The Bearable Lightness of Being, or, Did my SMART goals make me fat?
Four years ago I decided to get healthier. If I was too active I was a little short of breath and I realised that when my trousers had to go from a 34 to a 36 waist and in reality that measurement was 39.9 I had to do something.
My plan was simple. For the first four months I had this simple mantra – Any time I eat I will eat a little bit healthier.
So simple. It could be choosing the lighter option, not eating too much, less bread, no Diet Coke. Lots of little things. And the BEST thing of all was that if I did binge on a takeaway or a night out I only failed at that moment. At my next meal, I was right back on track.
I very quickly gained around 15kgs of lightness. I had to buy a lot of new clothes.
After four months I bought myself a new bike. I had this second simple mantra – Any time I had a bike available I will ride.
I did not set any goals, just get on my bike and ride. Whenever my bike was available. This very quickly became a habit and I very rarely missed a day.
At the end of that year – 2014 – I had gained 20kgs of lightness. My waist had gone from 40in to 32in. I cycled over 4,500 miles.
I was staggered. If I had started the year with these goals to achieve in a year it would have felt very challenging and intimidating. From nothing to 4,500 miles ON A BIKE?! Lose TWENTY kilos.
And therein lies the problem.
For the next two years my newly forged, good habits continued. And then they didn’t.
In the winter of 2016/17, I was ill, followed by a period of particularly horrible winter weather. I did not ride my bike for four months.
Over the 2017 my weight very gradually increased. I gained around 5kgs.
So what happened?
Suddenly I had goals. Even if they were written down, I had set my own standards back in 2014. I SHOULD be able to lose 4kgs a month. I SHOULD be able to cycle 400 miles or more a month.
My mind would set out imaginary goals – what I SHOULD be doing this week.
When I originally walked out to sit on my bike it felt liberating. I could get out and go as far as I wanted. I could do 2 miles or 20 miles.
Now I was walking out to my bike thinking I HAVE to do 20 miles to keep up my average. I NEED to get back to my previous standard. AND I was on STRAVA so everyone could see what I was up to.
So I stopped cycling. There was no joy in it, I didn’t want to HAVE to ride any distance. My mindset did not like the pressure.
Over the past year, on average I have consumed around 100 kCal more each day than I have expended. That is the calorific investment it takes to create 5kgs of mass over a year.
That is the equivalent of maybe a ten-minute bike ride every day. Or one less bit of chocolate, a big spoonful of rice, or a small handful of fries.
I wasn’t cycling ten minutes because I felt I had to ride sixty.
So I stopped.
Over the past month, I have started to cycle whenever I have my bike available. I have made Strava private so one less imaginary pressure to deal with.
I have become conscious in my eating again – every meal I will eat a little healthier.
I have begun to regain lightness.
The lesson for me here is a little troublesome as a coach. As a coach, my job is to help people move towards their goals – and here I am saying that maybe goals do not work.
The real lesson is that it is crucial to find out what kind of goals work for you. For me, it is about setting a high-level intention and then having two or three very simple process goals to support that intention, action-based, rather than target-based goals. The real power is in the intention itself.
For others, it might be about mapping out detailed SMART goals and daily actions.
What goals work best for you?
I look forward to hearing from you.