What do you want to be when you grow up?
We ask this question to young children knowing whatever answer they give will not be based on any sort of future “career” they desire. The answer (astronaut, lion tamer, superhero, firefighter) is a melding of character, personality, morals, and actions. They admire their heroes for more than just what daily job they have.
Often, when we are going after goals of our own, we forget about everything except for the action. We focus only on the finish line of the goal and anything that we can do to get there faster is better.
We think of “doing” something instead of “being” something. It may seem like splitting hairs, but the framing of our goals can determine whether or not we enjoy continued progress and success further down the line.
Race to the Finish Line
A local gym, in the spirit of new years resolutions, recently started a contest between participants of who could lose the most weight (based on percentage) within a certain amount of time. A winner would be declared at the end and a prize given out.
While losing weight is a noble goal to go after, by setting the contest up this way the gym is more than likely making participants’ long-term weight loss success even more difficult.
Gina Kolata, in a NYTimes.com article, describes the life for contestants of the popular “The Biggest Loser” TV show after their dramatic weight loss, and the aftermath is grim.
Speaking of Season 8, she writes, “In fact, most of that season’s 16 contestants have regained much if not all the weight they lost so arduously. Some are even heavier now.”
It seems that the hardcore dieting and working out in an effort to succeed on the show causes the body’s natural metabolic rate to slow down drastically.
According to Kolata, “Researchers knew that just about anyone who deliberately loses weight — even if they start at a normal weight or even underweight — will have a slower metabolism when the diet ends.” However, in the case of these contestants, not only did their metabolism drop even more than normal, in the 6 years they studied them, their “metabolisms did not recover.”
By going from a period of intense weight loss with a strong support system to nothing at all, the contestants may have hamstrung their long term success.
The local gym goers are most likely setting themselves up the same way. With the only gauge of success being the number of the scale, any way you get there works, even if it is not sustainable in the long term.
From “Doing” to “Being”
Many of the goals we set for ourselves fall into the same trap as weight loss. We focus only on the end goal, the finish line, and not on the path we take to get there.
New habits are not formed in the process because our actions aren’t easy or efficient, they are extreme and short-sighted. The actions are all about “doing” something. “Doing” in this sense is disconnected from your overall character. It’s not a habit, trait, or ethical view you have which dictates your further conduct, it’s merely an action you’ve taken because you thought it might be a good thing to do.
Long-term change comes from a deeper point of reasoning and from a commitment to being a certain kind of person, both through the goal achievement process and afterwards.
It’s not “I want to lose 30 pounds,” it’s “I want to be the kind of person who can lose 30 pounds and keep it off.” The distinction may seem silly, but it can make a lot of difference down the line.
“Being” connects to the individual’s character on a larger scale and includes shaping their reasoning for action in the first place. Once that connection is made, the individual’s conduct must align with those overarching beliefs.
The action you take is done so for important and thoughtful reasons. The prize is not at the finish line, it is the strengthening of your character throughout the journey. The end goal is just a by-product of changing yourself into the type of person that accomplishes those tasks.
This is a long-term commitment to change and takes much more honesty and mentally rigorous reasoning than merely “doing” something, but the payoff is worth it.
Instead of asking yourself what you want to do, begin framing it as want you want to be. Just like the young child, we don’t care only about the things our heroes do, but the kinds of people they are. Heroes do heroic things because their conduct is guided by mature reasoning. They do the things they do because they believe them important from the bottom of their hearts.
Being a certain kind of person ensures that no matter the context, you have a strong character to lean against and confidence that you are making wholesome choices.
One who only focuses on the finish line will find that they are lost when the prize is taken away and a finish line no longer exists. They will only revert back to their old ways as their short-sightedness offered them no viable alternative.