Motivation and Habits

by Michael Petresky on December 23, 2013

About a month since my last post, and my head has been everywhere regarding where I want to take this blog. I finally made some internet moves this past Fall season, but my level of motivation varies by the day so it’s been hard to stay consistent.

What motivates each of us has always been a topic of interest for me. I know what drives me to do certain things, but what drives me is usually not what drives the next person. Why am I able to spend an hour every day breaking a sweat, but am unable to consistently put aside an hour for writing whereas the next person may have no trouble with the opposite? The answer lies not in motivation, but in habit formation. We are creatures of habit. Motivation may come and go, but when you create  a habit out of something it does not matter where your level of motivation is on a specific day, because it is the powerful nature of an ingrained habit that keeps you going. Whatever it is you want to do with your life, and whatever goals you want to achieve figure out how to break it down into habits. From there success is just some duration of time away.

I want to wrap up the year with some reflection posts about my personal take home points from 2013. It’s crazy how much you change as a person every year. As with all of my posts, my goal here is to share information that may aid you in your own pursuits. I’m also hoping this helps me clear my head as 2013 wraps itself up, and the new year begins.

I love celebrating a new year. It’s invigorating. As one who frequently dwells in the past, the new year always serves as a reminder that it’s important to also look forward, to get excited about all the potential new experiences, to set goals, and to create a rough game plan of where I’d like to be after another 365 days.

The Pros and Cons of Goal Setting:

As a fitness professional the topic of goal setting is common. Helping clients set their own short and long term goals is part of my work, but is goal setting really as important as so many seem to think?

At a glance, goal setting makes sense. Creating benchmarks to keep you on track makes sense. What then is the problem?

We create these lofty goals in our minds, and then we fixate on them.

In a perfect world, we hit these short term benchmarks one by one until we ultimately reach our long term goals. It really sucks to set a goal, create the steps, and fail to get where you thought you would even after religiously adhering to the step by step process you thought would get you there. You lose willpower, get disappointed, give up on the plan, and throw out the benchmarks that were even further down the road. Before you know it you’re sitting right back where you started wondering what went wrong, but this time without that initial burst of motivation you had at the beginning, and more than likely even less motivation in general.

Know where you want to go, and what you want to achieve, but do not get so hung up on things happening exactly how you want them to. Patience is key here. Nothing ever happens fast enough for our liking. Sure, instant gratification and reward is great, but it’s unrealistic. More than likely things take a lot more time than you expect, and when they do you cannot let it get you down. Hopefully on your journey you’ve created habits, so when motivation levels do drop, and discouragement sets in you have this foundation of habits to fall back on. Worry less about benchmarks, and goal setting, and direct your focus to creating a strong foundation for success through daily habits.

I truly believe it’s not achieving the goal itself that is important, but the journey that matters most. It’s so easy to focus on getting from point A to point B that you miss out on enjoying everything in between. Focus on the process, not the product. The product will come, and if it doesn’t at least you had a great time through the process of it all. If you neglect the process, and only focus on the end result, you may be surprised when you get there that you aren’t as satisfied with your achievement as you thought would be. I’ve seen this through my own experiences, and know that obsession is real. For certain personality types it can be easy to be taken over by an extreme focus toward reaching a goal. If you feel like you’re the type try placing a note that you can see daily to remind yourself to not lose sight of what is important.

There is nothing inherently wrong with goal setting. Just understand that shit happens, and to not worry too much about reaching X goal by Y date. The purpose of setting goals and benchmarks is to help guide your journey so you aren’t haphazardly trying to figure out what to do next. When things stray, and a benchmark is not met, simply push back your marks and keep going. The majority of life’s failures are people who just gave up before realizing how close they actually were to success. Keep moving forward.

Goal Setting 101 for Health, Fitness, and Aesthetics:

  • Your longest term goal should be no more than 3-5 years. Goals change too often to bother with anything further down the road, and it’s impossible to predict what your life is going to throw at you.
  • Enter: Bob. Bob has the goal of adding muscle, and losing fat in order to look more fit with his shirt off, and also feel all around healthier. That’s a great goal, however there is a problem. This goal needs to be quantified.
  • Quantify everything. Aesthetic goals are fine, but it’s much more powerful to set benchmarks that are numeric. In the case of building muscle, it is best to set strength goals. Increasing strength almost always means more muscle, so strength is your best variable to measure here.
  • For body fat, it is best to use skin-fold sites to measure body fat percentage, but overall body weight is OK too. The mirror test is great as well, but should be in addition to the above. How you feel when you see yourself in the mirror is extremely important. Regular progress pictures help with motivation especially once you start to see physical results from your hard work.
  • Bob’s  new 3 year goal is to add 25 pounds of muscle and decrease his body fat by 10%.
  • Break it down. Divide this goal up yearly, and then for the current year break it down further into two goals: a semi-annual checkpoint and your year end goal. For our example here this could be to gain 8 pounds of muscle, and decrease your body fat by 3% by year end, with half of that being achieved by the 6 month mark.
  • It’s time to set benchmarks for each month. Look not just at how your workouts are progressing, but also lifestyle factors such as nutrition, sleep, hydration, and alcohol intake. Create a notebook and log as much as you can. The more you record in the beginning, the better.
  • Finally, what are your action steps? These are your habits that you will try to adopt in order to reach your end goal. Remember the importance of a strong foundation. If you fail to reach your year-end goal, but have created five new habits to enter the next year you are now that much closer than you were before. You can trust that you have these factors down, and can now focus on other areas of your life as you continue your journey.
  • Start small with habits. The easier the better. It can be something as simple as taking a daily multivitamin or fish oil. Habits feed off each other. Once you find yourself regularly completing one habit without thought it’s not time to add another. Trying to add too many habits all at one time can lead to trouble. Some may have success, but more than likely it’s best to to go habit-by-habit, day-by-day, until it is mastered and you’re ready for the next one.

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