How to reach your goals like being active and fit

Is there something that you wish you accomplished? Like, being great at playing the piano? Being active and fit? Or building an awesome website and being a software engineer? This post will help you reach those or any of your aspirations.

Let’s imagine your number one priority is to learn how to be active and fit. I will use this goal of yours as an example. You can use the following strategy for any aspiration you have (whether it is for fitness or otherwise).

I can imagine there is a chance your fitness-related goal may not be apparent to others, but you know you definitely want to be active. Reaching this goal may be particularly challenging, because you have conflicting obligations and priorities (i.e. work, family, friends, a dog, etc.). Don’t stress! We have a plan to help you reach your goal. Our team (researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs) has spent years breaking down the science of learning. I will use our team’s experience and research to share how you can successfully reach your goal. Here it goes:

The methodology. It is vital that you focus on getting one step closer to your final goal and avoid pushing yourself to make a large leap (good ‘ole slow and steady wins the race). E.g. If your goal to be a master chef and make meals at an extravagant restaurant in Chicago for 200+ individuals, it is likely a safe route to begin with making meals for you, your family, and eventually 10+ friends arriving for a house party. The methodology? An incremental approach.

A. Identify your goal. It can be confusing on what to focus on, because there might be a variety of items you (and others) want you to focus on. If you are unsure, spend 21 days (ideally mornings) noting 1–4 items you want to learn. Repeats are encouraged. After 21 days, determine what you want to learn by identifying any repeats or patterns.

B. Document your goal. “I will (1) exercise for 45 or more minutes for 6 days a week, because it will feel good and I want to be happy with how I look.” To document, you can simply email yourself this goal (e.g. subject: “My Personal Goal” & body: <insert your goal>).

Step 1. Assess where you stand.

Your goal is to identify/document where you stand in all components relevant to your goal. For your goal which involves being active and fit, answer the following questions:

  • How often did you exercise last week? Once?
  • What did you do when exercising? A workout class?
  • How often do you want to exercise next week? 4 times a week?
  • What workouts would you like to add? 2 mile run?

For this example, let’s imagine you have been exercising once a week by going to a 45 minute workout class. You hope to be active 4 times a week next week and try doing a 2 mile run.

Step 2. Create a schedule and plan.

Being aware of taking an incremental approach, your plan for the upcoming week should be one step, not eight steps, ahead of the current assessment you identified. Be aware of the increased difficulty due to (a) how often and (b) how long you plan to exercise (1 workout a week for 45 minutes vs. 3 workouts for 1 hour a week), (c) the complexity of the workout (workout class with a coach vs. weight lifting (i.e. deadlifts), doing burpees, push-ups and wall sits, and sprinting with intervals for 3 miles; also, doing this all by yourself), and (d) your environment (going from doing a beautiful hike in Denver vs. running on the treadmill in your building’s gym — a hike in Denver is often less challenging than the boring treadmill).

For you, your current assessment identified you exercised through a 45 minute workout class. Let’s continue the workout class (on Tuesdays) and add a 1.5 mile jog on Sunday afternoon and a 2 mile walk on Friday after work. Notice, we noted a plan for the workout and scheduled timings.

Rinse and repeat steps 1 & 2. There are a number of items that can assist you continuing to take incremental steps towards your goal:

  • Have a community. It is more exciting to go for a 1.5 mile jog with a friend or friends rather than going by yourself (e.g. plan to go for your Sunday afternoon jog with a close friend)
  • Talk to an expert. As your workouts may get more complex or confusing, ask a friend with experience working out for help: “what do you do when you life weights?” or “what is the most efficient and effective workout you think I should do?”
  • Have a nice physical environment. Try to go for a run along a nice trail by a lake rather than running on an indoor treadmill.
  • Do something enjoyable. Going for a walk on a Friday evening after work seems more enjoyable than focusing only on a 6am Wednesday morning workout.

That is all! Stay aware of the incremental approach methodology, identify and document your goal, and continuously repeat each step (assessing where you stand and making a new schedule/plan). Try this out!

This framework for learning has been effective in a variety of ways: helping a college student become a director at a startup in an efficient 2 years to training 850+ software engineers to work at technology companies like Uber. You can use this to #learnanything. For you, let’s start with focusing on any of your aspirations (i.e. getting active and fit).

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