Why do so many people shoot for a goal…and fail? Even after visualizing the outcome, diligently writing down plans to get there, and putting a deadline in place, why is falling short so much more common than realizing that goal?
A few years back, a buddy of mine introduced me to a new fitness, health, and recovery tracking device called the WHOOP Strap. Unlike other wearable devices, this was meant to be worn all the time. Built around continuous data collection, the device keeps track of real-time activity, but it also paints a picture of overall patterns and habits over time.
The metrics I became most interested in tracking were strain (the load on your cardiovascular system) and my recovery scores. When I looked at those recovery data points over two years, something really illuminating became clear.
I was constantly seeing poor recovery scores after the weekend.
This wasn’t particularly shocking to me. I’ve used alcohol socially for over twenty years, and I know how easy it can be to overindulge over the weekend. Especially when I’ve had a stressful week, it’s even easier to let go of the steering wheel.
Because I was tracking my fitness results, though, I had a clear, data-driven window into the consequences of those overindulgences.
Having too much alcohol or having it too late at night inevitably led to poor sleep quality, and this was showing up in my WHOOP application as a “red” recovery.
This meant my body was still actively working to recuperate, and I needed more time to rest before exerting myself again.
After noticing this trend in my own life, I happened to come across an episode of the Rich Roll Podcast featuring Andy Ramage. Everything they discussed on that episode resonated with me. It was one of those eye-opening light bulb moments.
Ramage was a British commodities broker and former pro soccer player. In those high-paced, high-stakes, competitive worlds, he would often go out socially by Wednesday or Thursday. Those outings would then roll all the way through the weekend.
By Monday, Ramage was wrecked. Too much alcohol and too little sleep left him sluggish. By Thursday, he started to feel recovered, and then the cycle would start all over again. Ready to break the pattern, Ramage eventually cofounded what later became the community-minded movement known as One Year No Beer.
When I scrutinized my own habits over the last two years, I noticed another important thing beyond poor recovery scores. During the weekend, I also wasn’t as diligent about tracking my food journal in MyFitnessPal.
Weight loss and improved health are some of the most common goals, but so many people, myself included, quickly feel themselves caught in a loop where they aren’t making any real progress.
Now I’m in my forties, it’s clear I can’t simply outwork my diet. As author Tim Ferris said, “We lose ounces in the gym and pounds in the kitchen.” He jokes that “the major fears of modern man could be boiled down to two things: too much email and getting fat.”
Goal-setting and strategy around diet and exercise are key, but how committed was I really to that goal I was trying to achieve?
If you simply asked me, I would have said 100 percent. The data painted a different picture, though. The numbers showed I was only putting in the work four out of seven days for my nutrition. That’s about 57 percent. Using the traditional educational scale, that’s an F. A failing score.
It’s not always obvious when you’re failing at something because you’re in it. You’re living your life. You feel stress throughout the week, and you want to have fun. You want to let go.
So, the big question remains: What do we do about it? How do we find balance between having fun and realizing our personal goals?
First off, it’s important to remember that the need to unwind is a healthy feeling. You can’t work and strive all day every day. It’s a recipe for burnout. You do, however, have to be equally careful that your decompression doesn’t lead to habits that don’t ultimately serve to meet your goals.
Health-related ambitions are some of the most important goals you’ll ever set. At their heart, they’re about having more time and energy to devote to what you care about most—whether that’s family, friends, hobbies, or personal ambitions.
Success or failure with these goals shouldn’t be left to gut feelings or chance. Information, data, and self-reflection are important aspects of this journey. They shed necessary light on how you’re living, how you’re setting your goals, and, most importantly, how your unexamined habits are potentially getting in the way of your own success.
When I’m trying to lose weight or be healthier, I keep coming back to one driving principle: small things matter. Even if it’s just making your bed every morning, small daily habits add up and result in big outcomes.
If those daily habits are negative, you can end up working against yourself. If they’re positive, the cumulative effect can be life changing.