Preface: This article is an excerpt from Mind Over Matter: How To Build The Ultimate Dieting Mindset, Daniel’s new book. Daniel has written his fair share of articles for RFS, and what has always stood out to me is that he understands that fitness is about so much more than that. In order lose fat or build muscle, you must take psychology, emotional health, logistics, productivity, and much more into consideration.
In other words, he understands the interdisciplinary nature of succeeding in health and fitness, and that people’s entire lives don’t revolve around the gym.
His new book is for real people who want actual results. They’re not to be flashy about the latest training techniques, or show off how much he knows (although he shares a lot of excellent knowledge.)
Without further ado, here’s the excerpt from his new book, Mind Over Matter.
The tale of the Ford Pinto cuts American pop culture deep .
In the late 1960s, the Ford Motor Company was desperate to wrestle with foreign competitors to dominate the small-car market. CEO, Lee Iacocca, announced the goal of producing a new car that would ‘…weigh less than 2,000 pounds’, and ‘…cost under $2,000’.
It would be available for purchase in 1970, a mere, twenty-five months later.
Lawsuits later revealed a glaring issue; the Pinto could, worryingly, ignite upon impact. Subsequent investigations declared that, even after Ford finally identified the hazard, executives still remained committed to their goal.
The pressure and belief they had to get the new vehicle out the door as quickly as possible, meant overlooking potential disasters. The goal they’d been set was the sole focus – and nothing else mattered.
Instead of repairing the faulty design, they calculated that the costs of lawsuits associated with Pinto fires would be less than the cost of fixing the problem.
Shockingly, the rebuild was ignored – and the Pinto went into production. Complaints, injuries, disputes, and deaths followed. The company endured a damaging reputation, in the years following, for putting profits ahead of product quality.
If ever there was a lesson in the problem with goal setting, this was it.
Specific, challenging goals were met by Ford executives (speed to market, fuel efficiency, and production cost) at the expense of other vital features that weren’t considered (safety, ethical behaviour, and company reputation).
Goal setting, in this instance, came at a price.
And this glaring issue with goal setting is none more prominent than when attempting to lose weight. Here’s how to finally set weight loss goals the right way.
Have you noticed how galvanised you feel when you set a weight loss goal? That dream physique piques motivation, and hope and excitement emerge.
This hope, however, leads to sizeable, unattainable, and elusive goals being set. The euphoric promise of change wields its influential arm and, instead of ascertaining the likely speed, amount, difficulty, and consequences of self-change attempts, individuals set grandiose goals that serve to stimulate gratifying feelings of optimism.
Of course, such satisfying feelings rarely last beyond the first bite of broccoli.
Those once-excited individuals quickly succumb to feelings of guilt and shame because they can’t keep pace with their initial hopes and dreams. They wind up feeling worse than before, and may attempt to soften each disappointment by making attributions to explain why.
This False Hope Syndrome masquerades as action . Goal setting is, in reality, nothing more than a short, sharp burst of dopamine that’s utilised to increase self-esteem and garner feelings of perceived progress.
Goals become important when you champion them with change, rather than just relying on hope.
Most dieters become so fixated on their overarching goals that they’ll do everything in their power to reach them.
From crafting unsustainable eating habits, to damaging their relationship with food, the process behind most weight loss goals is seasoned with a dash of chaos.
People can end up chasing the same goal over and over again because they fail to focus on the pertinent behaviours that lead to long-lasting change. They, instead, weigh themselves religiously, check their bodies obsessively, and only experience happiness when they’re moving towards their goal.
Performance goals concern an individual’s focus on the outcome.
This is what dieting ambitions are frequently founded upon – the figure someone must attain before moving onto the next goal, or diet. These weight loss goals lead to stress, anxiety, and perceived pressure . If an individual has set themselves a specific target, they’re encumbered with the burden of success.
This, unfortunately, encourages the ‘quick-fix’ mindset.
Most problems with weight loss objectives arise not when people strive to reach their target but when they actually get there.
The discrepancy between their current state and the goal – and, thus, their resulting motivation – disappears . That foot comes off the pedal and old habits start to creep back in.
When people achieve a significant goal, they have nothing left to work towards. The wedding is over, the holiday has finished, or there are no more inches to lose. Where that goal once dwelled, an emptiness now exists.
Setting a ‘finish date’ with any diet or training programme, while helpful in rare instances, seldom leads to long-lasting success.
It was never really the ‘finish date’ they wanted – this masquerading as a proxy for something deeper – it was something else.
Whether it be one, three, five, or twenty kilograms to lose, there’s always a number and timeframe involved when people set themselves dieting goals. Rarely are these targets productive, however, let alone possible.
People create an image in their mind as to what they’d like to weigh or look like; they decide when they’d like to achieve that by, and then wildly set off with little consideration for their gender, training experience, lean body mass, current lifestyle, or previous dieting history.
Plucking capricious goals out of thin air on impulse – ones that have no well-thought logic behind them – is a fruitless task.
While aiming for a ‘two-pound per week loss’ could be beneficial for some, it may be detrimental for others.
Although it might take a 120-kilogram male only six weeks to shed ten kilograms, it could take a 75-kilogram female triple that time. While a person who’s never dieted before may find it easy to lose weight consuming 1500 calories every day, a serial, yo-yo dieter may find the same calorie target less helpful.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach when goal setting.
While the idea of waltzing around with sub-ten per cent body fat all year round, or shedding an ‘easy’ 25 kilograms, may appear inspiring, setting extravagant aspirations will only set you up for disappointment.
Unreasonable weight loss goals are overpowering – partisans of feelings of failure.
With so much work to do, time to pass, and uncertainty surrounding the overwhelming target, people become stranded in a position of passivity.
Not only does all the work-left-to-achieve incite feelings of dejection, but fails to account for the countless steps required to move forward.
When you set yourself goals that are too challenging, you’re leaving yourself at more risk of damaging your self-esteem, your trust, and the opportunity to make progress.
The more there is to achieve, the more you’ll fail to take action.
Most weight loss success stories are accompanied by a sensationalist headline and/or an impressive set of before-and-after photos. That moment of the visible weight loss result becomes the main focus.
Everyone craves that transformation and may then set off with exactly that outcome in mind.
Just like those competing in a running event, they’re always looking to the future, wondering when that ‘finish line’ result will surface.
The obsession with a desired conclusion – a certain appearance, bodyweight, or shape, for example – hinders weight loss maintenance, unfortunately .
Look closely at those who’ve succeeded, however, and you’ll realise it was never about the goal; it was to do with everything that preceded it.
Goals drive behaviour. We can’t escape that fact.
We wouldn’t brush our teeth if we didn’t care about dental hygiene, nor get ready for a night out if we didn’t care about our appearance. We need goals, to avoid submitting to the ambiguous quest of continual ‘personal growth’.
Problems arise, however, when we direct all our focus and attention towards the end goal.
Just like we utilise the feedback from food tracking apps or smart watches, goals should also be employed as tools and nothing more. They should serve like a simple litmus test, for where to budget time, energy, and focus.
Your goal setting system should be spearheaded with an unspecific intention .
Setting yourself a general target, at the beginning, of ‘dieting’, ‘reducing overall body fat’, or ‘building muscle’ is acceptable; encouraged, even. It eliminates the pressure and burden of reaching a certain destination in a particular timeframe. No longer are you thrust into a ‘success’ or ‘failure’ disposition. You’re always winning, if working towards that broad yet powerful objective.
We’re not saying never be specific with your ambitions – such exactitude and purpose may well arrive when examining the process. But overlooking precision, whether that be the number on the scales, or the weight on the bar, will strengthen continual progress.
Creating a bulletproof, goal setting system stems from establishing an entire goal network – what we call a goal hierarchy .
Establishing an entwined, behavioural map of pursuits will foster greater motivation, adherence, and resilience in the face of setbacks – instead of homing in purely on specific behaviours, or fixating on the bigger picture. From top to bottom, each specific goal within this hierarchy is interconnected, so they can activate or inhibit one another.
Sitting atop this tree are what is known as superordinate goals.
These reflect what you find important; they are soundly linked to your identity and sense of self – what we term, in essence, as your values. The beauty of superordinate goals is that they act as ‘guiding principles’ – goals that exist over a longer time scale and exist across a broader concept.
‘Acting with patience’, ‘living a healthy lifestyle’, or ‘displaying constant commitment’, being prime examples. In pursuing concrete, yet abstract goals, you’re provided with reasons for targeting specific behaviours. They enhance meaning.
Of course, these superordinate goals can’t be achieved without the support of other, less abstract intentions. Formally known as intermediate goals, they sit a rank lower on the goal hierarchy and are more specific.
Increasing daily movement, reducing stress, and building muscle are all objectives bound to a certain behavioural context and underpin the goals sitting higher in the hierarchy.
Walking, relaxing, and lifting weights are behaviours that reinforce the idea of someone living a ‘healthy lifestyle’ or striving to ‘display commitment’. They contribute to an individual’s identity and are important in ascertaining how to achieve that ideal self.
Stationed at the bottom of this hierarchy are subordinate goals.
This is where most people start their goal setting journey, unfortunately, ignoring all that must come before those. Such specific goals are important, of course.
The goal of ‘following a Push/Pull/Legs training split at the gym each week’ will inevitably contribute to the intermediate goal of ‘building muscle’, which, in turn, advances the value of ‘displaying commitment’.
Exclusively focusing on these, whilst ignoring the bigger picture, nonetheless amplifies the previously discussed problems with goal setting. But, when situated in a pyramid of importance, subordinate goals are held within a broader context and bolstered with meaning and gravity.
It’s clear that establishing a well-connected hierarchy will promote adherence, as well as help you craft a bulletproof goal system setting. Overarching, superordinate goals determine more concrete intentions at the intermediate level; they, in turn, regulate goals at the subordinate level.
Focusing on the means of goal pursuit – known as the process – is more beneficial for progress and well-being than simply fixating on the outcome .
Given that we typically spend much longer on the journey than experiencing attainment, it’s vital we adopt a process-focused outlook towards our goals. When concentrating on the behaviours and habits required for change, then our persistence, motivation, self-efficacy, and perceived control all improve.
This helps to explain why those who focus on dietary behaviours, rather than the amount of weight lost, experience greater success and fewer deviations from their plan .
Adopting a mindset of ‘the way is the goal’ will predict successful weight loss more than any solitary, outcome-based endeavour.
As Greek poet, Archilochus says, “We don’t rise to the levels of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
When we embrace the process – or the training required – we don’t have to constantly strive to reach the destination. Whether it be practicing eating to 80 per cent fullness, watching dinner without a screen present, or reducing the number of snacks between meals, pinpointing those behaviours will enable change.
It’s important to remember, when setting goals, that it’s not always about your weight, your body fat percentage, or your transformation photo. Neither is it always about fixing flaws, relentlessly dieting, and trying to repair your body image.
Restricting your focus to only those achievements can obstruct your application, causing you to forget all the other, equally important aspects – those of exercising consistently, eating well when at social events, and getting enough sleep each night.
Although most people set dieting goals for appearance-related reasons, spending time focusing on other motives during weight loss maintenance can improve chances of success .
Exercising can be a way to connect with friends, enhance mental clarity, and improve health. Cooking home-made meals can be a chance to bond with family, practice new skills, and boost confidence.
Don’t become blindsided by the archetypal dieting goal of meeting any collective measure of perceived beauty.
Other benefits arise from focusing on the same behaviours.
When adhering to rigid performance indicators, individuals tend to let their dieting ambitions control their mindset and emotions.
If, for example, they haven’t lost a pound or two, they’ll believe they’ve failed. If they haven’t made it to the gym five times in the week, they won’t believe they’re deserving of progress.
They’ve become enslaved to the goal and will do everything in their power to meet its pre-set requirements; all with little regard for its influence on sustainability and adherence.
Goals are established to serve you, and not the other way around.
Refining goal setting systems, when they no longer benefit you, will overcome this problem. If you’re not making sufficient progress, you can adjust the process. You’re allowed to go to the gym three times instead of five, for instance. You’re also allowed to aim for four pieces of fruit and vegetables each day, rather than seven.
Trying to squeeze the square peg into the unyielding round hole, simply because you feel the pressure to meet a pre-set target, just won’t work.
Remember, if you don’t meet an objective, it doesn’t mean you’re ‘a failure’.
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