HACK / MAKE

Tolerances In Personal Goals

We’re three weeks into January and I’ve already failed in my resolutions. But I expected that. I outlined in Why Your Resolution Is A Lie some suggestions to build resolutions around and this framework accepted that there was going to be ongoing failure. You’ll suck at your resolutions for a while but hopefully they were designed to allow that and keep you motivated to continue.

Resolutions tend to have poor scope, don’t consider things out of your control, and are just poorly planned. I kept these things in mind while setting goals for this year and included tolerances so I can have bad days (or weeks) and still be able to get back on track with my goals.

This year, I want to improve my physical strength and endurance.

To work on physical fitness, I chose a basic training method and have measurable goals for this without getting a gym membership and becoming one of these guys. My scope wasn’t to be able to bench press X reps of X, but just to be more fit in daily activities and sports like climbing, and be able to handle myself if SHTF. I’m in OK shape but I know if I were to just show up at a gym and start lifting things I would be discouraged and instantly regret what I was doing.

Merlin Mann on Back to Work episode 50:

Narrowing scope is not the same as failing and giving up. Narrowing scope is a way of acknowledging reality and realizing you can’t do it all.

Setting scope for my goal of improving my physical fitness meant keeping to something simple: push-ups, sit-ups, and running. These are also very much in my control. No outside 1 forces will prevent me from doing some push-ups every morning, whether I’m traveling or broke. This simple routine can also be easily planned and has attainable goals and milestones. The Army Personal Fitness Test needs to be completed and passed by soldiers semiannually and is marked out of 300 points, a possible total of 100 points for each push–ups, sit-ups, and a 2 mile run. The APFT gave me a series of simple benchmarks to train against. First, just do each thing to determine my baseline score in that area, then set a goal for for each based on my current abilities, then improve enough to pass, and actually be good at each. These goals can scale and give me something to work at without depressing me and making me want to quit.

How am I doing at this so far? Well, it took me a week until I actually started regularly “training” and I’m still not doing it regularly. In a couple weeks, I’ve almost doubled my sit-up score to a passing grade. I’m struggling with push-ups, topping out at 30 reps in 2:00 for a score of 49. Those next 10 push-ups to get a pass seems like a huge feat, but I’ll keep trying. And that 2 mile run? Um, yeah. I’m scared of it. I’ve been working my way to it by first walking a 2 mile route to actually understand what I’m getting myself into and then I tried running until that ended at an exhausting result of 400 meters. I’ll be OK with clocking in at 22:00 and a score of 0 for my first 2 mile run. The end goal is to be able to pass the APFT every week, but that’s long way away.

There are some things I’m willing to tolerate to keep on track with this. I’m going to have lazy days where I won’t get out of bed on time and exercise in the morning like regular but I can always try in the evening or even tomorrow. I accept this and don’t beat myself up. I believe my willpower is strong enough that I can and will try again.

Tolerances permit me to fail and this permission means I don’t fear failure. I can maintain confidence when it inevitably happens and that keeps me from quitting. I’m learning that failing yesterday doesn’t make it more likely that I’ll fail at it again today. It’s my attitude that affects my results and that’s something I can control.


  1. At some point, I’ll talk about the heavy force of inner forces. 

Thoughts or comments? Let's talk on Twitter or send me an email.