Updated: Jan 24, 2020
What's that thing that makes you feel energised, inspired and a little freaked out? The thing that you feel excited about doing? You realise that you should do it, and you're keen to do it, you just, um, haven't actually managed to do it quite yet. But you will, right? Just, at some vague, unspecified time in the future. You're just holding off until all of your self doubt dissipates, the conditions fall magically into place and all you need to do is leisurely stroll along an idyllic path to your desired results. Ideally in as little time as possible. Yeah ... about that. Sort of. Maybe if the path has some gaps in the road. Like, a glaring gap that requires you to leap across to the other side or take a complete detour. Or you're delayed because there's a freaking huge boulder in the middle of the path and you have to figure out what the f*ck you're going to do about that. And there's a tempting haven of ice cream cones, chocolate bars and Netflix just on the edge of the path, plus an entire parade of distractions, so you have to really focus on this thing you supposedly seek. Even though, come to think of it, it's a lot more difficult that you realised. Excellent. Big goals aren't supposed to be easy. That's a clue that you've chosen a big enough goal. But don't be deterred - just because it might not be easy, that doesn't make it complicated or unattainable. If you dismantle your big goal and translate it into daily, practical steps, the road to it is simple. Are you teetering on the edge of setting a big goal and committing to it? If that's you, here's 10 steps to guide you to break that pattern and chase it.
10 practical steps to create a practical road map to your big goals
1. Decide on your ultimate goal.
Set a goal that's big enough to excite and inspire you, difficult enough that you'll have to work for it, but realistic enough to be able to inch closer to it. This goal might be 6 months, 1 year, 2 years or even 5 years + into the future. Even if it's a huge, impossible goal that isn't about to happen soon, it is still useful to keep your ultimate goal locked in your mind because it opens your eyes to the bigger picture and stops you from fixating on the little things that don't really matter. Your ultimate goal is a shifting beast and it might change as you do. That's ok! Tony Robbins compares setting goals to eyesight. The closer you get to your destination, the more clearly you can see things - not just your original goal, but all of the details around it. Who knows? Maybe you'll decide that you like one of the other possibilities ever better. You might notice something that you didn't see before, something that inspires you even more that your initial goal, and go for that instead!
2. Make this your mental anchor.
I think of an ultimate goal as a mental anchor. Your mental anchor is what holds all of your repeated, consistent efforts together. It ties your daily actions to that bigger thing that matters to you. On the surface, the tides change. But under the waves, your conviction stands strong. Even if you don't actually think about your goal all the time, it's still ingrained in your approach, attitude and actions each day. If you have a clear image of your ultimate goal, this helps you to shake the moments of self doubt and insecurities. It keeps you focused on the days that you feel too tired to train, or too busy to prepare meals.
3. Set clear targets and check points to monitor your progress.
If you've set a big enough goal, there's a long road ahead from A to B. And it's not a linear road that unfolds smoothly into the distance ... there's going to be detours, delays and some moments of road rage. If you plan to travel into unfamiliar territory, what's the first thing you do? You create a road map for the route you'll take to get there. Just like you'd check the road signs to make sure that you're on the right path to your destination, you can keep track of your body's signs and changes to make sure that you're moving in the right direction.
How? Set clear targets and check points to monitor your progress. For example, if your goal is fat loss, be more specific about this. How much body fat do you want to lose? How are you going to measure this? Do you have a deadline? What rate of loss do you need to maintain to meet that? Is this realistic? This should depend on you and your circumstances. You might set a target to lose 5 kg in 3 months. Can you be even more precise and translate this into check points? Maybe you'd like to see a 5 kg decrease on the scales, but your aim is really to lose body fat and maintain muscle. Perhaps you decide to measure this based on a schedule of taking your body weight, progress photos and skin fold assessments. You crunch the numbers and realise that to lose 5 kg in 3 months, that equates to about 1.65 kg loss a month and 0.4 kg loss a week (on average). Is that realistic or not? You'll need to think about your current weight and body fat percentage, your body composition history and your circumstances.
4. Understand your body and your circumstances.
It's one thing to set a huge, daunting goal that might appear to be impossible. It's quite another thing to create an impossible road map. You need to add a generous dose of realism to your planning if you're ever going to even approach that goal. Your body and circumstances should dictate the path that you plan to take - the physical, mental, spiritual, health, career, family, social, etc. elements.
Let's say your ultimate goal for your body is to attain a leaner shape and have visible abs. You decide that to do that, the first phase is to focus on losing 5 kg in 3 months. You set a target to keep you accountable and you create a schedule of check points. But you're also about to start a demanding job that has unpredictable hours. Or you're travelling on holiday for a month. Or you just had blood tests that indicated you have some nutrient deficiencies or hormonal issues. Does this mean that you shouldn't even bother? Not at all. But it does tell you that there's other things related to your body or your circumstances that either a) should take priority so that your plan succeeds, or b) should be accommodated so that your plan is realistic. For example, if there's signs indicate that your health isn't in an ideal place to support your goal, that's the first thing you should address! Or if you're travelling for a month, then you might just need to adjust things based on the parameters of your trip.
5. Translate your goal into committed, consistent actions.
You need to commit to results to see results. That doesn't happen in a day, but it does happen if you string lots of days together. It's not easy to translate your bigger goals into concrete, 'to do' items. If you're confused or in doubt, just ask a simple question that the infamous public speaker, Zig Ziglar, often posed to his audiences:
Will this decision or action move me closer to the person I want to be and the life I want to lead?
6. Accept things that support your goals at that time, even if you don't necessarily like it.
Cue the mind games. For example, let's say that you're really lean or skinny and your ultimate goal is to build muscle. You'd like to put on an average of 2 kg a month across a 4 month building phase. You'll need to accept that to build that muscle, you're going to put on a bit of body fat too. Things like this can be a real mental battle. Even though I logically realised that I'd put on fat after a competition, I did not like to see any increase in the sum of my skin folds. I hadn't emotionally accepted that I didn't have to maintain my stage shape, nor should I even attempt to do that! But as a result, I didn't see the full potential benefit of some of my off season training blocks because I didn't eat enough to support that. I short changed my results because I didn't handle my fear of putting on body fat and losing my visible 6 pack. Be honest. Is there something you tell yourself that's really just holding you back from your goal? If there is (and there usually is, we're all human), can you reframe it to complement your goal? Is there another lens you can apply to make it easier to embrace that change? For example:
'I don't have enough time to prepare my meals after a hectic day at work'. Ok, so do you need to reschedule your meal preparation? Do you need to organise your shopping and cooking to do things in bulk? If you don't like cooking, can you make it more enticing? Eg, if you like podcasts, you can listen to more podcasts. Great.
'I'd like to bulk up but I don't want to get fat'. You don't need to get fat, but if you're really lean, there's a decent chance that you'll under cut your results in your building phase if you resist any fat gain. No problem, it's just a number on the scales. And nothing drastic is going to happen in an instant - you're going to be able to catch it if your body fat starts to climb. Remember that to put on muscle, you will gain weight. Some of that weight will be fat. Not all of it, not even most of it if you do it right.
Is it time to increase your carbohydrates, but you're a tad carb phobic? Ok, let's dismantle that fear. If you reintroduce carbs, you will put on weight. Adding carbs, particularly if you've been eating on a LCHF diet, are going to replenish glycogen stores in liver and muscle tissue. Your body stores carbohydrate along with it's friend, H2O - think 'carbo' and 'hydrate'. Depending on lots of factors, you might see an increase of 2 to 3 kg on the scales in the first 1 to 2 weeks. Did you just put on 3 kg of fat? Nope. Did you put on a little fat? Maybe. But do you actually look fatter? Maybe not. If you train, your muscles are soon going to be fuller. Your body might be happier, so you then lose fat easier.
Do you need to prioritise your health ahead of your single digit body fat percentage? This is far from easy, but you can reframe things to make it easier. For me, I practiced shifting my focus from aesthetics to training goals. I put my energy into building a strong, functional and healthier body, not just maintaining a lean one. Strength training didn't just keep the irrational desire to cut calories at bay. It also changed the way that I envisaged my body. I started to see it as functional and capable. I focused on performance more than aesthetics (although funnily enough, lifting heavier weights has actually created changes in my physique that I really like!). I trusted my body and stopped putting limits on it. Training to increase my lifts, rather than just reaching for the same, < 10 kg set of dumbbells on repeat, put me in control of my body at a time that it hadn't been cooperating as I'd have liked.
It's your decision to chase a bigger goal. You don't have to do it. There might be an obstacle in the road that is the most difficult thing that you ever do. Master the challenge and use it to your advantage.
7. It's all about the results, but you'll spend most of your time on the process.
If you're aiming for big things, realise that the process is the thing that consumes the bulk of your time. Find the joy in it and notice the little victories, if only for that moment before getting right back into it. If you can, befriend your daily routines - you'll be spending a lot of time together.
8. Take the detours.
Remember, it's a long road. Sometimes, you'll need to change course. It's ok to re-route. If you're driving from A to B, and there's a road closed and a detour, do you ignore it and continue to drive your original route? Do you give up and go home? Do you take it personally and berate the person controlling traffic for ruining your plans? No. You accept it, reassess, and reroute. If it's out of your control, move on. There's better things to worry about. You'll still get there, and you might even have a better journey.
9. Practice patience.
Have you plateaued? Did you results stall? Have things completely back fired? Deep breath. Progress is not supposed to be linear! If it looks like failure, remember that it's also an opportunity to learn to do things smarter. If you are humble enough to heed the lessons that are right in front of you, you'll see the benefits later.
10. Embrace feeling a bit freaked out. That's normal.
It's easy to think, 'I'm not quite ready yet.' 'I'm not fit enough.' 'I don't have enough experience.' 'I don't have enough time.' 'There's still so many things I need to learn first.' For me, the last one is the big one. I can easily fall into the trap of thinking that I need to keep learning and it stops me from doing. The thing is though, it's a Catch 22. I might never actually reach a point that I feel 'ready'. If you're ambitious, you just keep raising the bar instead.
You master things while doing things. Nobody possesses expertise or elite status before they even start - that's logically impossible. It takes time and practice. American artist and designer Debbie Millman explains that you're never going to feel confident initially because change is uncomfortable. She says that confidence really only comes from repeated attempts at doing something successfully. If you believe that you need to have it all figured out before you can even make a start, this can quickly fuel procrastination and inertia.
Believe that it's possible, and if you want to do it, start! That first, unsteady step is never going to feel any more 'comfortable' than it does at this moment. Be bold and take it.