Why Achieving Your Fitness Goals Won’t Make You Happy

Everyone has had the dream of being a lottery winner. You’ve probably been asked more than once, “What would you do if you won the lottery?”. A typical reply to this questions might be:

Notice a reoccurring theme within these answers? Material products.  Something that we’re purchasing that we assume will make us happy once we buy it. You’ve decided that, once you’ve reached the goal of having lots of money (not a bad goal to have BTW), you will be able to buy things that make you happy.


But does reaching your goal truly make you happy? And if it does, will it maintain your happiness in the long-run? Let’s see what we can find out about reaching our goals and achieving happiness.


What Lottery Winners and Paraplegics Have in Common


We’ve already heard the story of a lottery winner who won big cash, bought nice things and had big parties. This is a story that many of us play over in our head often weekly and sometimes daily.


Imagine, for a second, a different story on the opposite end of the perceived-happiness spectrum. Imagine that you’re a construction worker who just fell off a building and received a diagnosis of a severed spinal nerve. You’ve been told that you will never walk again and will never again have feeling from the waist down.


This is most certainly a story that no one has dreamed of happening to them (maybe had nightmares about). If asked “How would you feel if you were told you could never walk again?”, most people would answer that they would be miserable and would hate life. The thought of not being able to use your legs for the rest of your life is just not a pleasant one.


And, certainly, you would right about being miserable and not enjoying life, just like you would be right about being happy about winning the lottery. But, you would only be right to a point.


The Adaptation Principle


Although a lottery winner is ecstatic initially and a paraplegic is miserable initially, 12 months from now your happiness would be no worse or better off than it was before the event. As a matter of fact, it may be quite the opposite. Many lottery winners turn out to be miserable and many paraplegics achieve greatness and happiness beyond their previous normal abilities.


Adaptation is a phenomenon that most of frequently underestimate. Relative to our current situation, we perceive that we would be unhappy if “X” happened or happy if “Y” happened. But once we are faced with “X” or “Y”, we quickly find out that our new situation is not at all what we thought.


This is adaptation at work. Adaptation is simply our ability to adjust to new information and experiences. We do this daily. Whether you’re suddenly told you have a report that’s due tomorrow or you read a piece of information that gives you insight on how to change nutrition habits, you are adapting constantly. Like our body’s adapting to a certain training regimen, our minds adapt to the information and experiences that we take in.


Building Systems That Achieve Your Goals


Adaptation is a big reason why many people who achieve their fitness goals end up falling back from where they came. How many times have you seen (or experienced yourself) someone lose 20lbs then put it back on 3 months later. Or maybe you have a friend who trained hard for a marathon, ran the race and turned into a couch potato. Once they have lost 20lbs and ran their marathon, they are happy about the achievement and then have no clue what to do once it’s over.


This is why I’m a huge fan of building systems. Goals are great to have. Without having something to reach, we can’t properly push ourselves to get better. And if you’re going to go through effort to lose 20lbs or run a marathon, you might as well build a system that help you sustain that level and build on it.


Having a system is like having a set of habits that you do a regular basis to achieve the things you want to achieve. When you’re losing weight, you make it a habit to eat quality protein for breakfast, 3-5 servings of veggies a day and make quality carb decisions. These habits together are the system that you use to keep yourself on track.


Now that we know we have to put a system in place to achieve our goals, how do we go about building a system in the first place? There are 3 steps you need to take to get your system in place:


#1. Choose Your Goal


Yes, I know I said I am a fan of systems, not goals. But every achievement begins with a goal in mind. If you don’t know where you want to go, you have way of getting there. Decide what you want to do and be as specific as you can. You can’t just say “I want to lose weight”. That’s great, but that’s also very broad. Here is how you would make things more specific:


Instead of: I want to lose weight               

Say: I want to lose 10lbs


Instead of: I want to get in shape             

Say: I want to lose 3 inches off my waste


Instead of: I want to look better               

Say: I want to fit into a size “X” jeans


Notice we started with something broad and turned it into something measurable. Be specific and be prepared to change and adapt as you go.


#2. Come up with a plan


Planning is important for many reasons. We talked about the rider and the elephant in our previous articles about change. Your rider is your conscious decision maker who believes he’s in control and your elephant is your sub-conscious engine who is actually in control. When your rider decides to make a change without a plan or without any direction, your elephants pulls you back down the beaten path. In order to make change happen you have to have a plan. A couple of questions you might ask during your planning are:


What have I done before that has made me successful at this?

What have others done before to make them successful?

Who can I reach out to in order to make achieving my goal easier?


Your mission during the planning phase is to hone in on the things that can get you to wear you want to go. These should be actionable steps.


#3. Implement Your Plan One Step at a Time


Since building a system means developing and creating many new habits and processes, it’s necessary to put your steps in one at a time. We are creatures of habit. The majority of what we do on a day-to-day basis is done on auto-pilot. Get up, brush your teeth, drive to work, sit at your desk, go out to lunch with coworkers, drive back home, go to bed, rinse and repeat. And within this broad description of a general day, there are many micro-events and actions that are ingrained as well. There are many aspects of our day that effect the things we do and decisions we make. Don’t try to overwhelm yourself with an abundance of change when you have a laundry list of steps in your system.


Instead of trying to throw in all your action steps at once, pick one and work with it for 10-14 days. Practice it until it’s ingrained. Once you’ve done it enough and you’re confident you have as part of your current system, it’s time to move on to the next step.


Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.


Develop your systems and allow them help you achieve your goals. Your goals will constantly change and adapt as you progress within your system. Execution, execution, execution.

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Jerry Scarlato
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Jerry Scarlato

Owner, Fitness Coach at Thrive Fitness
Jerry Scarlato is a Personal Trainer and Entrepreneur who lives in Northern Kentucky. He runs 2 businesses related to health and wellness: Thrive Fitness and Thrive Online. Jerry has been involved in the fitness for his entire adult life, including playing sports through college. Along with being an Entrepreneur, Jerry is a content creator,
Jerry Scarlato
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