Have you ever wanted to do something, but you were at the base of the mountain and the journey to the peak seemed overwhelming? You’d tried a few times to climb it, but were beaten back by frustration and failures?
I’ve recently been helping a friend of mine to lose weight. Now, that’s by no means my area of expertise, but she asked and I was happy to help.
It’s been a very enlightening process, and gave me an opportunity to test some theories of goal setting and motivation. It turns out that training a dog, losing weight, and training in a sport all have things in common.
What you track matters
Where people fall down much of the time is in what information they prioritize and track.
For example, when you are trying to lose weight, most people track weight. When you are trying to get a title in dog sports, you track “Q”s (qualifying runs) or points. In sports, you track wins. But this focus on outcome doesn’t tell you what to fix, or what needs work, or where you are doing well. It doesn’t tell you how to tweak the system.
Although I may need to track those things, I also have to recognize they are, to a large degree, out of my control. Weight can fluctuate with water retention or plateau as the body adapts to new caloric balances or builds muscle. “Q”s or points in dog events can fluctuate based on style of course, footing, injuries, peaking cycle, training and performance of other athletes. Winning in sport can fluctuate for many of the same reasons.
Trends and cycles are a very natural part of all of these processes, and there’s no point getting too hung up on them. It’s the trends that tell you something, rather than the individual outcomes. Like the stock market, you have to desensitize yourself a bit to the normal ups and downs, but recognize the trends, and whether any action is required.
Focus on what you can control
What you do really need to pay attention to is your day to day actions, the things you can control and your short-term goals. We become aware of what we track, and you need to become most aware of the things that impact your performance.
For example, if you are trying to lose weight, you need to know what your ’net’ calories for the day need to be to create a deficit. Then track what you are eating (quality) and when you are eating, monitor your exercise and how many calories you are burning per day, and how many calories you take in every day. Over the course of a week you can see if you have created enough of a caloric deficit to burn some fat.
Think in terms of ‘the stats’
In sports most coaches track the ‘stats’… in other words, the statistics of a performance. You might track your percentage of rebounds in basketball, your percentage of successful repetitions in dog training, and your percentage (and type) of faults per obstacle repetition in dog agility to know where your problems and strengths really are. In healthy eating, the stats might include calories, or you might look at the amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fibre, vegetables, sodium or cholesterol, depending on what gets you the results you need.
They are the keys to successful performance. You set your goals based on these things, and as the performance in these areas improve, the ‘wins’ start to come. You keep tweaking until you find the right combination. Otherwise, you’re just flapping around guessing at why you aren’t getting the result you want. Remember the definition of insanity – “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” You’ve got to know what your keys for a successful performance are, and work on them.
I decided to track my own eating as well, so I could experience the process and be a support to my friend. As it turns out, when we sat down to talk, she said that the tracking and the corresponding sense of control, and the buddy system for the accountability and support, were two of the biggest things that helped her stay the course.
Set easy milestones to start
Set relatively easy milestones to build your confidence, while still keeping your vision of the dream at the back of your mind. Make it a journey.
For losing weight, the first milestone might be to lose five or eight pounds at a pound a week, on the path towards a goal that is further down the road.
When training a young dog in dog agility and you have just started sequencing obstacles, the milestone might be 10 obstacles in a row with no faults.
When you reach that milestone, set another that will take some work but is potentially achievable within 4 to 6 weeks, to keep you motivated and moving forward. This time frame also allows you to catch trends that are going the wrong way before they become a big problem.
Settle in for the long haul
When you try to do things too quickly, you get rebound effects. The rah-rah motivation doesn’t last long and uses up a tremendous amount of emotional energy. When you try to get results too quickly, you usually pay the price in terms of weight gain rebound, injury, and burn-out.
When you try to rush something, you don’t internalize it. It doesn’t become a part of you. It goes as quickly as it comes. For example, how much do you remember from exams you crammed for? Remember, you are in this for the long haul, so do it properly and really internalize it, let it become a part of who you are.
Today’s culture is far too impatient. We too often want things overnight, but most ‘overnight successes’ will tell you how long they worked at it consistently before they got any results.
Keep your head down and take little steps from the base of the mountain upward, consistent steps, and focus on what you can control. Enjoy the little successes. Reassess at your milestones. When you look up, you’ll be much closer to the peak that you ever imagined.
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