What if the “goal” isn’t the goal?!?!

I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day concerning goals that I’d like to share with you today. We all know that having goals in a fitness or performance setting is important, right? They help motivate us and drive the “action” so to speak. Some might even say that without goals one is just “working out” and not actually “training”.

But – what if the “goal” isn’t really the goal?

“Huh?!?!” you might be saying…

Let me explain what I mean using the client I referenced above. My client is currently @152lbs and works out 3-4 per week as well as doing some hiking and cardio on her own. She has cleaned up her diet quite a bit since we first starting training her but has her junky moments (don’t we all?). She has 145lbs. as her “goal” weight, which she feels she can easily maintain while feeling and looking great. Using the SMART analogy for goal setting, it’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. Sounds like an awesome target, right?

However, we discovered during the course of our conversation that this might not be her ultimate goal after all.

Here is some context for you that roughly tracks the thought progression from our conversation…please take the time to read it because it will really you give a sense of how focusing on the wrong goal can mask the TRUE goal worth achieving.

When this client first started with us, she was about 165 pounds and had some “wonky” eating habits, poor sleep patterns, and was stressed to the gills. She had been working out 4-5 days per week in your typical bootcamp-style facility (cardio-themed circuits w/ minimal strength work) and her body simply wasn’t having it. She was working really hard but getting nowhere.

When she started with us, we cut the cardio “busy-work” down and focused her workouts on resistance training and proper movement habits. We also talked extensively about stress management, improved sleep habits, and sweet tooth control. Three months in –  10lbs. of pure body fat disappeared and she was stoked!

Unfortunately, not long after this huge win, life got in the way and helped her to get off track. The quality of her sleep degraded,  her stress levels went up, and her ability to control her sweet tooth diminished. Around this time, she also lost some motivation to  get to the gym. You know where I’m going with this – she walked into a perfect storm of circumstances that led to some of those pounds reappearing.

Predictably, she was mad/sad/frustrated at this negative change but she was determined to fight back and get herself back on track.

Around this time, we ran a 21 day detox challenge at the facility. This program called for only lean proteins and fruits/veggies for 21 days and is designed to eliminate a person’s exposure to toxins and potential food allergies in order to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is bad (duh) and losing weight/body fat is one of the predicted outcomes for people unknowingly dealing with inflammation from those problems. Well, she dove into this program HARD! The result – she got all the way down to 135lbs.


She wasn’t particularly happy at that weight. Her performance in her workouts suffered and there was little room for any kind of “fun” in her diet at all. While she gave it a good go for awhile, maintaining that weight had it’s own set of problems and it started to feel like a chore to her. Also, right after another big win (although a bittersweet one), her life through her different curveball when her job got unexpectedly stressful/miserable.

Cue to the regressing sleep habits, poor dietary decisions, skipped workouts, and the slow reversal of weight/body fat she had worked so hard to lose. While she was frustrated before, the level of frustration I saw in her this time was 10x greater. She had found several interventions that had worked and worked dramatically but she didn’t know how to piece them all together for long term success.

And this is where we discovered that she was probably focusing on the wrong goal all along. If you think about the progression I described above, weight loss was always the ultimate measuring stick of her progress. As we talked more, it became pretty clear that focusing on weight alone wasn’t doing much for her and probably wasn’t the right goal for her.

The real culprit – she had been struggling to weather the inevitable ups and downs of life. She would make huge progress followed by a big regression – a dreaded life-stress yo-yo.

Why should we avoid yo-yoing in our lives?

Simple – the body loves balance and lots of small changes over a long time. While this can be annoying as hell from a fitness perspective, this is the easiest path to LONG TERM success. When you force a big, rapid change on the body (particularly when stress is at the root of the problem), it WILL fight you right back.

And this was exactly what my client was dealing with. She would get stressed to max and wildly swing from being totally awesome with everything to frustratingly sucky with everything. The ultimate result of this pendulum-like pattern – she became a prisoner of her weight loss goal. Basically, her goal and her life weren’t on the same page.

After our chat, we set a new goal for her – maintaining “life” balance.

What is “life” balance? For her, it means shooting for small, positive actions every day and striving to minimize the effects of any negative situations that arise. In effect – her goal is to cut the yo-yo string. We both agreed that if she focused on this new goal, the other goal of 145lbs. that had been holding her prisoner would surely happen over time ANYWAY. As a bonus, we also agreed that it will be probably much easier for her to maintain that weight in a positive, balance-based approach.

The cool part? She was already doing it but didn’t realize it! As an example, some junk food appeared in the office and she moved it into another room so she wouldn’t have to see it and think about eating it all day. A small win that day but a HUGE win if she continues to do that repeatedly over time.

All she had to do was realize the power of these small actions!

To sum up – when you have one of those frustrating goals that just seems to stay out of reach, sometimes it pays big dividends to re-evaluate the situation. Good questions to ask yourself might be:

What actions on my part are causing me not to reach this goal?

Have I picked the right interventions to help me reach the goal?

Is my daily environment and lifestyle making my goal realistic?

Am I even focusing on the “right” goal at all? 

The next time you get stuck on your fitness or performance goals, try to ask yourself these questions. Even if you determine that your goal is the one you want/need after all, you will surely learn a ton from the process.

Need help figuring out if you have the right goals in mind? Don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a note below.

Thanks for reading!