Mantra Monday: Personal Best

It’s Bragging Time!

In early April of 2002, I ran the fastest I’d ever run in my life — 1.5 miles in 14:41. I was almost 24 years old. Saturday, I ran 1.5 miles in 14:04. I’m 41 years old. I crushed that shit, and I’m proud of it!

Some of My Personal Goals

I have a long list of personal goals that I’m always working on. I use the NerdFitness platform to keep track of most of them. Some of the ones that aren’t on that list, though, revolve around me being able to honestly claim that I’m in the best shape of my life.

Now that would be easy to say right now if I hadn’t ever gone through basic training. When I graduated BMT at Lackland Air Force Base, TX in 2002, I had four metrics by which my fitness was measured. I weighed 155 lbs (I’m 5’6″), I could run a mile and a half in under 15 minutes, I could do just over 70 push ups in one minute, and 42 sit ups in the same time.

As of now, I can run faster, but I’m still a way off when it comes to the other bodyweight exercises. I haven’t tested my sit ups yet, but I know I could do 30 in a minute. When it comes to push ups, my last test was 40 in one minute, though I weigh about 30 lbs more than when I hit that 70 mark back in 2002. In case you didn’t know, a push up is generally considered to be the equivalent of bench pressing 64% of your body weight, so in my case it’s the difference between benching 99 lbs 70 times and benching 121 lbs 40 times. Now, I’ve been benching 80 lbs 100 times for a few weeks, so if I keep that up, I should be able to crush my push up PR in a few weeks – even if I still weigh more.

By the way, when it comes to actual weight loss, which I am focusing on, by the way, I would like to lose another ten to fifteen pounds of fat. I know that I’m putting on muscle right now, so my weight has been relatively stable, even though the shape of my body is changing. That’s fine. For me, as long as I’m under 190, I feel great. If I can get down to 175, that will be awesome and I’m sure I’ll write a big post and tell you all about it in a couple of months, but I’m not expecting to drop those last fifteen pounds nearly as quickly as I dropped the first fifteen. That’s not how this works.

Your Goals Will Change

Obviously once you’ve achieved a goal, you need to set a new one that gets you closer to being who you want to be. Sometimes, however, our long term goals get adjusted once we start to see the rewards of accomplishing our short term goals.

The weight example above is a good one. When I started this journey over two years ago, I weighed over 260 pounds. At 5’6″. I looked back on my BMT days and said “I was in the best shape of my life back then, I need to get back to weighing 155 or 165 again.” (I was 165 when I left tech school)

Over the past two years, however, I’ve come to realize that the weight number is far less important to me than the things I can do with my body now that I never would have been able to do two years ago. I can do so many things that I could never do before – and at 41, not 24. I can run farther and faster. My cardio endurance is MUCH better. My legs are stronger now than they were back then, and my arms and back are catching up.

Photo of me wearing my Macho Man t-shirt this spring.
I may not weigh as little as I should, but I look like this now, I feel great, and I can run a mile and a half faster than I could when I was 23. I’m not bothered.

So my goal of weighing 155-165 might never happen – especially if I need muscle mass to accomplish my other goals. I feel comfortable with 175 as a goal weight now, and I really don’t care if I get down to 155 ever again. Whether I do or not, I’m going to be in better shape and more fit when I reach my other goals than I was when I weighed 155.

To drive home the point even further, when I graduated high school at eighteen, I only weighed around 140 lbs, and I couldn’t do any of the things I can do now when it comes to fitness. Weight’s a good metric, but it’s not the only one.

Action-based Goals

In case you didn’t catch it, the fitness goals I have for myself now are almost all action-based. In other words, they are based on being able to perform a certain task. I don’t care what the circumference of my arms is as long as I can do over 70 push ups in a minute and do fifteen or more pull ups. I don’t care what my weight is (as long as it’s below 190) as long as I can still run 2.5 miles three times a week without even flinching.

Micro-Tracking

As I said above, weight’s a good metric, but it’s not the only one. Just as there are action-based goals, there are also certain other goals that you can set that are like add-ons. With running, for example, I am shooting for increasing my overall endurance, so I subjectively pay attention to things like how I feel during the run, how hard I’m breathing, whether or not my joints hurt, or if I get side stitches. I also look at my heart rate, and how fast I recover once I’m in my cool down period. Those are all great ways to track your progress toward your goals, and they’re nowhere near as finicky as weight is.

Your Goals:

Enough bragging about what I’m doing. I want to talk about that stuff as an example for you so that you might be inspired (we don’t use the Motivation word here on Mantra Mondays) to set your own goals and start to work toward them. In that spirit, I’ll give you a brief rundown of a good system for setting, tracking, and — most importantly — achieving your own goals.

Setting Goals 101:

I taught AVID for five years in a public high school. A lot of what I’m about to write comes from the curriculum of that program. Most of the rest comes from Steve Kamb’s Level Up Your Life, a book that really got me started on this journey. So what you’re getting is my synthesized version of a goal system based on those sources and my own experience.

Step 1: The Big Picture.

Maybe you’re not the type of person that has to see the end result before you can get started. If so, good for you. For the rest of us, it isn’t so simple. You really have to visualize the life you want. Did you catch that? Visualize the life you want. No. I’m not talking about The Secret or the so-called “Law of Attraction,” both of which are absolute nonsense, hogwash, and bullshit. Let’s not throw the truffles out with the pig shit, though.

Visualization is powerful. It’s a way for you to build the life you really want. If you can, write it all down. Where and with whom do you want to live? What kind of lifestyle do you want to live? What are your real values. What do you want in life?

Step 2: The Breakdown.

Now that you have an idea of the direction you’re heading, you need to start working on getting there. But as the old Chinese proverb says, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” You have a picture of what you want your life to be, but there are a lot of aspects to a life. It helps to break your goals down into categories. I’ve broken mine into the following:

  • Writing: I call this the “Hemingway/Thompson” category, and it includes goals that lead up to all of the things I want to achieve as a writer.
  • Travel/Adventure: I value experience more than material possessions and time more than money. These goals will take me across the globe to do some amazing things.
  • Character: These are skill quests I’ve given myself. Everything from learning to speak Spanish to learning how to count cards.
  • Fitness: You read about these goals already.
  • Financial: I am working on learning to save money and get control of my spending.

Next, Narrow it Down Some More.

For each category, find a specific action that you can take to help you progress toward achieving the ultimate goals. For example, one of my Character goals is to practice Spanish for five minutes every day for a week. That’s not going to get me fluent any time soon, but it will help build the habit of daily practice, and once I’ve got that down, then the results will snowball and maybe by next year I could be 50% fluent.

Step 3: Nice Gains, Bro, Now Adjust!

If you do steps one and two correctly, you should start seeing real results — regardless of the object of your goal — within two or three weeks. Once you start seeing those gains, you need to adjust your goals. In the fitness category, you may need to add weight, duration, or reps. For financial goals, you may need to increase the amount that you’re saving or making extra payments to get rid of your debt. The point is, growth requires adjustment and challenge.

You don’t have to push yourself to the limit every day. You only have to push yourself a little bit harder than you did last week.

That’s it. Rinse, wash, repeat. You want to make sure that your goals are measurable, actionable, and attainable, but other than that, that’s all there is to successful goal setting. Right?

Step 4: Cultivate Discipline.

You MUST cultivate discipline if you are to succeed. Period. Mantra Mondays are all about that in Brandonia, and you can read all of those posts here.

On a Final Note…

I spent over twenty one hours at the hospital visiting my dad last week. That’s a part time job, on top of my writing responsibilities and other commitments. I’m sorry that I haven’t written as frequently the last few weeks. I hope that changes this week. Until we meet again tomorrow, get out there and get moving. I’ll be at the gym in a few hours.

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