Often I give a brief, lighthearted anecdote in this column, and discuss a perspective that can give you an edge to your training. But today I am going to be a little more direct, and address something I see way too often as a coach.
In fact, I see it a lot, and as a coach it’s extremely difficult to watch:
Self-sabotage via unrealistic goal setting, ultimatums, and deadlines.
We would never suffer other people to set firm ultimatums or deadlines on our progress, and yet we do it to ourselves all the time.
To be fair, this is mostly a problem I see with newer students. Many people get involved in a new, healthy hobby because they’ve reached a breaking point in their lives where they are desperate for change.
Desperation is a very powerful form of energy, and when channeled properly can lead to big things — hell, even starting something new like Jiu Jitsu takes a ton of mental and emotional energy. Huge kudos to everyone who walks through the door for the first time. It ain’t easy — I should know. I made that walk once too.
But when channeled improperly, it can be immensely destructive. It often takes the form of unrealistic behavioral goals, ultimatums or deadlines — self-talk along the lines of “I must attend five classes each week, or else I’ll never improve” or “I have to lose 30 pounds in the next two months!”
See, goals are good to have — but there’s a pathology to setting unrealistic expectations on yourself, because ultimately you will always fall short and your failures (which are only failures because the bar has been set impossibly high) will reinforce the negative self-talk and self-image that you are working to change.
That negative part of you that constantly undermines you and tells you that you’re not good enough — yeah, that part. That part wants to live. It wants to grow, just like any other living, breathing thing. It feeds on being “right,” and it wants you to always come crawling back so it can say “see, I told you so!”
It does this by tricking you into making huge, unrealistic goals for yourself. It hides itself behind ideas like “bigger is better,” “no pain no gain,” and other hustle culture nonsense that the fitness industry throws at us on a daily basis.
When you don’t lose that 30 pounds in two months, it says “See? You’re just not good enough. You’ll never be good enough. You should just quit.. you were foolish for even trying.”
You would never let anyone tell you that you are “not good enough” if you don’t lose 30 pounds in two months, would you? Or that your work ethic sucks if you don’t commit 100% of your free time to training?
Of course not.
Yet, somehow, when that talk comes from within it’s somehow acceptable.
It’s insidious. It seems to come from a place of self-improvement, of healthy behavior, of “motivation” — but it doesn’t. You have to learn to recognize it for what it is.
Instead of grandiose quantitative, objective goals, set realistic and habitual goals instead. Things like:
“I will focus on attending two classes each week until it becomes part of my routine, then I will evaluate if I can do more.”
“I will eat one healthy meal per day at first, and slowly work towards adding more.”
“I will seek to find a good balance between my training, my diet, and my life.”
Getting results out of any healthy activity is all about sustainable, healthy habits. Focus on building up the strength of your habits like you would build the strength of your body — start light, stay consistent, and add resistance as you go.
But no matter what, never set yourself up for failure. You wouldn’t suffer anyone else to do that to you, so don’t do it to yourself!