Men's Room Epiphany

On our way to Montana for the National Weight Pentathlon, my wife Tiffini and I pulled over for a break. It's a beautiful drive, but I drink a lot of coffee and I'm 49, so we have to pull over for a lot of "breaks."

As I went into the men's room, I noticed a funny thing: some time in the past few weeks, a young gangster decided that the men's room toilet seat was the place to write his name. This is called "tagging" and I guess, "You're it."

So, since that day, this young man's name has had a variety of sweaty, car-seat wrinkled, flabby old man buttcheeks stretched over the second gift his parents gave him after the gift of life. As a bonus, his name proudly sits inches from drying fecal material and a stench that even gagged me... and I've used dry toilets in the Middle East ("dry" as in 120 degrees, no water, and mummified poop).

I began wondering about "all this."

And what is "all this?" You know, all this: the names, the mottos, and the posturing that makes up so much of the Internet and general society today. I've been wondering if we should take a step back and rethink our goals through the lens of what we actually believe.


I know that's the question going through your mind. I've written about goal setting here at T-Nation before and I tend to ask the question "What are your goals?" more than any person giving advice on the Internet. That is, of course, if my writing "What are your goals?" counts as actual advice.

No matter what I write about or talk about in a workshop, people always ask me questions that need to be answered only through the lens of their goals. Yet there's always one important element missing in goal setting, and this is what I want to discuss here.

The Missing Element

First, we have to rehash some moth eaten concepts about goals. I like to encourage my charges to assess things through a term that I repeat over and over and over again: Look for your answers through the lens of your goals.

"Dear Dan, should I do the snatch, the Litvinov Workout, the Velocity Diet, the Tabata front squat workout, and the One Lift a Day program to win this year's Mr. Olympia? I am a 16 year old from Assdrop, Iowa, and I can't decide whether to lean out or bulk up. Please help me!"

What? Okay, if you want to be Mr. Olympia, you don't need to listen to my discussion on the Olympic lifts. Sure, Arnold and Franco and Zane did them, but you don't need to anymore. The sport has moved on. Oh, and don't be very tall either. And if you want to be in the NBA, don't ask me about sled pulling. Oh, and don't be very short either.

In fact, if you want to Mr. Olympia, I'm probably not the best person to ask for advice. I simply don't know how to help you. Sorry. But, I can help you discern your goals.

The One Minute Manager said it best:

Look at your goals.

Look at your behaviors.

Does your behavior match your goals?

It's the million dollar question for those of us in the strength world: Does your behavior match your goals? As I write this, I'm deep in the Velocity Diet. My friends, both here in Utah and the Internet, continually ask me, "How does this help you?" Craving both Scotch and steak, let me think about this...

Hmm, one of my long-term goals is to live long-term. I looked down at my belt recently and noticed that I'd pushed it down to fit under my belly. "Under belly" belts are a sure sign that one is starting down the road to the morbid kind of fat that lives under the abdomen and, statistically, kills you. In other words, belly fat kills.

My mom wasn't much older than me when she died and she never had a chance to see me as a normal human. I'd like to see my two daughters as mature adults, mainly so I can move in with them and walk around the house complaining "it's too cold," "now it's too hot," "there's no food," and "who stole my underwear?"

But I have other goals, too. One of my goals is to continue to throw farther and farther yet remain healthy. Healthy, in my definition, is the optimal functioning of the organs. So, if I can't climb a flight of stairs without a rest, or my pancreas doesn't do whatever a pancreas does, it isn't worth the tradeoff of throwing farther. Carrying a bunch of body fat not only decreases performance, but I have to toss my lard off the ground as I move in addition to what I'm throwing. It has to impact my health.

But the real reason I went on the Velocity Diet? Well, when you become famous for your Scotch drinking, one day you have to honestly ask, "How did I become so good at drinking?" Well, it's training. So, can I take off 28 days and not drink? If I become even more of a lunatic and stare at pictures of single malt Scotch the way my officemates stare at the girls in Powerful Images, well, I need to really stop drinking and soon.

So, does the Velocity Diet fit my goals? Yes. Do all my behaviors fit my goals? Nope. So either I change my goals or change my behaviors. Either one will do.

It's like the advice Ben Franklin gave about becoming rich: either increase the amount of money you take in or decrease the amount of money you spend. Either one will do, but both are better.

So, here we are at the great crossroads of success: what are your goals and what are your behaviors? Old Ben Franklin had it right. In fact, I think you can achieve your goals simply by setting them at a very low level.

• I want to sit around and play on the Internet all day and look at women's pictures in various stages of undress.

• I wish to gain a lot of weight around my midsection... mostly fat, if possible.

• I want to go to the gym with my buddies sometimes and talk about stuff that isn't related to the gym.

• I'm willing to change my diet to only things that are really easy to eat and taste good to me.

See? Thank you, nobody else has the courage to state this but me: To reach your goals, simply really lower your expectations and standards! Now, why the networks don't have me on television daily is a mystery to me, too.

You may be one of those people who settle for slightly higher goals. Now, my first question is always this: Can you tell me exactly what they are? As I review the list of goals in my life that I've achieved, one of the great insights (truly a moment of absolute clarity) is that I could tell you precisely the goal.

A quick example: After my freshman year of high school, my brother Richard drove me down to the old Track and Field News headquarters. I was a burly 118 pound freshman football player and discus thrower and I wanted to learn more. I bought a book: J. K. Doherty's Track and Field Omnibook and the discus section talked about Coach Ralph Maughan at Utah State University.

On the ride home from Los Gatos, California, in the backseat of my brother's car, I decided to get a full-ride scholarship to Utah State University and throw the discus there. A few years later, Coach Maughan was on the telephone offering me a full-ride scholarship to throw the discus for Utah State University.

Don't you love these "Oh, how wonderful I am" stories? Well, here's the thing: I changed my behaviors, too. I spent the better part of a year doing odd jobs around the neighborhood and community earning money for an adjustable bench press. (I'd stolen all my neighbor's weights already... )

I started reading Strength and Health magazine like it had all the answers, I trained every day on weights, I didn't go to dances, parties, or prom, I drank those horrific soy shakes from the 1970s, and sought out the best coaches I could find. You see, it's one thing to have a goal. It's quite another to line your behaviors up with your goals.

Dilemmas and Perceived Rewards

Now, having said all of this, the most important thing I can teach is this: You need to solve an important dilemma... probably by yourself, too. But I can give you a few hints. What is this dilemma? Simply this (and don't ignore the importance here): What are your perceived rewards for getting your goals?

Now, we have to be very careful here. Here's the trap: Your mother and father and your grandfathers and grandmothers had some level of impact on your life's goals. "Get a good job with a good company and they'll take care of you" was actually once good advice. A good life to some is a good job with a good company.

We have to come to grips with something (at least I do) and it's this: We probably have three, perhaps four, generations of people reading this article, and we might all share goals, but we probably don't share the rewards that accompany these goals.

Five years ago, the government realized that much of its workforce was on the verge of retirement. What soon became apparent in many agencies is that the "new hires" had a radically different outlook on, well, everything. For our purposes, let's summarize some of the studies.

Boomers, X'ers, and Nexters

My generation, the Baby Boomers, that post-WWII generation born from 1945 to 1965, really has some interesting issues. Generally, there's a mistrust of bureaucracies, save to get what you can from them. I'm a master of working systems. How do you make a Boomer happy? Give them a title. I'm sure that the day I'm made Chief Senior Writer in Charge of Weightlifting Philosophy at Testosterone, my life will be perfect.

My wife's generation, the X'ers, seem to be a little different. (Consider yourself an X'er if you were born 1965ish to 1980-85ish) For one thing, they grew up watching their parent's lose those cushy lifelong jobs, lose their pensions, and lose some of the freebies that we all used to expect.

X'ers are an interesting group and the bulk of them (according to the research) have begun retirement savings before the age of 25-30. I have friends in their late forties who don't have money set aside for their retirement! X'ers understand money, even if they don't have any at the moment.

The next generation, called "Nexters" by some, are a generation that probably used a computer about the same time they learned to write with a pen. It might be the most asynchronic generation ever, literally. Time means something quite radically different to someone who carries on long Internet discussions with people around the world while text messaging on one phone and talking on another. My daughters do this multitasking with ease... and I can't figure out how to answer my damn cell phone.

So, how does this relate to goals, goal setting, and rewards? You can see it here in the forums of Testosterone. Baby Boomer's will want to do specific challenges on a specific day. My goal to win the Greater Mr. Murray Open Novice Masters Class B Over 225 Born in August Contest will be a specific event on a specific day with a clear title. I want to do this, on this day, and win this or that or whatever.

Now, X'ers will ask a good question: How much do I get? What's the payoff? Now, it can go beyond money, of course, but the follow-up question with these good people usually involves the "why" of things: "Why do you want to throw a big telephone pole over end?" If I tell them I want to be the Loch Aidle Highland Games Champ, they shrug. If I tell them I get $100,000 per turn, they get it.

Nexters are even more fun. When you read that many of the Testosterone forum posters want to "look good nekkid," the first thing that runs through my Baby Boomer brain is "When? What day?" Yet to this generation, time is flexible.

This isn't a knock, but someone of my years has to acknowledge that someone who lives literally multitasking "24-7" isn't going to worry about the fact that something as inconsequential as the Mr. Greater Murray Open Whatever starts at ten in the morning on a Saturday. Looking good enough to win might be enough!

The Big Question

So, what does this all mean? Simply this: We spend a lot of time talking about goals. Many of us understand that our goals are linked to our behaviors. That alone is a million dollar concept, and you should be sure to take some time reviewing your life through the idea of linking your behaviors to your goals. The great leap that understanding generational influence is that you tie what you expect to be rewarded into your goal setting process.

When I was young, standing on the Olympic podium with USA on my chest was my goal. Greg LeMond reportedly trained as a young man with a large dollar sign on his handlebars. Sure, winning the Tour de France was important, but more important to him was the money. Today, many cyclists use their GPS hookups on their bikes to compare workouts and heart rate monitor information with people all over the web.

There is nothing right or wrong about these approaches, but they're all different. So, when discussing goals in this light:

Look at the rewards.

Look at your behaviors.

Does your behavior match your rewards?

By the way, I'd like to know how one is rewarded for writing his name on a toilet seat. I left him a little trophy anyway...

Dan John is an elite-level strength and weightlifting coach. He is also an All-American discus thrower, holds the American record in the Weight Pentathlon, and has competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting and Highland Games. Follow Dan John on Facebook