Q: I’ve been running quite a bit, and have kept it up for a good while now. But I don’t feel like I’m doing it in a structured way, and I’m not being as committed otherwise, so I’m not seeing the results in my body that I want to. I’m not doing well enough, am I?
A: This is a tough but common situation. The issue stems from having a long term goal and then universally judging yourself based on missing some sub-goals and throwing the long-term goals away. This exposes a really crucial aspect of proper goal setting, tracking, expectations and the spiral of negative generalizations.
When we set an overall goal, like completing five 5K races or losing 10 pounds and keeping it off, we must set sub-goals so that we can both track our progress and recognized incremental wins. It’s also OK to miss some of these incremental steps as missing any particular one doesn’t mean the overall goal is in question. This is the expectation you need to manage, and the place where a sub-goal being missed should not be allowed to turn into universal failure (or feelings of it).
Let’s look at the five 5K goal. This was my goal for year two of my fitness journey (from July 1, 2012 to June 30th, 2013). Each race can be seen as a sub-goal. I didn’t quite make it, but I did have wins along the way, and did come close plus picked up a good alternate challenge along the way. I did one 5K, a 3.5 miler (just over 5K, so that counts), a 10K (that counts as two, right?), and a three day/three mountain charity hike (my bonus challenge that was far more than 5K, but not technically a race – though I did run down some of the way on two mountains).
Am I sitting here feeling like a failure because I didn’t get that final 5K race (if you could the 10K as two)? Definitely not. Instead, I basked in the glow of each race and my performance against goals I set for that particular race. I could have done another 5K, actually, but didn’t have access to one that fit with my work and home schedules. Still, I should be riding the high of success on those sub-goals rather than throwing it all away because of the failure of one of the sub-goals.
Another great example is the person on a diet (which I’m not a fan of – let’s eat healthily all the time rather than weirdly and extremely for a short period only go back to uneducated eating and re-gaining when we’re done). The person ‘is doing great’ all day, but then goes out with friends to a bar, has a couple of beers and some nachos, and then goes home feeling terrible about how they just threw it all away and cracks open a pint of ice cream and whipped cream. They then order a pizza, and house the whole thing because it’s all ruined.
The reality is that the beer and nachos weren’t great, but certainly didn’t throw away all the progress they had made on their diet thus far. Because they felt like they had totally – not partially, but totally – failed, they threw all progress out and went overboard.
What about looking at the success thus far and taking pride in that. And what about the restraint they showed at the bar by only having a couple of beers and some nachos rather than four or five beers and a whole order of nachos? They exercised some restraint.
Ultimately, this is what we’re talking about – don’t throw the whole goal away because some aspects of it might be off. Don’t allow yourself to go down a path of negativity or depression because you fail to see the good or allow that positivity to resonate, reverberate, and drive you forward overall.
My specific advice to my friend with the question was to stop arguing about the failure in his running and overall progress. Stop and let the positive of the run soak in. He’s running, and has been consistently for a while (and he’s doing good distances – we’re not talking little five minute jogs here, but 30-60 minute runs). He hasn’t quit. These are all massively better than what most people can say, and certainly better than he could say just a few months ago (he’s been at it consistently since May).
So he wants to look better and feel better than he does at the moment. I’m sure he looks and feels better than if he wasn’t running. There are surely other ways he can spark better results, but it’s important not to look at the seven other things to be mindful of and get so overwhelmed that he quits. By the same token, you can get extreme and do it all right away, and surely get those desired results fast. But what are the chances the behaviors would endure? Would he be likely to burn out due to the major changes needed all at once? Would he burn out from doing too much too fast? What good are results if they can’t be maintained? Not very, I’d say.
Take the win of running, be proud, uplift yourself. Then choose one more thing to work on at a time in succession until your life is going the way you want with the results you crave in a consistent, manageable fashion. This is how you enlighten.your.body.