer and is way harder than expected? What do you do then?
This is where you persevere.
Here’s what to do: focus on little victories.
Maybe you haven’t lost an inch on your waist in 4 weeks. But, you’re feeling better than every before, you have more energy than last month, and you just lowered the amount of assistance on your pull up!
Common problems on Level 5: Losing sight of your why (the reason you’re striving for the goal); your whys, or the goal itself, may require an adjustment out of desire or necessity.
At this stage you’re faced with a harsh reality: this goal you set in level 1 is going to be stinkin’ hard to achieve.
In order to get to our goal, we need to focus on the small wins instead of the large.
If your goal is to save $10,000 for retirement, a small win would be not ordering a latte or getting a snack from the food cart today. If your goal is to get super-lean, a small win would be making a good choice for dinner and getting your workout in.
When you consistently focus on small wins, they will add up. Eventually, you will get to your big goal.
Second, you need to focus on the process.
Too often, we dwell on getting to our desired end. When you get to the end, you may realize you’re still not completely content.
If you can simply enjoy the process, the daily pursuit of bettering yourself, of getting healthier, of living a better life, you’ll achieve your goals and more.
At times, progress was really slow. The pictures above are taken over a year apart. It. Took. A. Long. Time. I had minor setbacks. There were a few months where my weight and measurements didn’t change. But I knew I was leaps and bounds ahead of where I had been when I started. My overall progress kept me going when monthly progress was slow.
6.) The Goal
The ripped body; being debt free; the maxed-out 401K. You made it. This is where you reminisce about the long journey to get to your goal. You may be bloody and bruised, but you finally made it.
The question is now where do you go from here.
Some people are ecstatic when they reach this level. They knew when they set out this would not suddenly solve every one of the problems they have in life. They knew when they reached their goal, they would have to work to maintain.
Other people feel sad. They thought hitting their goal would make them feel complete. But often, it doesn’t.
If you’re one of the excited people, take a few deep breaths and savor all you’ve accomplished. Be proud of yourself. Then, figure out what it will take to maintain the progress you’ve made.
Those who are discontent will probably look for a new goal to chase. And I think this is ok as long as you know what you’re doing. As long as you realize it’s more about the journey of working towards something than the feel you’ll get at the destination, you can keep at it. The problem lies in thinking that hitting the next goal will solve your problems and make life perfect. You’ll always be left wanting even when you reach a big goal.
If you see reaching a goal as a journey, you’ll enjoy everything so much more.
I have the goal of filling every session of our small group personal training here at Village Fitness. We’ve been working towards this goal since we developed the idea for Village almost a year ago. Even though we haven’t hit our goal yet, I’ve loved every step of the process. We’ve been building a business, meeting new people, helping our clients get in the best shape of their lives, and cultivating an amazing fitness community. Every day I wake up excited to go to work. I simply love what I do. If all I did was dwell on getting to a goal, the last year would have been miserable.
Learn from your goals. Better yet, learn from the journey to get to your goals. Let the journey shape you and make you into a better version of yourself.
It would be stupid to spend a year getting in the best shape of your life and building habits only to throw it all away and return to your former ways. You’d be crazy to save and sacrifice to pay back a loan quickly only to go buy something you can’t afford.
At the continuation level, you have two choices.
- Maintain what you’ve built
- Move onto a new goal
What you choose is up to you. What’s important is that you purposefully move towards something.
Take a look back at a previous goal you did not achieve. Where in the funnel did you get booted out?
For most of the clients we work with online and in-person, it’s level 4. When disaster strikes and life gets in the way, they give up and retreat. For these people, we plan for the unexpected and roll with the punches.
Maybe for you, it’s simply getting started.
Well, I’m sure you have something you want to accomplish. Otherwise you probably wouldn’t have read this much of my article.
You better get started.