Effective Goal Setting that I Learned through Lifting

We are often settings goals. We have dreams and aspirations. Most of the time, I hear a lot of, “I need to start doing X,” “I need to do more of Y,” but what I’ve observed from my own experience is that when I say that I need to start something or do more of something, it’s something that I feel that I want to do or should do, but haven’t fully committed to actually doing. So these things that I want to do, or hope to do, continue to be on the back burner.

If I really want something. I need to just dive into it and stop making excuses. This is what I did with lifting. Let me share with you my journey to being able to squat 225 lbs on my 112 lb frame, and what I learned about setting goals through this experience.

You may remember from my earlier post that talked about my struggles with my body image. In the post, I talked about how I struggled with my athletic build, but am now embracing it by appreciating my strength. I also mentioned that I was working toward being able to squat 225 lbs. I set this goal because I have been squatting more heavily since 2019, with a 1 rep max of 185 lbs, but I wanted to see how far I could go with it, and challenged myself to lifting close to double my body weight. With a specific number as my goal so I can track my progress, I also decided that I needed to set a time constraint for it. Setting a deadline would keep me accountable, which is new to me when it came to fitness because besides for work and academics, and my debt payoff plan, I have never set a goal with a timeline in this way.

In October of 2020 I set a goal to hit my 1 rep max if 225 lbs in squats by January 31, 2021.

With that goal, I went to the gym and lifted. I lifted the way I always had, which was without a plan. I went to the gym to lift, and tried to lift as heavy as I could each time I went. Getting to 175 lb wasn’t hard. But once I got there, I was unable to squat more than that.

It was then that I realized that I needed to make changes. I realized that I needed a specific workout plan that would help me build strength and muscle. Going to the gym without a plan isn’t going to cut it anymore if I had a specific goal. With that in mind, there were five big changes I made to help myself reach my goal.

1. Diet––I knew that if I wanted to be able to lift 225 lbs, it probably meant that I need to increase my body weight to be able to support heavy weights on my back. I struggled with this idea for a bit because in the back or my mind, I worried about getting bulkier. I wasn’t sure if it’s a tradeoff I wanted to have. Instead of increasing my calorie intake, I focused first on making sure that I was eating enough protein each day. I started to weigh my food and made sure I had 114–134 grams of protein a day. On most days I was able to get this amount of protein through my regular diet of meats, tofu, egg, cheeses, chia seeds, flax seeds, oatmeal, and oat milk. On days I couldn’t hit that, then I would supplement with protein powder, but those days are rare.

2. Workout Plan––I switched up the way I was working out. A friend of mine recommended the Strong Lift 5×5 workout and it was the game changer for me.

With the program, I did five exercises total. Three each time I went to the gym, which was every other day, or 3 days a week.

  • Workout A consisted of 5 sets of 5 squats, 5 sets of 5 barbell rows, 5 sets of 5 bench presses.
  • Workout B consistent of 5 sets of 5 squats, 5 sets of 5 overhead presses, and 1 set of 5 deadlifts

With this specific workout regimen, I was increasing my squats by 5 lbs every time I went to the gym. I was lifting heavier and heavier each time, completing all 5 reps and 5 sets.

3. Body Maintenance––I started to see a chiropractor and massage therapist to make sure my body is aligned and that I’m not messing myself up from the heavy lifting.

4. Form––I also had to adjust my stance and form when I noticed that parts of my body felt off after lifting. For a while, I had some pain on the right side of my groin area. I finally figured out that my stance was too wide. Even though I was going very low, grass to ass, my inner thighs started to compensate for the weight when the quads and hamstring should be doing the work.

5. Pivot––The workout started off with 5 sets of 5 reps for each workout. But I plateaued when I hit 205 lbs. When this happened, I dropped the weight back down to 185, to come back up until I hit 215, this time doing only 3 sets of 5 reps. When I hit 215 lbs, I had to pivot again and focus on 1 rep for the heaviest weight, and do 2 more sets of a weight 10 lbs below my heaviest weight. Dropping weight, dropping sets, and even dropping reps is an ego hit. But sometimes we need to take a few steps back to be able to move forward. We have to go back to the basics to get stronger and better.

On January 2, 2021, I hit my 1 rep max of 225.

It was incredible to me that I did it. I’m amazed by what my body can do. Amazed by how the body can push itself and how after time for rest, it is even stronger than before. I’m also amazed by the difference that your diet can make to your overall health and ability to recover quickly from intense workouts. Lifting taught me that not only am I physically strong, but also mentally strong. I saw that my determination, consistency, and ability to pivot even if it meant going backwards a little bit, was what got me there.

This experience showed me that the way I set the goal and went after it is something that’s applicable in any other goal I want to achieve. Next I’ll share some effective goal setting tips that I learned.

  • Goals Need to Be Specific. When I simply say that I want to get better at dancing, or that I want to lift more, those are vague goals that don’t give me something to work toward. But if I say, I want to work on my spins when I dance, or that I want to be able to squat 225 lbs. Those are specific goals that you can actually measure and go after.
  • Goals Need to Be Time Based. After I hit my 225 lb goal, I set another goal to be able to deadlift 225 lbs. But I haven’t set a timeline for that, and I am actually feeling a bit empty because of it. So… I just set the goal for May 31, 2021. Time based goals give you a sense of urgency, it also allows you to plan backwards on the steps and actions you have to take to achieve the goal.
  • Patience is Required. Progress takes time. Slowly but surely you will get there if you are consistent. We will not see changes immediately, but each day that you put in the work, know that you are are making a difference for yourself. There is a quote that I love, “Where you are a year from now is a reflection of the choices you choose to make right now.” Be proud of yourself for the effort you put in to inch closer to your goal each day.
  • Your Mindset is Key. If this is something you want really bad, you will pursue it relentlessly, chip away at it consistently. It’s easy to talk yourself down, talk yourself out of situations, and find excuses, but if you really want something, you should stick to your plans. Future you will thank you for it.
  • Be Open to Making Changes along the Way. While it is important to stick to your plans, doing the same thing over and over again and not seeing results means that you need to make changes. Processes and plans aren’t stagnant and should evolve and be re-evaluated if it’s not working. Recognizing when something isn’t working and then rethinking what changes need to be made will help get you back on track. When I was plateauing, it meant that I couldn’t continue on the same path I was on if I wanted to hit my goal. Even when the changes are minor, they can make a difference.
  • Broadcast Your Goals. When you openly share your goals, you also create a further sense of accountability. If your world knows that you are working toward something, you’ll feel committed to making it happen so you don’t embarrass yourself. At least that’s how I am.

What is a goal you’re working on?! Make a plan for it.

You got this.

Achieve More with the Habit of Following Through

My dad always stressed the importance of following through with your actions. He instilled this in us with simple everyday tasks such as completing the sentence you are writing or word you are writing before moving away from your desk.

As a now-person (someone who needs to do something as the thought comes through), I find myself dropping everything that I’m doing to start another task that comes to mind. This is a habit I’ve had since I was young, and my mom labeled me with the nickname Wu Yiban (吳一半) because of it, Ms. Half-Ass.

One example of this bad habit I still have is in folding laundry. I’ll move through my day sometimes and find half-folded laundry on my couch. I had started the task, but decided half-way through that I want to vacuum, or cook, and I forget that I have laundry that needs to be folded and put away. With work, I’m often tempted to do something else before finishing everything I need to do for one specific client.

Every time I have the itch to do this, I hear my dad’s voice, reminding me to go back to finish the task. It’s such a simple habit but once exercised, shows focus and a type of discipline.

Small habits translate into how we manage larger tasks in life and even in the workplace. Following through is so important. This may be easy for many people, but for me, it’s something I am actively working to achieve every day.

But how do we improve our follow-through?

  • One Thing At a Time
    In our multifaceted world now where information and communication comes so easily, it’s easy to want to multi-task to do more things in less time. This used to be a strength I’d share in interviews, but in the last few years, I’ve changed my mindset. I realized that in my attempt to do so many things at once, I was unfocused and was not excelling at any of the tasks. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results shares the science and impact of this. I’ve put it into practice at work and at home. By focusing on one thing at a time, I’m actually completing tasks and checking things off the box. I have fewer tabs open on my computer screen, creating more mental space and less stress for myself.
  • Schedule Stopping Points
    As someone who likes to jump from one thing to another, I’ve learned to keep track of the time it takes to complete certain things. I give myself a time frame, and once the time is up, I give myself permission to take a break. This way, I’m 100% focused for a specific time without distractions, allowing myself to be more productive and make more progress.
  • Condense the To-Do Lists
    There’s always going to be a million things that need to be done, and the list can go on and on, to a point that it becomes a busy list with no clear direction. I find myself at a loss for where to start.

    Prioritizing the must-completes in a day and limiting them to 1–2 items gives me strength to tackle my list. It has made me you feel more successful and complete, giving me the confidence to move through the rest of my day or week with the smaller, less urgent tasks.

It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important when we try to do too many things at once. Follow-through with each task as you go forward and you’ll find that life isn’t so crazy and unmanageable after all.

Let me know your thoughts or share your strategies for daily success!