What Do You Really Want? When What You Want and How You Train Don't Match
All the experts are right and all the experts are wrong. That is to say that any advice anyone gives you could be great advice or completely irrelevant. It all depends on your goal. And there’s the rub. What is your goal? And is your stated goal in alignment with your actual internal goal? In other words, what do you really want, as opposed to what you say you want, and are you doing everything that needs to be done to support that goal?
So ask yourself, what do you really want?
Things you might answer with are to lose weight, gain strength, build muscle size, socialize, zone out, have a community, prepare for a competition, or see my long-lost abs. Any one of those can be a completely respectable goal. The problem is not with your chosen goal. The problem lies in whether or not your goal and your actions are coordinated - and whether you are truly present to and honest about your goal.
Stated Goal =/= Actual Goal = Conflict + Failure
A friend of mine decided he wanted to get stronger and put on more muscle. He hired a strength coach and started lifting weights regularly. The strength coach, of course, advised that he cut down on his long, slow running sessions and also on his metabolic-oriented CrossFit workouts. My friend balked at this coaching. Intensely. He didn’t want to give these things up, and he wanted to be strong.
That’s awesome. That seems like a cool idea, in fact. But it’s completely and utterly impossible. You can’t be all things at once - certainly not a better distance runner and a better deadlifter at the same time - and you will only frustrate yourself trying.
So my friend had a few options. He could:
- Follow his stated goal of becoming stronger and follow his coach’s advice.
- Pursue his stated goal without following his coach’s advice, continue running and CrossFit, and achieve proficiency at neither strength nor running.
- Listen to his heart, put down the barbell and continue running - because that’s what he actually wanted to do.
There was nothing wrong with what my friend’s strength coach was teaching him. It was expert advice and was actually in accordance with what my friend said he wanted. But my friend’s stated goal and his actual goal were not the same. It was not until my friend came to the realization about his conflicting “goals” that he could move forward and feel good about his training sessions (and stop driving his trainer crazy).
Before he came to that realization my friend was frustrated with his progress in strength training and frustrated by missing out on running. He was working hard, but feeling good about none of it. He set both himself and his coach up for failure.
My Story of Body Fat, Failure, and Frustration
I’ll share a personal story about this. For about a year or so I focused my training on powerlifting and gaining strength. I really like lifting heavy things, over and over again. But during this time, what I actually wanted was to be smaller and leaner.
I have fun lifting heavy things. Or rather, I did have fun at first, but as time went on and I my body got bigger, it became depressing to train. Due to wanting to get leaner, I wasn’t eating in a way to properly promote building muscle, and my heart wasn’t in my training, so I wasn’t getting much stronger at all. I also wasn’t getting any smaller, since I wasn’t training in a way to promote that. So, I was mad at myself for the weights on the barbell not going up and I was mad at myself for the weight on my body not going down.
In the end I did a simple thing. I gave myself permission to stop. I gave myself permission to let wanting to be leaner outweigh wanting to be stronger. I decided that being lean was a perfectly fine goal, and in fact far healthier than the mental torture I’d been putting myself through for a year. Within a day I suddenly was excited to train again. I had a goal to work toward, and my actions finally supported that goal.
So, what do you really want?
Do you want to have fun? Well then make sure you’re having fun in every session and don’t judge yourself by other markers. Where I see conflict occur is when a person’s heartfelt desire is to have fun, but the talk in his or her head is about is losing weight. The person goes and does the actions that fulfill on fun, but these activities may not result in weight loss. So, he or she comes home from the gym feeling like a failure over and over, but in reality he or she has been consistently achieving the real goal of fun.
In another scenario, your stated goal could be to eat five servings of vegetables a day. Are you actually going to do that? You could. Or you could eat two and then be mad at yourself every night for not eating five, even though you make no effort to eat five and deep in your heart you’re not terribly interested in eating five. You only “want” to eat five because you “should.” Why not get real that you’re going to eat two servings, which is an actual improvement, and feel good about that?
Or maybe you come to me as a coach and tell me you want to increase your deadlift and that’s all you care about. And I’ll say, "Great, you better start eating and I’m glad you don’t care about your waistline." And you better not care about your waistline, because if you real goal is stay lean, then your daily training goal can’t be to increase your deadlift because it will only leave you feeling badly.
Give yourself permission to want what you really want.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What have you been telling yourself that your goal is?
- What does your heart actually want?
- Is your stated goal and your actual goal the same thing?
- Are your actions in support of what you say your goal is?
If you realize what you’re wanting and what you’re doing are different, then you need to take a good hard look at your actions and a good long listen to your heart. If you are feeling stagnated, frustrated, or depressed about your training, but you’re training regularly, then ask yourself - are you training for the right thing? Are you listening to your deepest desire and training that? Because you can pick any of a million fitness or performance goals out there, and you can find an expert to coach you toward any one of them, but the one you “should” be pursuing is the one that’s inside you.
Photos courtesy of CrossFit LA.