Setting realistic weight loss goals is not the same as having some random objectives. And yet, many self-improvement authors don't cross a clear line between what can be done and what should be ignored, causing nothing but frustration to the enthusiastic folks who want to get in shape or improve other aspects of their lives.
Take Geoffry Abert (author of After Crash), for example, who bluntly said that “the most important thing about goals is having one”. This apparent truism is partially logical but mostly incorrect for obvious reasons. The problem here is not that people don't have goals or don't try to pursue them. Far from that!
The problem is that an abundance of aspirations are short-lived for the simple reason that the effort done to achieve them is inconsistent. So they are just sweet dreams. I'm sure you have that one acquaintance, full of shit, who talks boastfully about his plans, but you know from the very beginning that nothing is going to happen.
Or if that's actually you, my friend, something has to change. Otherwise you will have an unfulfilled life, and your soul will always be filled with hatred against those who succeed. If you are a fat ass, you will always do whatever you can to show (in a ridiculous way, of course) your superiority to someone fit (like me).
So unless you cut the bullshit and set realistic weight loss goals, you will never get out of this behavioral maze. You will never know the difference that makes the difference. How do you learn that? Well, you splash some cold water on your face, and get a grasp of the following points:
1. Take the blinders off
Like any successful endeavor, your weight loss journey has to start with a simple assessment of its worthiness. It's important to understand that motivation is fueled by benefits and repressed by effort. If your benefits are greater than the effort done to get them, you have sustained motivation. If not, every month you will come up with a new goal without achieving anything. In other words, you will be a loser.
This principle applies to any goal-setting decision. For instance, I speak fluently 4 languages (English, French, Spanish, and Romanian), but I also make full use of all of them because I'm a Romanian-Canadian with a master degree from a French university, living in Latin America.
And although I would like to be proficient in Italian, I wouldn't even start learning it because, except maybe during a vacation in Rome, I wouldn't really need it. So the effort (which wouldn't even be that big because I already speak 3 romance languages) is not worth it. Now, enough with bragging about my language skills, and let's see how this relates to your fitness goals.
In the same vein, most people fail to lose weight because the perceived effort is too high while the results are lacking – which means that motivation diminishes by the day. Take, for instance, the fitness crusaders who become obsessed with Zumba, Pilates, or other similar crap. As these activities do almost nothing to improve body composition, at some point your Average Joe will say...fuck it!
And losing weight is not even the most difficult part. Statistics show that, undoubtedly, over 95% of the dieters gain all the weight back, especially the low-carb zealots. Why is that? Simple. When you arbitrarily eliminate foods or macronutrients, or/and exercise excessively but inefficiently, the outcome is predictable.
2. Embrace your flaws
No matter who you are, or whatever your mother told you, you are not perfect. Nobody is. There will always be something that you won't be able to change such as your body structure. Some people are short, others are big-boned. I, for example, wouldn't mind to have larger shoulders – like Frank Zane, whose body I'm trying to model, but who had his imperfections as well.
But whatever your flaw is, remember that, most of the time, 80% of it is just in your head. So don't think too much about it, and accept it as something normal. As Maxwell Maltz said in his great book Phycho- Cybernetics (which I wholeheartedly recommend), “God must have loved uncommon people for he made so many of them.”
My point is that while is important to have a model (who most of the time looks different than in the pictures), your main objective should be to compete with nobody but yourself, and get the most of what you have. Which brings me to the next point...
3. Enjoy the journey
Have you noticed that if you get paid do to something, that activity per se becomes less pleasurable than if you do it for free? This happens because we tend to associate remuneration with obligation, which means less freedom, which in turn means less happiness.
In this case, remuneration consists in being able to turn heads when you take off your shirt on a beach. However, it may take a long while until you can finally look in the mirror and fall in love with yourself, so in other words you will have to pay an upfront cost for a delayed benefit.
And when it comes to delayed benefits, we all act pathetically because is our human nature to crave instant gratification and care less about the future.
Not to mention that getting the body you want is just a milestone of a journey that will never end. So while is helpful to keep the eye on the ball, so to speak, being preoccupied with winning the cup doesn't make you any good.
The key here is to learn to enjoy your experiences for what they are, and focus less on the final results – which are not even final because, no matter what we do, we are constantly changing. For this to happen, there has to be a fine balance between challenges and rewards, or otherwise the experience is whether frustrating or just boring.
This concept is very well described in Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – another great read to expand your horizons.
4. Improve your standards
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins said that “your physical body is a reflection of your standards”. I would go even further and say that the physiological standards are driven by the psychological standards.
Probably the most important factor that determines your bodyweight is leptin secretion. Your crappy habits make you fat, and being fat will inevitably set a higher threshold for this hormone. In other words, your biological weight set point will go upward, which makes it even more difficult to bring into play the behavioral changes required for losing weight.
The only solution to get out of this vicious circle is to improve your standards. This will give you the driving force to convert your “shoulds” in “musts”, and never go back. Your “I should eat less” will become “I must be in shape, no matter what”, and leptin will follow suit.
Closing Point: Are you happy?
“More than anything else, men and women seek happiness.” (Aristotle)
No matter what you do, happiness is the result of progress. If you have realistic weight loss goals and are determined to succeed, you will eventually get the body you want. But remember, this is just a milestone of a journey that never ends.
Every step that brings you closer to achieving your objective gives you a great deal of satisfaction. And is this progress that makes you happy, not the turn-heads physique that you crave so badly. So when you get there, give yourself a tap on the shoulder, and continue the journey by improving other aspects of your life.