Goals: Perception, Pressure, & Doing Your Own Damn Thing
As I was sitting in my classroom (I teach a few days a week), eating (of course), I came across this article about goals - more specifically about the fact that we often force ourselves into goals that we think are what we should do (I want to be the best lifter, runner, crossfitter, triathlete ever - all at the same time!) versus what we actually want to do (I just really want to pick up some heavy things). Go ahead and read it. I'll wait. As I was reading - and simultaneously shoveling ground beef into my face - all I could do was simply nod in agreement. I have TOTALLY been there and done that. Several times. And I will probably do it again, but hopefully over time, it will become a less frequent occurrence. That said, I have learned a lot from those mistakes.
I’ve been the girl who wanted to be “small” so I started running...even though I really didn’t like it and it screwed up my already less-than-stellar joints. I’ve wanted to be a certain body fat percentage so I ate less even though I was tired and pissed off all the time. I’ve wanted to be the “healthy” so I ate a mostly vegetarian and sometimes vegan diet and did a lot of running which totally wrecked my gut and my body (sidenote: not saying vegetarian or vegan diets are “bad”, just saying that it definitely DID NOT work for me). Each of these times, my body and brain were screaming at me that whatever I was doing was not working - I was unhappy, I felt awful, and wasn’t getting whatever results I thought I wanted. But I thought those things were what I was supposed to want, so I would keep at it despite the fact that deep down, I knew I didn’t actually want any of that.
It seems ridiculous now, when it’s written out on paper (or computer screen), and put into perspective - but hindsight is always 20/20 and that’s the problem. It is often not until it is too late and we’ve done some damage either to our bodies, our minds, or both, that we realize we are acting like idiots. Why does this conflict even exist? Why do we force ourselves into some box that deep down, we don’t want to be in? That’s not a simple question to answer and it varies for each person. Generally, I think we want to be perceived as being something that we think we should be. There’s nothing wrong with that - it’s just what we do. We all want to be perceived as the best possible version of ourselves but, instead of looking inwards, we look out. We define what we think the best versions of ourselves should be that based on what we perceive as the best possible of version of everyone else. When we think about it that way, we realize it doesn’t really make any sense.
Take this hilarious, nearly 100% on point post on “fitspo” and what it means. Ultra-lean girls are doing active things in their underwear with mantras that essentially tell us that, to be worth something, to be “fit”, and more importantly perceived as such, we need a six pack and some jacked shoulders. We also need to squat and deadlift in our underwear. We’re being sold the same skinny = worth message, just with some muscle tone. Constant bombardment of these images and the notions that go with them, is damaging. Even if we avoid that sort of stuff, the notions that to be worthy, good “fit” chicks we need to run a 6 minute mile, while having a 400lb deadlift, and being able to do 50 kipping pull ups in row isn’t helping the situation. First off, that’s a pretty tough combination to accomplish unless you’re a fairly elite athlete who has been training for several years (odds are, you aren’t - and guess what, that’s okay). Second off, you don’t have to want all of those things! If you do, that’s great. Make a systematic plan with a qualified coach and go get them. On that note, patience is key. It’s okay to just focus on one aspect for a while - go ahead and get your 400lb deadlift, then work on your pull ups (hint: being strong makes doing things and doing them quickly, much easier).But if you don’t want any or all of those things, it really is OKAY. No one will think less of you and if they do, they probably don’t belong in your life anyways.
I want a 400lb deadlift one day. I also want a 300lb back squat and a great clean and jerk and snatch. I could care less about how quickly I run a mile right now. Why? Because I genuinely dislike running, so I don’t do it often. It’s not terribly enjoyable for me and it doesn’t really do anything for the goals I’m trying to accomplish. Right now, I’m focused on getting really freaking strong. Just because everyone else or rather, it seems like everyone else is some awesome runner or loves running, doesn’t mean that I have to hit the payment. I don’t need to be the best version of everyone else. I just want to be the best version of myself - if that means I’m the girl with a barbell in her hands instead of running shoes on her feet, then so be it.
This is all easy to say (type?) and we can all nod our heads feverishly in agreement and say “YEAH! I’m totally going to figure out my goals and get them!” but like anything else, it is much easier said than done. It has been my experience that it often takes some incident, some breaking point that makes us shake our head and realize that we weren't actually doing what we wanted to do. The only thing people are better at than convincing others of something, is convincing themselves of something.
I was convinced that weight loss would make me happy (which is completely wrong, but at the time, it seemed oh-so-right) and then I lost weight and I hated it. I hated that I sacrificed hard earned strength for a few pounds. I had been essentially fooling myself into believing I wanted something, when in fact, all I wanted was to get really strong. In hindsight it was pretty obvious- I was excited for things like squats and deadlifts and less-than-enthused about things like running and rowing. When someone asked me what fitness goals I had, strength goals always came first. Those goals were the ones I wanted badly, the other goals were just bonus points. I knew what I wanted the entire time but I was convinced that I needed to want these other things - I felt that in order to be perceived a certain way, other people’s goals needed to be my goals. And that’s just bullshit.
Bottom line - if you want to run and run fast, then train accordingly. If you want to have a massive back squat, then start squatting and eating everything in sight. If you want a six pack, get your diet on point. It doesn’t matter what your goal is - whether it is aesthetics, strength, or just to find something you love to do. Define your goal based on what you really want not what you think you should want because it seems that everyone else wants those same things. You should own your goals, embrace them, and work like hell to achieve them. You can’t do that if your heart isn’t in it.
P.S. All photos by the extremely talented Josh Winn.