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18 June 2015

My story of 'Alternate Goal Setting'

As I looked out of the window on that lazy Sunday afternoon, I kept thinking about the problem at hand.

How do I achieve my goal?

You see, as a part of New Year resolution, I had set a goal for reducing my weight. And that morning, I checked my weight and found that.... forget it.

Of course, it stood to reason. I had not completed any of the tasks that I had planned to achieve my goals. I hadn’t got up at 6.00 AM and did 30 minutes of treadmill. Evening after evening I had come home and had decided to ‘Relax’, thereby avoiding my objective of doing a round of cycling in the evening.

And to top it all, I had not controlled quantity or quality of my intake.

Something had gone wrong somewhere. Was my goal very ambitious? Reducing 5 Kg of weight by 30 April (4 months) was definitely not ambitious. Some will say it was not even ambitious enough.  It was definitely not tough getting up at 6.00 AM in the morning. I regularly get up at that time. Once a while I also do (and like doing) 30 minutes on the treadmill. And I enjoy cycling.

So I had chosen an achievable goal and a practical set of steps to meet that goal. Conventional wisdom would have told me that achieving my goal was a cakewalk.

Still here I was, 5 months down the line, not having achieved my goal (and nowhere near to achieving it) and feeling frustrated.

What should I do?

An article that I read that morning had caught my attention. The article talked about ‘Alternate Goal’ approach to goal achievement. The gist of the article was that to achieve your primary goal, identify and focus on an alternate goal and strive to achieve that alternate goal. The article also mentioned that you should word your goal in positive terms.

I thought of creating an alternate goal with a positive message. After spending some time I came out with this alternate goal.

“Burn 10000 measurable calories on treadmill in 30 days”. It sounded positive (?). I was no longer focusing on my weight. The focus had shifted to Measurable Calories as seen on the treadmill.

I did a quick calculation. 10000 calories in 30 days means burning about 335 Calories per day. Of course I will do other activities to burn calories. But for the purpose of achieving this goal, I will consider only the calories that I burned on the treadmill.

I started off on 12th June with this new goal.  I got up at about 6 and went to the gym. I was all excited. No pressure to reduce food intake, to lift weight, to cut down on fatty food… I just have to burn about 335 Calories per day for 30 days.

I felt like a free man.

I found that if I set the elevation on the treadmill to 7 and the speed to about 6.2 KMPH, I can burn about 350 Calories in 35 minutes.

For the first few days I managed to clock about 350 calories per day. This is when I committed my first mistake of ‘Goal Shifting’. I moved my daily goal target to 350 Calories (anyway, I was achieving it, wasn’t I?) from 335 that was originally planned.

Now started the second mistake. I started changing goals. From my original plan of focusing on Calories, I started focusing on other parameters like the distance I walked per day, the time that I spent on the treadmill per day etc.

This did not help matters. For example, after setting my target to 4 KM / day, I found that I was waking up in the morning with trepidation.  Every morning was like “god, I have to walk 4 KM today on that stupid treadmill…”.  I started losing focus on my alternate goal of 350 Calories / Day.

I quickly reverted to focusing on my Calorie goal.

Then one day, I did 400 Calories. Now my goal shifted from 350 Calories per day to 400 Calories per day.

Mind you, it is not easy to burn 400 calories per day by walking for about 40 minutes. After about 25 minutes, your body starts complaining like crazy.

First 100 Calories is easy. In your initial enthusiasm, you will cover it. But at 100 Calories, you are getting tired (well not tired, but slightly breathless), and you realize that you have covered only 1/4th of your target. Believe me, the next 200 Calories is the most difficult part of the process. Once you reach 300, it becomes easy since you are counting down. It is all in your mind.

Then came my ultimate challenge.

On the 27th of June, I found that I had to travel to Mexico on the 6th of July. Now I had two options. One, was to continue doing 350 calories per day as originally planned. Or, two, I could have achieved my original target of 10000 Calories by the next 7 days.

I did my math. I found that, I had already clocked 6100 Calories. That left me with having to burn 3900 Calories in about 7 days. This meant burning about 570 Calories per day for the next 7 days.

It was impossible to do 500 Calories in one shot. So I took the approach of ‘Leading Indicators’ and decided to stretch myself for about 2 days, after which I will come back to my original schedule.

For the next two days (29th and 30th) I did 800 Calories per day.

Today is the 1st of July. Starting from today, if I do 400 Calories per day, I will achieve my target of burning 10000 Calories.

That is not difficult.

The one thing that I did well was to have a clear focus on Calories as my target. I never wavered from that (except for a few days when I shifted the goal. But I soon returned to my original goal).

In addition, I have also walked about 86 KM in the last 20 days; I have walked about 1000 minutes. By 5th I would have walked 100 KM and 1200 minutes.

That is like walking to Mysore at 6.2 KMPH with an incline of about 30 degrees.


Wow!!! Again….

Putting it like that, it sounds incredible….

And for tracking my daily progress, I had learned MS access.

A reasonable return on investment, I would say.

What went right for me? Let us analyze.

One, I had a clear goal expressed in specific target numbers and with a clear end date: My goal was to burn 10000 Calories in 30 days.

Two, my goal was easily measurable. There is nothing more clearly measurable than calorie numbers displayed on the treadmill.

Three, perseverance or ‘Stick-to-itiveness’. There were mornings in which I did not feel like getting up from the bed. Even god takes rest on the 7th day, I told myself as a justification. But I forced myself to get up and go to the gym. I am not sure if I would have done this on a daily basis. As a 30 day project, it was ok.

Four, I was focused on Calories as a goal and stopped as soon as I reached my daily target. Initially, I would do more than target since I had the energy. This was like deciding to extend the football match after the 90 minutes because the players still had energy. Extending the goal can work negatively also. For example, what if you feel tired after doing 200 Calories (believe me, you will). Will you stop before you achieve the daily target?

However, in real life it is not easy to have such clear cut targets. For example, what will be the target in a project management? Is it time? Scope ? Customer Satisfaction?

Even with my single target, I saw my goals change from Calories to distance to time. So when you have more goals to focus, the confusion can be more intense.

The way out? First identify your goals, and then focus on it like a laser beam. Take corrective steps much in advance. Be prepared for some stretch targets on the way.

What was my weight before I started and what is it now? Any benefits?

Well, that is a little secret that I will keep with myself. OK?

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