How to Set Realistic Goals and Reach Them In a Positive Mindset

Written by Dave Thomas

Some people snobby fitness professionals like to shit on New Year’s for bringing out false hope for people and a crowd of gym goers who will “all quit the following month.”

I disagree. I have always loved New Year’s, because not only is it the time of year we are most important in your life as a business, but because I very much believe in the symbolism of a fresh start and a fresh slate.

The problem that I have with goals this time of year is that they are almost always unrealistic to the point where negativity quickly overwhelms excitement and you quit. Motivation, or a lack thereof, is often the innocent fall guy. It is the specific goals you set and how you set them that will largely determine whether or not you stick towards your pursuit of them.

First, Establish Want v. Need

We want to achieve certain outcomes in life, only, there are habits we all have that we aren’t willing to give up. So what ends up happening to a lot of us is a cycle of trying hard to get the thing, without ever actually getting it. Often born out a lack of honesty with ourselves on what constitutes a want versus a need.

We are maddening creatures in that way.

Many professionals will tell you that you need to do a better job of making sacrifices, that it’s a discipline issue, you’re not focused enough, etc. Maybe. In a lot of cases, yes. But I’m here today to tell you before you start questioning your discipline towards a goal, stop, take a minute, and ask yourself what you’re REALLY willing to give up or change in order to get it. I am also here today to tell you point blank that there is nothing wrong with downgrading your goals if you come to the conclusion that your life will be net worse off if you have to sacrifice certain things in order to reach said goal.

You must be honest with yourself on what is a want, and what is a need.

Needs are things in your life you absolutely must have. Wants are things that you’d like to achieve. There is no wrong want or need and I wouldn’t begin to presume to tell examples of each category. That’s unique to you. We all rate things on different levels and the point here is not to separate those for you, only to bring your awareness towards the difference in pursuit of your own happiness.

Allow me to use myself to highlight this point.

I train relatively hard in the hard in the gym three to four days per week. That’s a need for me. I need to do that in order to stay in shape, feel as though I am leading by example, feel good about myself, and set myself up for long term health and longevity. To me, those are things that I cannot do without.

However, other needs I have include doing fun things with my wife, hanging out with friends on the weekend, watching the playoffs while eating wings and drinking beers ciders, Pizza Sundays, and other things you’d probably be quite surprised are a regular part of my life. If that sounds strange to call those things a need, I get it. But for me, they are what keep me balanced. I will go insane if I have to track macros everyday, can’t experience the joy of Oscar’s surf n’ turf tacos, or get frequent mental check-outs from all things fitness and nutrition. Those things have always been a part of my life, what make me happy, and they always will.

I have no issue at all labeling them needs.

The point is that if I were to have a goal of 7% body fat, I would end up having a terrible relationship with fitness, because my lack of discipline towards that goal and my lifestyle of 80% “healthy” and 20% “whatever”, would never allow me to reach it. I would get frustrated, and I would bail. It doesn’t mean I can’t have fitness and body composition goals. The point here is not to excuse laziness, gluttony, or any other form of chronic dysfunction that make up your habits. I manage to stay relatively lean and in shape while enjoying the life that I want, because Monday through Friday, I work extremely hard on my fitness and goals. I meal prep, track, and am meticulously aware of everything I put into my body. But I’ve lowered my ceiling on what I can achieve because of my “20%” lifestyle, and I’m am so much happier with fitness because of it. I’ve been able to have a great relationship with life, fitness, and balance because I understand what my wants are and my needs are.

Sure, my want would be to be absolutely shredded, but that’s not my need. Happiness, health, friends, relationships, and balance are. Not the solitary pursuit of elite results. You might be the opposite, which is wonderful if that’s where you land. If I recommend anything to you with complete conviction, it is this: figure out your wants and figure out your needs honestly, and with complete self candor.

Otherwise, you will never be happy and trying to reach goals will suck your soul rather than light a fire.

Then, Stay in Your Lane

Once you have your wants and needs separated and you have a clear vision of your goals, the hard part is to now STAY IN YO LANE.


When forming Performance360, we wanted individuals to develop their goal-driven results for the individual, not to dictate what goals should be. It’s why we initially were founded with our reps for goal philosophy, and not a culture of trying to be the best in class. There are no splat points here. No calorie burning scorecard. The monitor at the gym is not sorted by ranking for a reason. What matters is not the deadlift total but the progress you’re making with it.

Now, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t use the class as motivation. In fact that part is essential to what makes training with a room full of people great. If you’re trying to go faster to keep pace with the girl next you, then the side effect will be improved conditioning and greater caloric burn. If you’re trying to deadlift more to catch those who have been training longer, then you’re getting stronger than you otherwise would by lifting without them. How many of you would have ever taken flight on the higher plyo if you didn’t see one of your peers do it before you? It wasn’t and probably still isn’t necessarily a goal of yours per say, but it was peer elevation that brought you to accomplish a higher achievement. Motivation and immersion into group is good. Very good.

But sometimes there can be a nasty flip side and a tipping point to where the group environment or social media can have a reverse effect and go from positive motivation to getting down on yourself. Where becoming upset that you’re stuck on seven pull-ups despite not being able to do one when you started. Or finishing up in the back end of the group during your first week and assuming you’re in a gym with a bunch of fitness freaks you’ll never catch up to.

Any of these sound familiar?

As an individual, there are dozens of genetic reasons you are built to perform the way you are. The point is not to pigeonhole your genetics into pre-determining your destiny. Your body is capable of a shitload of achievement regardless of how you are genetically set-up. The point is that anatomically and genetically speaking, everyone has their own unique advantages and disadvantages, so if you get caught up in the constant state of comparison you will drive yourself nuts. You’ll also be so obsessed with what you aren’t doing that you’ll lose sight of what you can do.

Be motivated and inspired, but never let the lane you’re driving in seem less than or greater than the line your classmates are driving in. The easiest way to screw up after you have determined your personal wants and needs is to let another lane pull you into theirs.

Find out what’s important to you. Determine what will level of balance will make you happy. Stay committed to that version of health and fitness and sooner or later, you’ll realize that transient goals will start lessening and a healthy, balanced lifestyle will emerge.

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