I’ve done this so many times, and you probably have, too. I get my head focused on losing weight. I weigh in, write down or remember the number, and then I start eating healthy, exercising, you know – the whole routine. A week later, I weigh in again and… Yes! I consumed three carbs all week and lost half a pound! Woohoo!

I can usually keep this going for six, maybe eight, weeks. I work hard, drop five or six pounds and over time I become gradually more frustrated and discouraged that despite my hard work I’m not seeing changes.

This is because I’ve always used “down goals”. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I was looking at things all backwards. You’ve got to have goals, but you need the right kind of goals if you’re going to stay on track. The right kind of goals – for me, anyway – are what I now call “up goals”. What’s the difference?

A “down goal” is something where you want to move “downward” to reach the goal. This could be losing 20 pounds (your weight goes down), reducing your waistline by 5 inches (your waist goes down) or dropping 2 pant sizes (your pant size goes down). There’s something inherently negative about these goals. Additionally, with “down” goals, you’re putting a ceiling on your ability to impact them. You can lose weight by cutting calories or cutting carbs. But the lowest you can ever go is zero. (And that’s not healthy and in fact will be counterproductive very quickly.)

kettlebells

On the flip side, there are “up goals”. These are goals where you set the goal and work “up” to it. They generally don’t have to do with weight or body measurements of any kind. Some “up goals” I have used are:

  • I want to be able to do 500 pounds on the leg press machine.
  • I want to be able to do three sets of 15 reps of assisted chin-ups at 100 pounds.
  • I want to get 6,000 steps per day on average.
  • I want to eat an apple and a salad every weekday.

See, these goals are things that are entirely within your control to influence. You set the goal and then even if you start at 100 pounds on the leg press machine and go every single day and do nothing but that one thing, gradually increasing the weight when it starts to get easy, you will achieve that goal. You’ll also see your progress to the goal in more exponential numbers. There’s a big difference between working your butt off for a week to drop a pound and working your butt off for a week to go from 100 pounds to 300 pounds on the leg press. It’s also easy enough to keep a food journal and check off the days where I eat an apple and a salad.

So even if your ultimate goal is to lose weight, start with an “up goal”. Give yourself something to work “up” to, focus on and see measurable progress towards. You can increase your “up goals” once you achieve them. So maybe you hit 500 pounds and you’re ready for 750. So set a new goal. Or you might say 500 pounds is good, but now I want to bench press 150 pounds. You keep doing your 500 pound leg presses and now add in your bench presses and go from there. You can do this with walking, running, cycling, consuming healthy goods (like vegetables, fruits, clean proteins and healthy fats) or any number of other activities. In this case, the weight loss will become a welcome side effect. You will probably find your clothes fitting looser in no time flat.

(Note: I do encourage you to seek help from a certified professional trainer when beginning your workout regimen so that you learn the proper way to do the exercises and so that you don’t end up with gigantic, beefy legs and no upper body muscles at all…)

“Up goals” are flexible and more importantly, they are positive goals. If you have a rough day and you can’t get 100% there, that’s okay – there’s always tomorrow and you can come back strong. There’s nothing more demoralizing than working hard and gaining a quarter of a pound. (Also, weight is a bad way to measure anyway because if you build muscle and burn fat, you may not see any measurable change in weight or you may even go up when in fact you’re still heading in the right direction.)

So what are your “up goals”?