Smarter, Faster, Better Fitness
This week’s post highlights some concepts that I learned as I read through Charles Duhigg’s latest book, “Smarter, Faster, Better.” Read on to see how some of his productivity secrets translate into accomplishing your fitness goals…
Over the past several weeks, I have had the opportunity to read through Charles Duhigg’s latest book, “Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.” Duhigg, who is a journalist for The New York Times and author of two successful books, did an outstanding job of unearthing and discussing many factors that are essential to being productive and successful at whatever it is you want to be successful at.
When I say productive in this instance, I don’t simply mean the ability to do a lot of things. Rather, what I mean, and what Duhigg focuses on in his book, is how to accomplish more meaningful tasks, and thus how to be truly productive instead of just busy. After all, even if you accomplish a lot of tasks, if none of them are important you’re not moving closer to your goal.
These lessons in productivity are valuable in just about any category of life, but often we don’t think about productivity when it comes to achieving health and fitness goals. Unfortunately, many people spend a good portion of their life spinning their wheels with regard to fitness. They’ll start exercising, only to stop when something “more important” comes up. They’ll reach their goals, only to fade out of their routine and revert back to where they started.
Sadly this kind of story is more common than the one in which goals are met and maintained, and fitness is a lifestyle rather than a fad.
This is why I believe that some of the popular lessons taught when it comes to productivity can translate very well to achieving fitness goals. By definition, if you are more productive in your fitness endeavors, you will achieve your fitness goals.
Of the many topics discussed in Duhigg’s book, two stuck out to me as essential for success in any health and fitness endeavor. In fact, when I see someone in the gym who is not successful at achieving their fitness goals, quite often it is one of these two factors that is missing.
The first is meaningful motivation, and the second is effective goal setting.
The first factor that is often missing from productive health and fitness routines is meaningful motivation. This is the all-important why factor. Why are you doing what you’re doing in the first place? If you cannot answer the question of why you are sacrificing other things in life to go after fitness goals, then there is no way that you will stick with it for the long haul.
I’ve written about this idea before, but the way in which Duhigg explained motivation really hit home for me. In the book, Duhigg used lessons from Marine Corps basic training to demonstrate how meaningful motivation can play a factor in developing the ability to push through challenging times and complete something that otherwise seems impossible.
Over the years, the marines have developed an excellent system for transforming young men, not only physically, but also mentally.
To be a marine, you must be a self-starter who has enough autonomy to make decisions without always being told what to do. Not only that, but marines must also be committed and determined. They must develop methods for answering that “why am I doing this?” question, especially when things get extremely difficult both physically and mentally.
In his book, Duhigg tells the story of a 23-year-old man named Quintanilla who joined the Marine Corps after he felt like he had no other option. He was married with a daughter on the way, and no means of supporting his family. He did not have the motivation to chase a career path, but after he saw a friend come home from basic training, not just physically transformed, but also with a new-found sense of confidence, he felt his best option would be to join the Marine Corps.
After arriving at basic training, Quintanilla not only began to develop physically, but he also began to develop an internal sense of control of his life. He learned how to make important decisions without direction, and how to cultivate his own motivation for getting the task done.
Something taught to Quintanilla and his peers during basic training which allowed them to develop and sustain their motivation was that they should ask each other questions beginning with the word, “why.” When things were at their most miserable, they would ask each other questions such as, “Why are you doing this?”
For Quintanilla, the response was, “To become a marine and build a better life for my family.”
If you think about it, that is a powerful motivator. For many people the problem with motivation arises when they can’t answer the question, “Why are you doing this?”, or they haven’t developed a strong enough answer to that question. But, as Duhigg states, “When you link something hard to a choice you care about, it makes the task easier.”
When it comes to developing your own motivation for pursuing better health and fitness, take some time to ask yourself that same question, “Why am I doing this?” When you can come up with a meaningful answer that motivates you to keep going, you’ll have the drive that you need to show up to the gym on tough days. You’ll have the necessary incentive to stick to healthy eating when everyone around you is doing otherwise.
If you make something that seems like a chore into a meaningful decision, then self-motivation will emerge. Rather than feeling like you MUST exercise in order to maintain your health, cultivate the mindset that says, “I am choosing to exercise because I want to be around for my loved ones, and I want to remain active and independent.”
Whatever your reason is, it will be much easier to stick to it when you realize that you are making a conscious choice to do it, and not being forced against your will.
For Quintanilla, his motivation changed when he could say that he was choosing to go through the grueling challenges of basic training to build a better life for his family. He no longer felt like he was doing it against his will because there was no other option available.
The same is true for all of us when we develop the motivation that drives us to choose healthier lifestyles. Then we’re not just doing it out of obligation, we’re making a conscious choice to live the lives that we want for ourselves.
Effective Goal Setting
The second important factor often lacking when it comes to fitness is the ability to set effective goals. Goals are essential because they provide a clear end-point to strive for. They give you the motivation to get started on your journey, continue moving forward when it becomes challenging, and remain on the right path throughout.
In the past, I wrote about goal setting in my article, “The Grass Isn’t Always Greener on the Other Side.” In that article I discussed how to craft your own journey in fitness by setting SMART and MAP goals. However, Duhigg made me aware of one other essential type of goal that I didn’t know about when I wrote that article.
Having goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely (SMART), as well as Measurable, Attainable, and Passionate (MAP) is essential in order to stay on track and accomplish important tasks. In fact, these goals are very effective at ensuring that the goals you set are goals that can and will get accomplished.
However, sometimes SMART goals alone are not enough to get you where you want to go. In his book, Duhigg gave several examples of companies that were very successful at training their employees to set specific and attainable goals.
One of these companies was General Electric. Everyone within GE was to set SMART goals to help them accomplish more. The only problem was that their goals were sometimes too “SMART.”
One example given was of an office worker whose SMART goal was to order office supplies for the company each month. Her goal met all of the criteria. It was specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, timely, etc. The only problem with her goal was that it was not pushing her to improve her productivity and achieve things that she hadn’t achieved before. Her goal was just making sure she got menial tasks accomplished.
Say your goal for each day is to get out of bed by 8:00 A.M. That is a goal that is specific (the goal is simply to get out of bed), measureable (did you or did you not get up?), attainable (I would hope so), relevant (it is relevant to starting the day), and timely (to get up by 8:00 A.M.). Unfortunately, that is also a goal that lacks the ability to push you to accomplish new and important things.
The problem with SMART goals then is that you can easily set a goal that meets all of the SMART criteria, but is still ineffective at moving you towards higher levels of achievement. If you apply this to a fitness goal, you can see how that will not allow you accomplish much.
I’ve seen people fall into this trap before. They don’t want to start with something too big or unattainable, so they start with a goal that is too small. However, doing this can prevent any meaningful accomplishment.
So how can we avoid setting goals that are too small? Enter the stretch goal.
What is a stretch goal, you ask? A stretch goal is a goal that is large enough that when it is initially set, you don’t know how you will accomplish it. It can’t be something that is so drastic that it’s outside the realm of possibility, but it must be something that will push you to achieve more than you have before.
For example, if you want to lose 50lbs, that can be a stretch goal. Just as long as you don’t want to lose 50lbs by the end of the month, because that is outside the realm of possibility (at least it is if you want to stay healthy). 50lbs may be something that seems nearly impossible at first, but it is still within the realm of possibility.
Now, here’s the important part: you must pair your stretch goal with SMART goals to help you achieve your stretch goal.
If you just say, I want to lose 50lbs by this time next year, that’s a good start, but it won’t tell you HOW to get there. If you don’t set up SMART goals to help you focus and direct your path to the end goal, then you have little hope of actually achieving it.
This is where many people fall short in goal setting. They may know where they want to end up, but they have no idea how they will get there. Thus the importance of taking a stretch goal, for which there is no plan of how to achieve it at the moment, and pairing it with SMART goals.
Doing this allows you to scale down a big, long-term goal into short-term goals that are specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and timely. The stretch goal provides the motivation and destination, and the SMART goals provide the path and guide-posts along the way.
So if you’ve never heard of stretch goals, or tried to set one, start right now by thinking about what your stretch goal might be. But make sure that once you do pin it down, you pair it with SMART goals that help you to achieve that long-term goal.
I encourage you to take a moment right now and think about your fitness goals. When you do, ask yourself two important questions: Do I have an answer for the question, “Why am I doing this?” And, do I have a stretch goal paired with SMART goals to help me get there?
If the answer to either of these questions is no, then you are not set up for success.
Once you can answer these questions with clarity, you will be able to stop spinning your wheels, and accomplish your goals when it comes to health and fitness. So take some time right now, and ask yourself those two questions. Think for a moment about what your motivation and goals look like right now.
And one more thing. The fitness journey can be extremely challenging to go about on your own. So take some time to also think about who you can recruit to join you on your journey. Whether it’s a spouse, family member, friend, or coach, it is essential to have support from someone who cares about you.
Best of luck on your journey!