Remember Super Mario? How he would risk life and limb, through the treacherous realms of Mario world, battling an array of baddies to rescue Princess Peach, only to find a mushroom-headed bro tell him: “Sorry mate, but the princess is in another castle.’’ (I always imagined Toad with a British accent. Go figure.) Off he would go, once again, in search of his damsel in distress.
You had to admire his persistence. Dude did not give up.
You see, our fellow bro Super Mario had this whole goal-setting thing figured out.
The Problem with Traditional Goal Setting
As humans, we’re not designed for goal-setting. Our brain works to protect us and couldn’t care less for our desire for washboard abs or 20-inch gunz. Our brain is wired to seek rewards and avoid pain and discomfort. This resistance to change is exactly why we become demotivated the minute we start facing obstacles or setbacks. The brain is trying to get back to a safe, known status quo.
The problem isn’t setting the goal; the problem is what happens after the goal has been set.
A Quick Primer On Motivation
Humans only have two real reasons for doing anything:
- Because we want to (intrinsic).
- Because others want us to (extrinsic).
It’s usually the extrinsic motivation that gets us started initially: Your girl leaves you for the jacked jock, so you decide to get jacked also, to win her back from evil Jock.
However, you soon realize that wanting the goal itself isn’t enough. Achieving said goal is going to require more than just being motivated.
And thus, your quest begins.
The Hero’s Journey
In the book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, author Joseph Campbell talks about “The Hero’s Journey”:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
This term is prevalent in every great narrative from all cultures and stories and is no different from your own.
You are the hero. Fighting your own villains – temptation, laziness, fear – every day. They are trying to stop you from reaching your own Princess Peach (goal). Returning home everyday, a little phased, tired maybe, bearing a few battle scars, but you know your journey isn’t over and it all begins again tomorrow.
And just like any hero, there are a few things you need to help you on your journey to goal attainment.
Gain XP points & Level Up
As any hero knows, the key to success on his quest lies in how strong he can become.
And in order for you to start becoming stronger (leveling up), you need to gain experience points.
How? Start with the small wins.
This begins with the smaller tasks (short-term goals) that, over time, build into the bigger and more challenging tasks (mid- to long-term goals).
You want to lose weight and get fitter. You decide you want to start running.
The next day, your alarm, which you so enthusiastically set the night before, goes off. But it’s still dark out, and the warm embrace of your bed is a lot more comforting than the cold that awaits you out there.
This is where you can start earning XP points and begin leveling up.
Put your shoes on, and leave the house. Maybe you don’t run; maybe you just end up going for a walk. But, you’ve just earned XP points! Over time, they build up, and as you slowly start leveling up, you’re able to tackle harder tasks and challenges (like finally running instead of walking).
You see, our brains thrive on the small wins; the release of endorphins upon achieving a goal makes us want to go back and do the task again, but better. This is something that authors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, refer to in their book as the “The Progress Principle”:
“Our research inside companies revealed that the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress — even small wins.’’
Pick battles in line with your current power level
You wouldn’t fight the final boss in the early stages of your hero’s journey. You would fight smaller bosses that would help you gain the relevant experience points, and – in time – you would level up to be able to take on the stronger bosses.
Similarly, you wouldn’t go from having 30lbs of fat to lose to washboard abs in two weeks. You would start by losing 5lbs, then 10lbs, then 20 – and finally your goal of 30lbs.
As your journey progresses and you become stronger, systematically, the levels get harder and the bosses get stronger too.
As you start getting closer to your end goal, the more elusive it becomes, creating more opportunities for you to slip up.
This is where you utilize your most vital tool.
The stronger you start to become, the harder it becomes to level up. You have to take on harder challenges, battle stronger enemies, solve harder puzzles, etc.
This is where unlocking achievements is VITAL.
Inevitably, there will be times in your quest where it will get tough and it will suck. This is your LoTR moment – the make or break. Do you keep going to Mount Mordor to end your quest, or do you stop here and admit defeat? You missed that PR you were hoping for, your fat loss has come to a stall, your princess turns out to be in another castle. All these things will test you, and this is where you will utilize your secret weapon.
How? Measure Your Progress.
Keeping logs of your training sessions, taking weekly or monthly photos, tracking your measurements: All these things will work as your unlocked achievements for you to look back on and draw motivation from.
Measuring your progress and looking back on how far you’ve come will motivate you to keep pushing forward when it starts to become tough.
The most exciting part about any quest is the ability to acquire new skills, tools, and weapons to help you on your journey.
This should be no different when you approach your (fitness) goals.
How? Harness Your Xcalibur.
When you start out on your fitness journey, you have limited skills and abilities. It’s your job to acquire power ups to become stronger and to help you on your quest.
Just like Link from “The Legend Of Zelda” had his map, acquiring the essential tools early on will mean you are set up for success from the start.
Tools you will need
Eating for your goals: This will mean either eating in a surplus if you want to gain muscle or eating in a deficit if you want to lose fat.
Movements such as: deadlifts, overhead press, bench press, and squats will give you the most bang for your buck and help you power up and become stronger a lot faster. And just like any budding hero, you must go through the required training to learn how to use your weapons correctly before leaving on your quest. This will involve you learning how to perform the exercises with correct form. (It can be tempting to want to skip this part, but, every great hero had to harness the basics first.)
These two will help get you started on your journey, and as your journey progresses, you must constantly pick up more tools and power-ups on the way. Continue learning about training and nutrition. This will ensure that you keep growing and leveling up on your way to goal attainment.
Find Your Crew
On your journey, you will come across people on the same quest as you. These people will become your crew.
Just like Bilbo Baggins had the Dwarves, your crew will make your quest not only more enjoyable, but easier, too. You won’t be able to do everything alone, and a crew will be there to motivate you, encourage you, and offer guidance when your quest becomes tough.
Thanks to social media, it’s now easier than ever to find and assemble your own crew; Facebook groups are becoming the modern day forums and are great places to connect with likeminded individuals on a similar quest.
Defeat The Enemies
In every quest, the hero must face and defeat enemies that try to stop him. You too will face your own enemies. The more enemies you defeat, the more XP points you gain, resulting in more confidence to take on bigger and harder challenges.
The two common enemies you will come across:
Just as there will be people who will want to help you on your quest, there will also be people who won’t. These are the people who will put you down or try to sway you from your path. This is a test every hero must go through, and the closer you get to achieving your goals, the stronger the naysayers will become.
Use the naysayers as motivation to fuel your journey. The only way to defeat the naysayers is to silence them. Do this by achieving what you said you were going to.
Fear is the ultimate enemy you will face, and it is the antagonist in your hero’s journey.
Fear will always be the strongest when you begin your quest, and it can cause you to want to give up.
The first thing you have to realize is that fear is perfectly normal. Breaking your goal down into smaller chunks will make it less intimidating. Fear will pop up now and again on your journey to deter you and make you want to stop. Using everything you have learned up to this point will be your plan of attack against defeating it.
Quest Complete: You Win
You’ve arrived at the castle, and this time your Princess is here.
This may be the end of one quest, but as every great hero knows, his new quest is waiting for him just around the corner.
Armed with this new leveled-up mindset and knowledge – go forth and conquer.
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