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3 min read

The Examined Goal

It all appears so simple. Set a goal. Work hard. Achieve the goal. Create new goal.

You don’t have to look far to see the reality. You can name many instances of goals left un-started, incomplete or unaccomplished. You're not alone. The statistics are clear. We are terrible at following through with our goals and resolutions. 9.2% ofAmericans succeed with their New Year's Resolutions. New Year’s Resolutions cover a lot of ground, from quitting smoking to getting out of debt. By far, fat loss is the most popular. If we were to look at the weight-loss statistics, the success rate is higher, but still a failing grade. 20% of adults are successful at maintaining their weight-loss long-term.

Why? Is it a lack of discipline? An insidious plot hatched by the food industry? My thought will surprise you.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I say “The unexamined goal is not worth making.” Here are principles to help you examine your goals better.


Since 1981, businesses have used a concept called "SMART" Goals. The "S" is for Specific. “I want to get ripped” is both subjective and void of specificity. An improved version is, “I’d like to lose 50lbs.” Not great, but better. The number "50" adds specificity to it and the removal of “ripped” removes its subjectivity. Why is subjectivity poison to the goal? You’ll never know when you arrive. It’s the same as saying “I’d like to travel far.” How far is far? You get the idea.

Expectation and Reality

The fitness industry is full of unrealistic expectations. Unless checked, this will plunge the individual into a tailspin of dissatisfaction. Consider the “unhappiness” formula:

Unhappiness = Expectation Reality

Suppose your goal is to become a clone of an Instagram “model.” Every day you fall short of that goal, which will be always, you will be unhappy. Goals can meet the criteria of Specificity yet fall short of Expectation and Reality. “I’d like to lose 20lbs.” Yes, that’s specific. What if you don’t have 20lbs to lose? If you already have a healthy body fat percentage, losing “20lbs” may destroy lean muscle. It can degrade bone and warp hormonal health. “I’d like to be 6-foot-4." is also specific. If you're 5-foot-9 and 40 years old, that's a high expectation and a low level of reality.

How can you tell if your goals meet the criteria of Reality? Your best bet is to ask someone, a professional would be best.

"I want to lose 20lbs, do you think I can? Do you think I should?"


"I’d like to lose 20lbs and keep it off.” You don’t often hear this version of a goal. Why not? It implies the idea of maintenance. It's tragic to see someone reach their goals only to descend back to start. In fitness, we call this the “yo-yo” effect. You never hear “I’d like to look hot by the summer then like garbage in the fall.” The assumption is the “hot body” will maintain itself forever.
Unless you think about “maintenance” at the onset, it is less likely to happen. It is acceptable to set a goal that is unsustainable, for example, a wedding. “I’d like to look great for my wedding.” That’s fine. What about post-wedding? If you plan it right, you will maintain a condition in-between your start and the wedding body. Don't think you can sustain an unsustainable physique. Refer to the unhappiness formula above.

Obligation and Consequence

“Goals,” especially fitness goals are “neutral.” They are Obligation Neutral and Consequence Neutral. What do I mean by this? Outside of “motivation,” there is no obligation to achieve a goal. Getting “ripped” is not a life-or-death outcome, even though you may feel like it is. If you set a goal to “look hot,” you are not under any obligation to follow through. Likewise, there is no consequence for falling short. Unless you make a bet with friends or something similar. There’s always next summer. Having a sense of Obligation (or duty) and Consequence to your goal gives it more significance. It gives it more importance, more urgency and a higher chance of success.
How can we do this? We take a neutral word like “Goal” and change it into the word “Promise.”

We want to keep our promises. We enter into a contract with ourselves and whomever we gave that promise. For reasons beyond this post, we have a moral obligation to keep our promises and our word. Making a promise to another has greater consequence than making it to yourself. Making a promise to another has a higher obligation than making it to yourself. Breaking a promise has consequences. Fulfilling that promise has real reward.

Consider the following sentence:

“I promise to make the right decisions, even when it is difficult, to lose 15lbs and keep it off.”
The current statistics show 1 out of 100 people will achieve their “goals.” If 100 people spoke those words to a trusted friend or family member, what would the statistics show?

The Examined Desire


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