Lift Large And Prosper

Don't Just Coast Through Life, Grow Through It!

Goal Definition – Always Do It, Except When You Don’t.


To my close friends I’ve been known to set myself some goals each calendar year. Nothing major mind you, just simple things like watching more films or listening to more music. In fact, I’ve even done some blog posts about them and I’ll be doing the same at the end of 2013 to share my learnings.

Something taken to be gospel when setting goals is to make sure you give it a clear definition and a realistic deadline, the argument being that if there isn’t a deadline to meet you’ll never get it done. Although this is true for most cases, I’m of the belief that not all goals require them and even in some cases would recommend against them. To begin, let’s look at a case where deadlines and goal definition ARE important.

One of my goals is to listen to at least one new album a month and then at the end of the year I have 12 albums which then become that year’s soundtrack. This makes sure that I get to listen to new bands, new albums and enjoy some good music. I had listened to music constantly through the early years of college, but between final year stress and leaving college to go to ‘the real world’, music had very much taken a backseat in my life.

Although it might not seem like a lot, defining the goal like this is a huge step in the entire process. This statement, “I must listen to one new album every month”, is clear, concise and has what I call a “true or false” setting. When I’m yet to fulfill the statement or goal, it is ‘false’, meaning there is more work or more time to be invested to bring it to completion. When I do however listen to one new album in a given month, the statement is now “true” and is completed. There is no more work required and there is no more time to be invested.

If on the other hand I had made my music goal to be “Listen to new music every month”, it would be unclear as to when I was finished for that month. Is new music one song, one album or maybe its one entire back catalogue? Who knows, there’s no definition there, and this is why defining the goal correctly and concisely is important. It gives a finish line to the goal. It allows you to bring it to “True” status.

The other side of setting and completing goals of this nature is to give yourself a deadline. This should also be encapsulated in the definition. I had given myself one month to listen to the new music, in this case one albums worth, which again allows me to give the goal each month a status. Either I listened to one new album that month or I didn’t. There’s no washyness with whether its completed or not, it either is or it isn’t.

In general, all this is common knowledge. People know it, they understand it and some people even use it. Setting goals in this manner helps to get things done on time, efficiently and with less stress on the goal setter… except when it doesn’t.

I love setting goals. I love using the tools outlined above to get things done. I use it in the gym, I use it in work and I try my best to do it in everyday life. I have however also set goals that I purposely didn’t define or give a deadline too. A good example is losing fat!

Fat loss is something that is always subjected to the ‘rules’ of goal setting. “I want to lose 10 pounds before holidays in 10 weeks time”, “I want to drop 15% body fat in time for the beach season”. We’ve all seen it. Were subjected to it on Tv, on the internet and most certainly within our groups of friends. You may even have been someone who’s even said it themselves.

The problem with defining something like fat loss in this way is because for a lot of people, the rate at which they lose fat is completely out of their control. Even when they do everything correctly, (Eating lots of protein and healthy fats, lower carbohydrates, high levels of intense interval training and low amounts of typical cardio) some weeks they will lose loads, some weeks they will lose none. Then as the deadline gets closer and closer the fat loss will start to slow down. They get stressed out, which reduces fat loss even further and so the vicious cycle begins. Before too long the deadline was six months ago and the stress and utter demoralization of the whole thing has you back at your starting weight.

It’s not even just the deadline that causes issues. The ‘end status’ can cause issues too. Lets say it’s ten pounds of fat you want to lose. What if after losing 5 pounds you think you look great? You fit in all your clothes and your other half is loving it just as much as you. Do you keep going even though its not the 10 lbs you set out to achieve? Do you stop now and consider it complete?

If you do stop should you feel bad for wimping out? I should bloody hope not. What you achieved was amazing, and to take away from that by feel ashamed of yourself would be plain stupid.

This is exactly why in this case I wouldn’t set a target or a deadline. The added stress doing that gives renders setting the goal useless. Instead, I set myself habits. Habits are tools and daily tasks you can do that when complete, will put you and your body in a fat burning mode. Ok so maybe you won’t lose weight today, but does that really matter? No, it doesn’t, because you’re still actively and constantly working towards the fat loss target.  Your completing daily tasks which place you right where you want to be to get to where you want to go!

The habits could be anything that help you achieve your goal.

  • One takeaway or processed meal a week.
  • Sprint twice a week for 5 sets.
  • Enjoy only One bar of chocolate a week.

Notice anything about these habits? These habits are in fact short-term goals, which have been set using the deadline and definition points outlined below. The only difference between a ‘habit’ goal and the fat loss one is that it’s under your control. It’s up to you if you do your sprints or eat your takeaway. Its not up to you whether this loses you weight or not. You’re still in control, you’re still actively working towards the main goal but you’re not caring about the aspects of it all that you cannot control.

And this is what I use to determine whether I need to set a goal or a habit. If there’s nothing stopping me from achieving it apart from me and my time, then its a goal. If ANY aspects of the situation are out of my control, I set a habit. This could be getting a promotion, getting a job in F1, deadlifting 1000Kg. It doesn’t matter if it takes me a week to get or ten years. So long as I’m actively working towards achieving it by doing everything in my power, I can sleep easy.

So the next time you don’t make a goal of yours, ask yourself if next time around you should set a habit instead. It might just be the change you needed!