Setting Goals and Smashing Them

Usually when people think of goal setting they just think of a vague quality that they’d like to achieve. Wanting to “get fit” “lose weight” are prime examples. Some are savvier and have a definite goal with a definite end point with a date. For example; “I want to lose 8 lbs in 5 weeks”. Noble though they are, these types of goals have some serious drawbacks. Getting fit or losing weight are just very vague statements with no real way of measuring any progress. Losing 8lbs in 5 weeks is great, but what do you do after the 5 weeks is up?

The principles and priorities I’ll lay out here do include this type of goal setting but I’ll also provide a better framework to build these goals into, regardless of their magnitude or timeline.

In trainer speak, goals like losing weight or getting fit are known as outcome goals. I call them “whats”, they are what you want.

Whether it’s a dress size, a body weight or a distance ran most people only think about outcome goals. This can set you up for failure, stagnation and regression.

The reasons why are multifaceted. Firstly, we rarely concentrate on changing the habits and behaviors (hows) that actually make the “what” happen. Secondly when we chase “whats” without looking for the underlying “whys” they never really mean anything to us in the first place adn are easily abandoned when the going gets though.

I’ve laid it out as a pyramid in the diagram below (I always work better with pictures).




As you can see, the hows and the whats only make up a small portion of the picture. The whys make up the majority and that’s where real success is to be found. Whys drive you forward when you want to quit, they stop you eating that second slice of death by chocolate. They give what you’re doing meaning and make it worthwhile.

If you have the right whys, the hows and the whats just become means to achieve it. You can more easily detach from the here and now and focus on the big picture. When that picture is clear and sparks powerful emotions we’re onto a winning formula.

To understand your whys better it’s a good idea to delve into what’s going on between your ears.

Psychologists often describe two separate parts of the human psyche; the emotional impulsive side that just wants to curl up in bed and eat ice-cream and the rational analytical side that plans strict diets and exercise plans. These two sides of our personalities usually push and pull at each other.

Even the ancient Greeks recognized this with Plato describing the emotional side as a wild horse and the rational side as a charioteer trying to steer it.

The Elephant in your head

More recently, social psychologist Jonathan Haitd used a great analogy to describe this duality as an elephant and a rider. He describes our impulsive emotional side as an elephant. It’s a powerful beast; it’s the emotional drive behind everything we do. It’s the love that drives a mother to give her life to save her child. It’s our fear, our bravery and when it’s motivated it’s very hard to stop. The elephant is not alone though, it has a rider.

The rider (our rational side) tries to steer the elephant but in the end has little power over it. The rider can plan ahead, and try to outsmart the elephant. It’s the side of us that sets the alarm 20 minutes early to leave time for a morning run. It also hides the biscuits because it knows that when the elephant wants biscuits it’s going to get them! The rider is, however, prone to inaction. It over analyses things and sometimes doesn’t know which way to go.

So, what the hell have elephants in your head got to do with getting a better body? Everything, that’s what. Usually, the weak little rider makes great plans but after two weeks the elephant says “feck this craic, I love cake!”

The elephant is strong and stubborn, once it gets going it’s hard to stop. It doesn’t like change though, and the rider gets confused by vague instructions. So to make lasting change you need to get your elephant fired up and convince it that the change is no biggy. You also need to give the rider very specific and easy to follow instructions.


Let’s start with getting the elephant fired up. Check out my next Blog where I'll reveal how to tap into the deep emotional drives that will give you relentless, elephant size motivation. You'll learn how to set the right goals, and how to smash them to bits too.