Of course you can go from 20% to 12% body fat in just a couple of weeks. Don’t worry, you will be able to shave a second off your 40m sprint time with a few hard days of training. Putting on 5kg of muscle, no problem! Just need to eat a whole chicken every day….
Whilst most people are fully aware that the results listed above are highly unlikely, subconsciously many people want to believe that extreme results such as these are not only possible, but likely. You see the problem is that many books, magazines, experts and products are constantly coming up with the latest ‘routine’, ‘diet’ or ‘program’ that instils that false hope into your everyday athlete. Unfortunately, the truth is something that most individuals just don’t want to hear. The truth……..results will require discipline, they will require sacrifices, they may take longer than expected, and you guessed it……quite often they involve hard work.
Whilst goal-setting can be a crucial part of any individuals health and fitness journey, whether an athlete aiming to make it to the NBA or a post-natal women looking to get back to her pre-child body, it is important that the expectations are realistic. Even with the most perfect nutrition and exercise program, if an individual has set an impossible goal it just won’t be achieved. Here are a couple of reasons why unrealistic expectations are set:
The individual is unaware
The individual setting the goal simply isn’t aware of what a realistic target is. For example, a lot of people might not know 3,500 calories = 1lb of fat, and that losing more than 1lb of fat a week is unlikely (usually water loss)
An individual might have set themselves a goal based on a friend, colleague or worse a story they read about a professional athlete. It is always a bad idea to set your goals based of another individual, especially if that individual happens to be a professional athlete gifted with excellent genes and all the resources needed at their beckon call.
Lack of guidance
This point links back to number one in that if an individual hasn’t got a coach or mentor to help guide them through the mentorship process they will often lack clarity on the process of setting targets.
As you can see, there are numerous possibilities for why unrealistic expectations are set when it comes to exercise and nutrition. Understanding the reasons above before setting goals can be vital, but there are also 3 key questions that should be asked before setting your expectations from the journey ahead:
What is the upper limit of achievement?
Every individual on this planet is different, even identical twins will differentiate slightly in terms of the way they look, behave and adapt. It is important to understand how much someone can truly hope to achieve, assuming that they did everything right, including nutrition, exercise and habits. Across the globe we all have different genes and lifestyles that set us up for success at different rates in different aspects of life. As an individual/coach it is important to consider the following:
Do you have the genetics to run 100m in under 10s?
With their job, lifestyle and environment is it possible for them to get to 5% body fat?
Are you gifted with the innate talent to make it as a professional?
Do you really possess the desire and commitment to do what it takes?
The mission here is not to put people off setting targets and think they are inadequate, in fact it is quite the opposite. The mission is for you to better understand yourself, look into your genetics (DNAFit and other companies now make that easily possible), assess your surroundings and whether you have the resources in place etc.
How long will it take you to achieve your upper limit?
Once you have actually identified whether the goals you have set for yourself are achievable, then you must begin to assess how long it will take you to achieve that target. Will it take a month, a year or even a lifetime to achieve the goal you have laid out. Understanding a realistic time-frame is essential for maintaining motivation and allowing you to measure progress along your journey. A few key considerations when you are determining your time-frame:
Will you be able to improve at a consistent rate, or will improvement follow peaks and troughs.
How often should you be measuring your progress to see whether you are on track (this will depend on the overall length of time, e.g. if you have set a 5 year goal, you aren’t going to check progress every week, but instead possibly every 3 months)
If expected progress is variable, how much should you be willing to accept in periods of slow adaptation/growth.
Are you willing to do what it takes?
Firstly you need to consider whether you have the resources in place to achieve your defined upper limit. Do you have the time available? Do you have the necessary equipment? Do you have the right coaching? If you don’t currently have everything in place to achieve your target, are you willing to make changes to create an environment for success? That might involve investing money to get the right coaching, it might involve reshuffling your schedule in order to create more time.
Let's give the example that your goal was to weigh 80kg with only 5% body fat, are you ready to do everything it takes to achieve that goal? Are you ready to sacrifice social dinners, your favourite foods and social events? If you are not, that is ok! But what it does mean is that you need to reassess your goal/upper limit to see what is really feasible. At the end of the day it comes down to the following formula
Clear Purpose + Undeniable Desire + Necessary Resources = Goal Achieved
If one of the three are missing or not 100% certain then it is necessary to redefine the goal and expectations. For example, you might realise that although you thought you wanted to reach 5% body fat, in reality you would rather be 8% body fat and still be able to go out to restaurants.
Be honest and true with yourself. Don’t make setting your targets a 5minute job, take time to self-reflect and make the targets you set meaningful. Setting realistic expectations of what you can achieve and in what time frame is an essential component of the whole goal setting process. Grab a large piece of paper, shut out all distractions and get to work. If you need guidance in understanding what is realistic then seek somebody who has that knowledge. Stay tuned for part two of this article where I will be going deeper into the actual process you can use to achieve your goals.
If you would like help building an environment for success and setting a game plan then use this link to set up a 15 minute coaching call: