How Can We Set Realistic Exercise Goals as We Age?

time to set goals concept clock
Goal setting is as American as mom, God and apple pie.  Every exercise book, life improvement book and management book has a section on goal setting and accolades for the process.  I also once subscribed to the philosophy that those who did not set goals for their life were losers, losers and bigger losers.  Winners set goals.  When winners reach their goals, they up the bar and set them even higher.  That is the American Way.  Set unreachable goals and if you should meet those goals, then move the bar up, ever up, ever higher.

Well, I am going to tell you that everything in the above paragraph is STUPID advice.  Most of the wisdom around goal setting is simply dumb.  Unfortunately, when it comes to your health, it is not only dumb, it is dangerous.  It was not until 1986 that I met the man who would change my mind and my attitudes towards setting goals.  This man was the renowned quality expert and statistician Dr. W. E. Deming.

demingI had just finished my PhD program in Training and Organization Development and joined the consulting firm of Process Management International.  One of the founders Lou Schultz was a follower and friend of Dr. Deming and I was soon introduced to Dr. Deming and his world.  It was a world based on 14 Principles of Management which defied everything I had been taught in my business classes at the University of Minnesota.  Dr. Deming, upon meeting me, challenged me with the comment that “Everything they taught you in your business classes is wrong.”  I was stunned and somewhat chagrined by his comment.  It struck me as rude and extremely arrogant.  In six months, I learned that Dr. Deming was more than fifty percent right.  Inside of three years, I learned that he was at least ninety nine percent right.  Do not think I was brain washed.  I have always verified new knowledge by theory and personal experience.  Considering the hypothesis that Deming threw out, I was provided a new theory.  I became religious about testing his ideas to see if he was wrong.  Time and time again, Deming proved correct.

Deming’s 14 Points for Management are as follows:

  1. Create constancy of purpose for improving products and services.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on price alone; instead, minimize total cost by working with a single supplier.
  5. Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production and service.
  6. Institute training on the job.
  7. Adopt and institute leadership.
  8. Drive out fear.
  9. Break down barriers between staff areas.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce.
  11. Eliminate numerical quotas for the workforce and numerical goals for management.
  12. Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship, and eliminate the annual rating or merit system.
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.
  14. Put everybody in the company to work accomplishing the transformation.

Note number eleven above, where he says to eliminate quotas and numerical goals.  How can he advocate this when every single expert in the world says to do the opposite?  Setting goals and establish quotas and targets is the refrain most often heard in business.   Dr. Deming says that following the traditional rules on goal setting is counterproductive.

“Management by numerical goal is an attempt to manage without knowledge of what to do, and in fact is usually management by fear.”  — W. E. Deming

Problems with Goal Setting:

exercising

There are several problems with goal setting which I would like to discuss.  You need to understand these problems to understand why goal setting my hurt your health.  If you have some knowledge of the statistical concepts that Dr. Deming puts forth so much the better.  However, I will try to explain Deming’s opposition to goal setting for the reader that has no statistical background.  The four major problems are:

  1. Where did your goals come from and how realistic are they?
  2. Is your system/body capable?
  3. What is your apex?
  4. Are your goals sustainable?

I will try to explain how each of these four problems impacts the goal setting process.  I hope you will have a better idea of the pros and cons of goal setting after reading this blog.

  1. Where did your goals come from and how realistic are they?

Dr. Deming always said that if you do not know what a process is capable of (measured by standard deviation and CPK) than any attempt to set a goal would be foolish.  Under these conditions, it would just constitute wishful thinking.  For instance, organizations will often set sales goals by simply decrying that they want a 10 percent increase in sales over the previous year.  The first question I would have is why 10 percent?  Why not 1,000 percent?  Ridiculous you might say to a 1,000 percent increase but it is no more ridiculous than 10 percent if I do not have a system that can handle or produce that kind of an increase.  Any goal is ridiculous if you do not have a system and a process capable of achieving that goal.  Unfortunately, too many goals are simply pulled out of thin air and have no roots in reality.

  1. Is your system/body capable?

set huge goalsLet me illustrate the problem addressed by this question with an example from my own life.  Several years ago, I had just turned sixty years of age and I thought it would be cool to be able to do twenty pullups.  I could usually do about ten or so and so I thought it would be a snap to increase my routine and get to the goal of twenty.  At first, I simply increased the number of pull-ups I did each week but this did not work very well as I soon plateaued.  I then decided to find some “established” routines.  These established routines generally involved doing at least three sets three times per week and having the number of repetitions in each set increasing each week.  The formula upon which these increases were based was never disclosed.

recon ron

I tried several different routines including the Marine program, a program called Recon Ron and several online programs that outlined a systematic way to reach twenty pull-ups.  In each case, I followed the program but after six or so weeks, I would reach a point at which I could not advance to the next level.  Sometimes the number of reps required for the next level was down right ridiculous.  For instance, one day my total repetitions might be five sets of 10- 13 pull-ups each set.  The next day, they would have five sets of between 13-16 pull-ups.  The jump between 13 and 16 was like trying to jump across a mile-wide chasm.  No way could I make the transition.

myth of sisyphusIn hopes of salvaging the program, I would often drop back to the previous level and try to continue my progress.  However, every time I started to progress again, I would reach a point where my body could not obtain the increases dictated by the regime I had selected.  I once reached as high as sixteen pull-ups before I crashed.  The crashes would usually take the form of having an acute muscle pain or sometimes getting sick and not feeling like I had the energy to continue.  Laying off for two weeks or so to recover, I would find that when I tried to start the program again, I had now dropped down to a much lower level than I had previously attained.  It was like starting all over again.  Over the years, trying to reach my twenty pull up goal, I have felt like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill and nearly reaching the top only to have the rock roll all the way down again.

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I am now of the belief that first, at my age, I may not have the system or body capability to achieve twenty pull-ups and second, (more importantly) that I am not doing my body any good by trying to push it to some arbitrary goal.  What is magic about twenty pull-ups?  Am I going to be any healthier or fitter?  Furthermore, trying to achieve some arbitrary goal, I could end up doing real damage to my shoulders or back.

  1. What is your apex?

hippo to unicorn

An apex is the top or highest part of anything.  Most athletes reach their physical peak at about twenty-nine years of age.  This is true for many but not all sports.  I did my best 10K run of 38:48 when I was thirty years old.  Since then, my running times have become slower and slower.  Some athletes, particularly swimmers may maintain their peaks for many years past their apex.  This is not the general rule.  It is more likely that whatever sport you excel in your apex performance will deteriorate with age.

The importance of one’s apex performance lies in the recognition that it will be impossible to maintain this performance over time.  Moreover, it is foolish and unproductive to try to use such prior performance measures as goals for one’s fitness.  The outcome will likely be pulled muscles or worse.  What makes more sense is to set “maintenance goals” that are well within your reach and work towards or with them.

A maintenance goal is much different than a stretch goal.  Most books on physical fitness emphasize stretch goals.  This concept of stretch goals represents a state wherein you are constantly setting lofty goals and moving them forward as you accomplish them.  This is very dangerous and frustrating.  The first problem with the stretch goal strategy is that they are arbitrary and have no empirical relationship to how fit you are or want to be.  The second is the danger of hurting yourself as you constantly try to increase the number, weight or time involved with each goal.

In a maintenance goal, you decide first on the level of fitness that you think makes sense.  For instance, do I want to be able to bench press 150 lbs. or do I want to be able to bench press 50 lbs. three or more times?  If I am working to become a champion weight lifter than lifting large weights is a must.  If I am working to have good muscle tone, flexibility and a relative level of arm strength necessary for normal every day lifting, then being able to life 25 lbs. ten or twenty times will make much more sense than being able to bench press 300 lbs. once.  Furthermore, with maintenance goals, I am much less likely to injure myself by tearing or pulling a muscle.

Perhaps you have never had an apex performance in any sport.  This is not important.   An apex performance simply gives you a relative benchmark based on your best ability at a certain age.  If you have never worked out a day in your life, then simply start with what I call a 1-1-1 program.  I developed this concept when I was being discharged from the Air Force after serving four years.  I had to go in for a discharge physical with 12 other men.  After the physical, the doctor called us all together and told us we were all overweight and fat.  I was so embarrassed, I determined to start exercising the next day.

The following day after my physical, I had my wife drive the car about a mile down a dirt road and drop me off.  I told her to drive down to the end of the road and wait for me.  I started to jog down the road.  I did not even make it half way down the road before I became sick to my stomach.  I walked the rest of the way to the car and asked my wife to take me home.  Once home, I went to bed and stayed there until the next morning.

I knew right then and there that I had to start off small and work up.  I decided to walk about a block each day.   Do one push up each day and attempt one pull up each day.  Eventually, I shed my excess weight and got back into the best shape I had seen in three years.  I labeled my program, the 1-1-1 program after my three goals or starting points.  I allowed myself to progress naturally and not to adopt any outlandish and wishful stretch goals.  Later, I started competing regularly in running, biking, swimming, canoeing and skiing events.  I continued this competing until I burnt out on the extra load that competing places on one’s body.  As the years went by, I could clearly see I was not going to win any gold medals.  Based on a knowledge of my body and the realization that my goals needed to adapt over time, I set a series of basic maintenance goals which over the past ten years I still try to follow.   My goals are:

  • 4 or 5 runs per week with an average run of 30 minutes for the month. Average 60 percent “days run per month” based on 30 days in the month. 
  • 10 Pullups 3x per week
  • 200 bicep curls with five lb. weights, 3x per week
  • 45 Triceps presses, 3x per week
  • Calf stretch and knee bends, 3x per week, 3 minutes stretches with 1 minute for knee bends
  • Yoga 25 minutes, 3x per week
  • Ab exercises 8 minutes, 3x per week

The above routine is my basic routine which I do each week.  I do not increase my goals.  I do not try to stretch myself.  I measure and monitor my routines each week to accomplish what I consider to be my maintenance goals.  I call them maintenance goals because I am focused on simply maintaining my present state of fitness.  This is a level of fitness that enables me to do the activities I enjoy and not feel exhausted or overly worn out.  I can hike, bike, canoe or do a relative amount of physical labor without my body protesting too much.  Just a few weeks ago, I helped my stepdaughter move into her new home.  Her boyfriend and I rented a U-Haul truck and did all the furniture moving ourselves.  I had no unusual aches or pains the next day.

Some experts would say that I am going to decline in fitness since my body will acclimate to these goals and then my level of fitness will deteriorate.  My reply would be to have them wait until they are 70 years old and see if they still believe this.  The truth of the matter is, I occasionally must adjust my goals downward some months.  If I have been sick, been traveling or had company and not able to exercise, I may not be able to make my maintenance goals.  I will set my sights lower for a while and then work towards getting back to my maintenance level of activity.

  1. Are your goals sustainable?

fitness goalsThe fourth question you will want to address concerns the sustainability of your goals.  I raise this question since the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that all systems will deteriorate unless energy is put into them.  Our bodies are simply physical and biological systems interacting with our environment.  Over time the energy that we can put into our systems will inevitably decrease with age.

The effects of this decline will mean that any goals, maintenance or otherwise that you have set for your body will be that much harder to attain.  Just like a clock runs down when the battery gets weak, your body is going to run down as your energy level declines.  This decline will be caused by a combination of age, physical condition, life style, motivation and illness. There is no escaping this.  However, this does not mean that you need to give up.  The goal you need to have for your body is to be in the best physical condition possible given the exigencies facing you each day.  This is going to be different for each of us.  My goals, your best friend’s goals, the goals in some exercise book are not going to be the right goals for you or anyone else.

Conclusions:

Don’t let me tell you what your goals should be.  Don’t let anyone else tell you either.  Decide what your priorities are in life and set your goals or exercise program to match your priorities.  Keep in mind that if good health is your priority, you will need to spend some time in physical activities that promote good health.  How long and how hard your time and activities will need to be will depend on how you feel and how you want to feel.  Start small and remember that progress is not always upwards.

Time for Questions:

Do you exercise?  Do you have a written exercise program?  Do you have goals?  What has been your experience with goals?  Have you ever had any bad experiences with goal setting?  Can you share them in the comments section?  As you age, how have your goals changed?

Life is just beginning.

“An individual will of course have his own goals.  A man may set his heart on a college education.  He may resolve to finish this chapter by morning: I give myself a deadline.  Goals are necessary for you and me, but numerical goals set for other people, without a road map to reach the goal, have effects opposite to the effects sought.” — Dr. W. E. Deming

“A goal such as “improve throughput by 20%” or “reduce lead time from 10 days to 5 days” is incomplete or worse, unachievable or irrelevant, because it doesn’t relate to the process capability. The danger of setting goals without understanding the process capability is twofold.

  1. If the goal was set beyond the process/system’s capability (or expected range of performance), the only way to achieve the goal is to change the process. However, in many cases, the critical variables in the process are outside the control/scope of the people who are tasked with achieving the goal.

For example, you are getting 25 miles per gallon from your car in the last 3 fill-ups. If you don’t know the capability of 20-30 MPG fuel efficiency, it doesn’t matter if your goal is set at 35MPG (because of your desire or economic need). You might try to change driving habits, keep tires properly inflated, use some additives, or perform more routine maintenance. You might even get rid of some stuff in the car or pick a route with less stop and go traffic. What you will find is that despite great effort, your MPGis still below 30. In some rare occasions, you might achieve 35 MPG or greater because it’s mostly downhill. But you know you would give up the gain when coming back uphill.

  1. If the goal was set within the process capability, there is always a finite probability of achieving it without any effort or change in the process. The goal without an associated probability target is pointless.” —- Goals and Process CapabilityFang Zhou

 

Happy New Year:  Welcome to 2016  The Best Year in the History of the Human Race!

New-Years-ResolutionsToday is the day when we make new resolutions and promises galore.  A time to begin over and to make dreams and wishes come true that did not work out the year before.  We bring in the New Year as a new born baby, full of promise and youth.  Some skeptics might look at the trail of broken commitments from bygone years and laugh at the efforts of others.  Such cynics ignore the profound possibility of hope and change.   (Listen to the Hope Song by Lata, it will inspire you more than my words ever could)

True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubteth often, and changeth his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubteth not; he knoweth all things but his own ignorance.”   — Akhenaton

your-dream-doesnt-have-an-expiraiton-date-take-a-deep-breath-and-try-again-kt-witten-inspirational-quote-julie-flyagre-narcolepsy-bloggerYes, there is injustice and inhumanity in the world.  Yes, there is poverty and disease.  Yes, there are natural disasters and misery.  But there is also happiness and love.  There is compassion and charity.  There is a world of people who are trying to create a better world and are willing to put their lives on the line to do it.  Wherever we look there are heroes and heroines who will sacrifice themselves in an effort to create a world full of joy and love.

Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.Goran Persson

sisyphus1Yes, I do not doubt it for one second.  We will be better this year than we were last year.  We will continue to grow and change.  We will continue to overcome the folly of yesterday and of our past lives.  We will overcome the mistakes we have made and do better this year than last year.  Hope, they say, springs eternal in the human breast and what would we be without it?  We need to try again and when we fail, try again.  The only failure is when we stop trying.  So disregard the naysayers, go ahead and make some new goals and new dreams.  Make some New Year resolutions.  Stretch your vision and your horizons.  People do not perish because of their dreams; they perish because of a lack of dreams.

Make New Year’s goals.  Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part.  It is an affirmation that you’re interested in fully living life in the year to come.  — Melody Beattie

ReachingOurGoals042610Time for Questions:

Only one question today, “What are you going to do this year to make the world a better place.”

Life is just beginning.

There is no going back.  Let the past go.  It is time to start fresh.

The Goals of Life or Should We Live a Life without Goals? Part 1

ImageOne of the common assumptions of modern life is that we all need to set goals.  It is said that our goals should be purposeful and measurable.  Furthermore, we are told that without such goals, we are doomed to live a life of meaninglessness.  Minus thoughtful goals, we will be like Alice in Wonderland where since Alice had no purpose or direction in Wonderland, it did not matter which direction she went.  Heaven forbid it!

But could modern wisdom be wrong?  Could common assumptions about the importance of goals be another of life’s many canards?  In my blog this week, I would like to explore the role of goals in our lives and look at whether or not they really are useful or are they simply another tyranny of a materialistic society that wants us to be running like rats on a treadmill.  Forever and forever scurrying through all eternity trying to achieve more and more and enjoying life less and less!  (By the way, I love exclamation points because they get rid of those annoying green lines that Word places in phrases that it does not like.)

Let us start our discussion by breaking goals down into two fundamental categories.  The first category concerns “goals for others.”  These are goals that we set either by malevolence or benevolence but they are destined to impact the lives of others.  Missionaries (depending on who you ask) may be thought of as having benevolent goals.  Dictators and tyrants (depending on who you ask) may be thought of as having malevolent goals.

The second category concerns “goals for ourselves.”  These are goals that we set to help us achieve either current or future objectives.  Thus, if I want to become set goalssuccessful, I may set a goal of going to college and obtaining a degree in law or politics or business.  This will be a future goal.  A more current goal would be to find some means to raise enough money to pay for my college education.  The element of time is somewhat flexible in determining whether it is a future goal or current goal and the distinction has created many an argument between people.  The indisputable element here is that we pursue these goals to benefit our own well-being. There is no altruism or charity in this category of goals.  Having said this, all distinctions are really like water. They are very fluid.  I am using these two basic categories to facilitate discussion and not with any hope of creating a uniform or indisputable and universally accepted definition.

Proceeding on with our discussion, we can identify under these two categories of goals, four specific goals that many would say are the four most important goals in the world.  I am not going to challenge this assumption.  For our discussion of goals, I will accept that these four goals are extraordinarily worthwhile objectives.  Furthermore, they are four in both of our major categories.  The four specific goals are:

  • Happiness
  • Health
  • Wealth
  • Wisdom

I am going to accept each of these goals at face value and forego any discussion of whether they are cause or effect.  I am also willing to accept that whether outcome or process they all are objectives that few of us would forego.  Thus, if a genie appeared to almost anyone on the face of the earth and said:  “Would you like to have eternal health, wealth, wisdom or happiness, there would be very few who would turn any one of these goals down.  We can put these goals into a table as follows.

Goals for Others Goals for Ourselves
Happiness Happiness
Health Health
Wealth Wealth
Wisdom Wisdom

Returning to the original question, “should we live a life with or without goals?” it is obvious that we must first answer a second question:  “Can any of these goals (In either category) ever be accomplished?”  If the most important goals we can set for life are impossible to achieve then it would seem wise to assume that “goal setting” is a waste of time.  Let us consider one by one each of these eight possible goals and see how many (or even if any of them) are really attainable.  What can we honestly expect to achieve for ourselves and others?

 Image

Happiness for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family happy.  What would you say to that goal?  If you are honest, you would probably say that it was a ridiculous goal and that no one can make anyone else happy.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot insure that the things we do will bring happiness to other people.  Happiness, you may wisely note is more of an inside job.  It depends more on our expectations and views of the world then what other people do for us.  Conclusion:  Don’t waste your time. 

Health for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family healthy.  This sounds like a goal that someone in a medical profession might pursue.  But how healthy can even a doctor make someone else?  Again, honesty would lead to the conclusion that nature and personal factors have more to do with health than even the best MD or medical practitioner.  Science has made major strides in helping populations become healthier but few are the medical people who could claim that they have made people healthy.  To make someone healthy would be almost an impossible task.  The best we can accomplish is to help prevent certain diseases and to help alleviate the effects of other diseases.  Conclusion:  We can help make people healthier but health is a state influenced by too many variables to be under the control of anyone but God.

Wealth for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family wealthy.  If I could make enough money, I could donate or leave it to my heirs or to some type of philanthropic foundation.  The skeptic in me would reject the idea that all of the donations in history have had much impact on world poverty.   I could be a teacher and teach other people how to make money or run a successful business. I could also be a consultant or business investment advisor and teach others how to wisely run their businesses or investments.  There is little doubt that we can help people have more money or even use their resources more wisely, but how many people have been made wealthy by the advice of others?  As a business instructor and management consultant for over 30 years, I can tell you that the answer is very few. When I look at the Forbes List of Richest People in the World, I see self-made billionaires, most of who were initially laughed at for their efforts.  I doubt Bill Gates, Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Richard Branson or Warren Buffett depended very much on consultants or business teachers for advice.   Conclusion:  We can help people manage their money better but individuals make themselves wealthy. 

ImageWisdom for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family wise.  In order to see if this is possible, let us first look at Socrates.  Socrates was a teacher.  According to the Oracle at Delphi, Socrates was the wisest man in the world. Thus, we may ask the question:  Did Socrates teach other Athenians to be wise?  This is not a simple or easy question to answer.  Socrates did not accept that he was wise and went looking for a wise man but could not find one.  He never claimed to be teaching his students to be wise, but merely how to question assumptions and conventions.  Is a person who questions wise? How many wise people do you know?  Is wisdom a matter of age or does college teach you to be wise?  I would argue that school and teachers can give you knowledge but only life and your experiences drawn from life can give you wisdom.  Conclusion:  No one can make any other person wise.

If you accept the majority of my arguments so far, I think it would lead to the obvious conclusion that we cannot really make anyone else healthy, wealthy, wise or happy.  These are tasks that are far beyond our ability to have more than a minor impact on.  However, I am not yet ready to dismiss the power of goal setting.  Before I can do this we must turn to the second category of goals: goals for ourselves.  Do we have the ability to accomplish goals for ourselves?  If we can achieve even one of these objectives, then it would be ridiculous to say that goal setting is a waste of time.  In fact, given the seriousness of each of these goals, it would necessitate establishing goal setting as a serious repertoire in our lives.

In Part 2, which I will publish next week, we will look at each of these second category goals and see how much impact we can have on them.  If we really cannot make much of a difference for others, perhaps we can at least set goals that will make a difference in our lives.

Time for Questions:

Have you ever set goals for other people?  What goals have you set for others?  Have you been able to accomplish them?  What helped you or hindered you in this effort?  Do you think it was a valuable use of your time? Why or why not? What would you do different if you could do it over?

Life is just beginning.

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