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Goals vs. Systems: How to Live a Fitness Lifestyle

There’s a key difference between casual fitness enthusiasts and the people who embody a fitness lifestyle.

The casual gym goer is ‘pretty fit’. You’d probably look at them and know that they work out. They’re in better shape than most people walking down the street and have probably been really fit at one point in their life. They generally know what they are doing in the gym and are able to change the look of their body over time.

The people who embody a fitness lifestyle are the ones who walk down the street and most people would point out as being ‘extremely fit’. Their life appears to revolve around health, wellness, and fitness, but they make it look effortless and are often successful in other areas of their life. They’re lighter on their feet, more confident in their posture, and consistently making choices that lead to a full-time healthy lifestyle.

At a glance, it would appear that the person living the fitness lifestyle is on a completely different level than the casual gym goer. But there’s a subtle difference between the two and it’s much easier to make the shift to living the fitness lifestyle than one might think.

Goals vs. Systems

The key difference between the ‘pretty fit’ individual and the person living the fitness lifestyle is a goals vs. systems approach.

A goal is a point-in-time measure of success. If you’ve set goals correctly, you can very easily see if you’ve succeeded in achieving your goal at the end of the time period you’ve set for yourself. The casual gym goer will use this goal-oriented approach. They will set a goal to lose 10lbs in 60 days or to decrease their 5k time by 2 minutes in a month. They will then begin fervently working towards the goal with the end always in mind. At the end of the time period they’ve set they can see if they’ve achieved the goal or not.

A system is a set of small actions completed or guiding principles followed on a regular basis that move you in the right direction. Another way to look at a system is as a set of habits. It’s very easy to track completion of a habit, but it’s nearly impossible to tell at any given time if the single habit you just completed is moving you in the right direction. It’s easy to track if you brush your teeth every night, but you can’t tell after a single night’s brush if you’ve just prevented future oral disease. Those that live a fitness lifestyle use a systems approach. The secret to their success is the systems or habits they regularly abide by. They set systems like exercising daily or consuming under 2000 calories 6 days of the week. They easily track whether they stuck to their system or not but cannot tell if any one day of exercise or eating right made them that much better or worse.

Why systems set you up to develop the fitness lifestyle you’ve been looking for:

Systems are marathons that allow for long-term success. Goals are sprints that help you through a 30, 60, or 90-day increment. Which one do you think is better to pursue if you want to live a fitness lifestyle?

Systems can be maintained for long periods of time, potentially over entire lifetimes, while goals are periodic by definition. The system, or habit, to be active for an hour every day is reachable and sustainable. Whereas the goal to lose 5lbs in a month lasts only 30 days. It will probably cause some unneeded stress, and, what do you do on day 31?

Systems provide constant positive feedback and allow for simple tracking. With a system you can ‘win’ and feel good about your progress every single day. You can only ‘win’ with a goal on the day you achieve it (if you actually do achieve it). Until that day, you feel like a failure because you have yet to achieve the goal you set for yourself. And even if you do finally ‘win’ your goal, you find out that the only thing that’s given you meaning or purpose throughout your journey, your goal, is now gone. And now you’re back to setting another goal and feeling like a failure until you achieve it. The key to a fitness lifestyle is constantly winning to encourage more progress.

Systems are completely within your control. Being in control is generally a very good thing and promotes happiness. Sometimes things outside of your control can prevent you from achieving your goals and prevent happiness. It’s very hard for something other than your own choices to stop you from eating less than 2000 calories in a day. However, there are a multitude of factors that can prevent you from losing 5lbs in 30 days. Your workout program could cause you to gain muscle mass. Your water weight could fluctuate significantly because you’re drinking more water. An injury could prevent you from your workout routine. Being in complete control is a key benefit of a systems approach.

Don’t get me wrong. Goals are necessary to help push yourself past limits. People living the fitness lifestyle constantly set goals, but it’s the systems they put in place to achieve those goals that allow them to live the healthy lifestyle so many want. If you want to see how to set goals AND use a systems approach, check out this article and the framework used in The FitJourn.

If you want to shift from a casual fitness enthusiast to someone living the fit life, use systems not goals.


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