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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 05, 2010

It’s a Journey, Not a Race

By Mark Sisson
79 Comments

By now, I’m sure you’ve been privy to the teeming hordes descending on cardio machines and health food stores across the country. Tofu is completely sold out; there’s a line out the door for the elliptical. The scent of desperate, hopeful sweat is in the air, and everywhere you look, folks sporting brand spanking new exercise gear and a list full of resolutions lie to themselves. They keep up the charade for a couple weeks, perhaps even a month, after which point the gym crowds taper off, the farmers’ markets stop looking like a mosh pit set to NPR, and people begin thinking about next year’s changes. Yep – it’s the New Year, and this is the entirely-predictable-and-requisite post on New Year’s resolutions.

Did you make any?

Jokes aside, not all resolutions are created equally – or with identical purpose of mind. Your average PBer, for example, actually intends to make good on his or her resolution. I dunno, but I just have a feeling that’s the case. You tend to get things done. I’ve seen the amount of progress you guys have made using nothing but your own impetus (and maybe a book or blog or two) (no holiday required), and it’s impressive. With a little motivation, though, MDA reader progress seemed to increase exponentially. Still, people are weird about New Year’s resolutions. Since the New Year is paradoxically famous for both motivating resolve and inspiring cynicism about the whole “making positive changes” thing, I figured a small post by yours truly to buttress your resolve and undercut the cynicism might help. I’m a big proponent of making positive changes in one’s life, and I can’t help but get misty-eyed when people decide to enrich their lives.

A big part of making positive changes, especially regarding health and fitness, is being realistic about your goals. I think unreasonable expectations actually explain why so many New Year’s resolutions crash and burn, and why the whole idea of a resolution has essentially become a joke. I’d say the vast majority of them expect too much in too little time – they want to go from belly fat to washboard abs in time for summer, or they pledge to lose a hundred pounds by year’s end. I mean, these are technically doable for a subset of the population, but for the vast majority of folks – especially the people who need to make these resolutions in the first place – such drastic results require slow, steady going. People don’t like that, though. They want instant results. More importantly, they seem to expect them, and unreasonable expectations almost unerringly result in disappointment.

The best way to avoid making unreasonable resolutions is to identify the root, underlying issues. I’d even suggest foregoing the specific, goal-oriented resolution. Instead of vowing to “lose 20 lbs in 30 days,” vow to eat no grains or legumes, no sugar, no vegetable oils, and nothing in a box. Instead of resolving to obtain 16-inch biceps, resolve to add pull-ups to the end of every weight lifting session. The key, in my opinion, is to focus on the journey, rather than the destination. The destination then becomes the journey. All those specific fixations on specific body parts are missing the point. When you set arbitrary numerical or objective goals, you’re merely attacking the symptoms, rather than addressing the real issue. If you need to lose weight, you need to dial in your nutrition. Eat Primal foods and avoid Neolithic foods. If you’re unhappy with your level of physical fitness, don’t focus on the arms, or the calves, or the abs. That’s nonsense, and those things will come around when the whole body is healthy and strong. Understand that your body is a confederation of genes, organs, hormones, muscles, bones, and all manner of other parts. They’re all united to support a common purpose – your interaction with the environment. To promote proper interaction, lift heavy things a couple times per week, throw in three to five hours of low-level cardio, and maybe a sprint session, and then call it a day. It’s incredibly simple, but it identifies and addresses the root cause. Attacking symptoms and then declaring success is for Big Pharma, not you. Don’t fall into that trap.

When you focus on the lifelong journey, following the Primal path gets simpler. Instead of a motley crew of contradicting and scattered goals, paths, and benchmarks, you’re now dealing with a single resolution. You haven’t left anything out, and all your worries and symptoms are still being addressed, but it’s now cohesive, efficient, and intuitive. You don’t need a ridiculously long list; you just Grok the Primal Blueprint Laws, get plenty of sleep, avoid stress, eat real food, move around a lot, lift heavy things on occasion, and sprint now and again. Top things off with a few supplements if your diet is lacking in certain areas and you’ve got yourself a damn good New Year’s resolution that’s easy to follow and incredibly effective – for life.

What is your approach to New Year’s resolutions and the Primal lifestyle at large? Let me know in the comment board. And don’t forget to send in your New Year’s Resolution videos. There is only a week and a half left to get them in. Competition is still low and the prize is grand, so act fast!

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79 Comments on "It’s a Journey, Not a Race"

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Dusty
6 years 8 months ago

I see so many of the same people I saw last year showing up again at the gym. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad…

mikecheliak
6 years 8 months ago

Mark…great post! You’re right on the money (literally as well). Too many people try to get too specific when all they need to do is simplify their goals to get better overall results.

Shauna
6 years 8 months ago
This is such a great post! I lost 40 lbs a while back (and kept it off) and the only way to do it is make every choice count. Mindfulness, if you will. Thanks for pointing this out 🙂 Here are my two “resolutions.” 1) Do a pull-up This will turn into more pull-ups with time, of course. It’s been my fitness glass ceiling, if you will. Though the under-arm jiggle is gone (woohoo!) I keep persisting because it’s not about toned arms. It’s about strengthening my body to do what it’s meant to do. 2) Stop eating sugar. I… Read more »
Camille Goscicki
6 years 8 months ago

I liked your word choice in your first few sentences: Mindfulness. It’s so important to really think about what you’re doing for yourself (or not doing) when you eat, exercise, etc.
I need to go cold turkey on salty foods, such as potato chips. My diet needs more mindfulness, definitely.

London Mike
London Mike
6 years 8 months ago
My first post – hoorah! I agree with you 100% Mark that it’s a journey and not a race. About six years ago I lost 30 pounds doing what was essentially Atkins (I know, sorry). When I got to where I wanted to be weight wise the ‘race’ was over and in the time since then I’ve put on 60 pounds! I started PB September 09 and whilst I’ve ‘only’ lost 5 pounds I feel fan-bleedin-tastic. However I started getting stressed out about a weight plateau and eventually threw out the scales to focus on the process (I know I… Read more »
Grok
6 years 8 months ago

Six years ago Atkins was a decent diet. Still is if you follow a real food approach.

Primal Blueprint is better though, because it is a lifestyle 🙂

Mary
Mary
6 years 8 months ago

Hey what are you sorry for? I think many of us started with Atkins diet and to be honest Dr Atkins is one of the, if not THE, main characters in this Low Carb revolution… He trully believed in this and even though it isn’t the perfect diet (dairy, procesed meats and soy products on maintinance), it’s a great and easy start for newbies

DB
DB
6 years 8 months ago

I did set a measurable and specific goal… to do 100 push ups. All the other goals were less specific (grow a garden I can actually get some vegetables out of, among things).
I picked 100 push ups via the website hundrespushups.com. My first self test was 24. I’m 4 weeks into it and my last self test was 41 consecutive push ups before I gave out.
I had to do something measurable here because if I just said “increase my functional strength” how would I know I met my goal? I have to be able to measure it somehow…

Aaron Blaisdell
6 years 8 months ago

Excellent post as always. I never make new years resolutions for the same reason I don’t celebrate Valentine’s day. I never saw the need to constrain personal goals or romantic expressions to a single day of the year. I try to incorporate these things spontaneously throughout the year as targets of opportunity arise–usually in non-linear distributions.

epistemocrat
6 years 8 months ago

A second nod for stochastic non-linear distributions.

Grok
6 years 8 months ago

Add a third nod.

I am going to be 100% primal for January. I need to cleanse after December. 🙂

Chris
Chris
6 years 8 months ago

The biggest things that drew me towards the Primal Blueprint was the lifelong attitude. Rather than a specific goal or time frame(6 pack by summer), it focuses on what will be healthiest for a lifetime.
So if I have a 6 pack by summer, great! If not no big deal. I’m doing what’s best for myself in the long run.

John Sifferman
6 years 8 months ago

The day I started setting process-oriented goals instead of just outcome-oriented goals was the day I started achieving my goals.

Jeff P (P stands for Primal)
6 years 8 months ago
I’m a strong opponent towards resolutions. I blogged about it last week and wanted to share a few pieces about it below as they certainly apply to what you wrote: According to the New York Times, 80% of New Year’s Resolutions are abandoned by Valentine’s Day. Ouch. So, 44 days after your “resolution” is started, you’ll give up. It’s time for a change, don’t you think, if you truly are serious about losing weight. I have one simply word: Why. I didn’t say Why? I said Why. See the difference? I don’t want to know why you gave up. I… Read more »
Dave
6 years 8 months ago

Jonah Lehrer has a good article on the limitations of willpower in the WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703478704574612052322122442.html?mod=article-outset-box

Basically, it seems that we’d be better off spreading out our improvements throughout the year. Focus on one thing and a time and really do it, then move on to something else, instead of cramming it all into your life at once and failing at everything.

Camille Goscicki
6 years 8 months ago

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Focus is the key. Whenever my mind is scattered in a hundred directions at once, I get nothing accomplished. I finally started a blog in December, after clearing clutter from my mind and focusing on that one objective. I’m so happy I finally did it!

Also, If a person has a big goal, but no small action steps to accomplish it, the big goal is probably doomed to failure.

Emily
6 years 8 months ago

Mark, you are exactly right. Anyway, our number one goal should be to be HEALTHY, not to lose weight. Generally, in the process of giving up processed foods and eating more of the foods your body was designed to handle will lead to weight loss.

I think if New Year’s Resolutions focused around baby steps which ultimate goal is better health (or more money, happier marriage, etc.), they wouldn’t be such a joke.

Candice
Candice
6 years 8 months ago

So true, & having myself failed by mid-february I have decided this year to take a different route to being healthy. I’ve already begun to eat more primal & weeding out grains. My next step was to finally get a personal trainer, someone who would push me. Setting appointments makes me feel obligated to go & I paid in full up front for SEVERAL sessions, & I am not about to see that money go to waste!!

Kate
Kate
6 years 8 months ago

I’m just starting my journey of a primal lifestyle (loving it so far!). I’ve decided to choose two small goals a month and maintain those goals as I add two more each month following the first. My goals for January are to avoid all white flour products (I’m gradually cutting out the whole wheat bread etc.) and to write in my food journal everyday.

Alec
Alec
6 years 8 months ago

It’s funny I went to the gym to do some deadlifts and shoulder press during lunch break on the 31st and one of my coworkers asked me why I was going to the gym- “Why workout today, you don’t have to start until the New Year”. Uh, maybe because I love lifting heavy stuff and exercising is not a resolution for me but a lifestyle.

My two goals (not resolutions) for the year which are actually obtainable:
-Clean and Jerk 225 (215 clean now, 220 jerk)
-Squat 300 (270 now)

Icarus
Icarus
6 years 8 months ago
My first New Year’s Resolution is to get more sleep. My inspiration comes from my cats, who sleep 16 hours a day at any time they feel like (and anyWHERE they feel like.) Then, I’d like to go hiking more. At least once per week, consistently. Both to get out of the city and to get a little bit of low-level cardio. Graduating past bodyweight exercises and into actually weight training would be nice, but I don’t know when I might have regular access to weights. But these are things that I’ve been working on a while. It’s that whole… Read more »
Richard
6 years 8 months ago

I’ve just started a blog to work on my own “transformation,” and here’s my post on sleep: http://transformation10.blogspot.com/2010/01/sleep.html

It’s one of the areas I know I need to work on to move towards better health.

Jon
Jon
6 years 8 months ago
Mark, You are so right about New Years Resolutions for most people. I got turned on to a gentleman by the name of Raymond Aaron a few years ago who offers a Monthly Mentor Program designed to help with goal planning and achieving. (Sorry for the plug).Through his plan, one of my goals was to follow a Primal Lifestyle for a month. It was so effective, that I kept it up and lost 28 lbs in 6 weeks! Other “incidental” benefits included allergies that I had had for over 30 years disappearing, as well as some intestinal issues going away… Read more »
OLDDUDE
OLDDUDE
6 years 8 months ago

On the other hand failure has gotten a bad rap. If you dont know how to fail you will never recognize true success when it is achieved. Fail, get up, and go again. Why did you fail? Figure it out. Chances are it’s pretty simple, not easy, but simple. Ego is a good motivator but knowledge is a great motivator.

iamcam
6 years 8 months ago

Honestly – I gave up on setting New Year’s resolutions. Too many times the goals seemed contrite and not really what I should be doing. Rather, I take this time of year to regroup in places where I’ve gone astray, get back up in the saddle, and get back on the path. Any other changes I make often come during different times of the year when I have built the willpower and determination to follow-through.

Buckbuckles
Buckbuckles
6 years 8 months ago
In our society today resolutions are a funny thing. I don’t think a majority of people really understand what a resolution completely is. During this time of year I see the phrase “resolution” being thrown around so cheaply. Someone above on this comment page had the stat from the NY Times that 80% of people quit their resolution by V-Day (and that stat is probably based on those people who attempted and failed at their resolutions. Imagine how many people have given up on making resolutions because they have convinced themselves to not make a resolution just so they don’t… Read more »
Hiram
6 years 8 months ago
I agree – New Year’s resolutions suck. I don’t believe in overnight “conversions” and making a resolution to “eat right and exercise” starting Jan 1 just isn’t going to happen if you’ve spent the last 365 days indulging in bad health habits. Yes, it’s the journey – but it’s like a journey by river. There’s a “current” to consider. That “current” is the push and pull of your current lifestyle. You may “resolve” to change but the “current” is going to slowly pull you back to where you were. You’ve really got to back up your resolutions with discipline, attitude,… Read more »
Camille Goscicki
6 years 8 months ago

Love your point about the “current.” I can relate! In the past year I’ve been working on changing a negative outlook into a positive, optimistic outlook. I’ve come a long way, but there are times when I can feel that “current” pulling me back to the old ways. As you said, backing up those resolutions with discipline, attitude, conviction, etc. is extremely important.

shepherd
6 years 8 months ago
Really good timing on this article, Mark. Today I forgot my breakfast and lunch – packed them up but left them at home. Right about the time my first class started, I realized it. On emergency “Man I’m hungry” I made the decision that I couldn’t make it through to dinner without food and I ended up eating junk from the school cafeteria, then from the vending machines. The way I felt right after it (sluggish and sleepy) and now (headache and just awful)just cements for me that PB is the way I need to be. It was like a… Read more »
DThalman
DThalman
6 years 8 months ago
I have a few goals for the year. Eat my fish oil and chomp raw garlic every day. Do 12 pull ups. Learn to walk on my hands. I will succeed…the first one was easy; I just plunked down the extra for good quality stuff. No more gross fish burps so I don’t mind taking it. I will get there on the pull ups and hand walking because I know I can, because I’ve already achieved more difficult goals. I can do 8 pull ups now, up from 5 a month ago, so surely I can do 12. I learned… Read more »
Deanna
Deanna
6 years 8 months ago
I don’t do resolutions. Why start tomorrow what I can start today? Sometimes that leaves me a little overenthusiastic and I crash and burn, but whatever. Try again the next day. If I had a resolution, it would be to do a pullup. Just one pullup. But it’s not a New Year thing. I’ve wanted to do a pullup for a few years now, but was always a little afraid of it. Thanks CW, for convincing women that they can only do long hours on the elliptical and push around tiny weights. I ended up following the Primal Blueprint randomly.… Read more »
paleo_piper
6 years 8 months ago
Right on, Mark. I know at least half a dozen people this year who have told me they want to lose a ton of weight by February 1st. They’re still focusing on the scale as a measure of their body composition. Sad to say they are setting themselves up for disappointment. Sure, they can lose the weight, but they will regain it all and they’ll regain most of the weight they lost as body fat because they lose muscle. I’d much rather lose 10lbs of pure body fat even if it takes me all year to lose it. That’s my… Read more »
Tanner @LifeDestiny.net
6 years 8 months ago

Well said Mark!

“”What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”
Zig Ziglar

Janice H
Janice H
6 years 8 months ago
My goal is to get back on track with paleo eating. I know what to do so just do it. The one thing I’m changing is I’m not weighing myself. I think it distracts me from my goal of being healthy to one of being thinner. Every day now I wake up and look in the mirror and think “do I look healthier” and how do my clothes feel. The last time I started this I would weigh myself and if I didn’t lose I thought I was doing something wrong. But this time my goal is to do it… Read more »
Adam
Adam
6 years 8 months ago

Stop the carbs…

Mark Tyrrell
6 years 8 months ago

Excellent phrase: “the journey is the destination” Too many people set themselves up for disillusionment by visualizing the end results but not the steps to get there. And anyway there are no “end results” just as you say the progress of the journey

Happy New Year : )

Jakub Jurkiewicz
6 years 8 months ago

What a great post for the beginning of new year! Thanks Mark!

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[…] into managable tasks will be less daunting and you’ll be more likely to follow through.  This blog has a good take on resolutions:  Focus on the journey, not the […]

Donna
Donna
6 years 8 months ago

I believe the reason some people don’t make a new years resolution is because of commitment. Well, i’ve been in a “yo-yo” situation trying to help a dear friend struggling to lose much weight…she has good days/bad days. Well, past 2 months it’s been more stable in accomplishment so far. This Year my friend and i are commited together for her weight loss. I’ll exercise with her and guide her to better health “daily.” I want to make it my goal to help her reach her goal to lose her weight, look better and feel better!!

Kishore
Kishore
6 years 8 months ago

Don’t forget the 80/20 or 90/10 rule either. You can do the right things MOST of the time with some cheat meals and still do much better than most, pardon my French, fat cows on the treadmill.

Donna
Donna
6 years 8 months ago

It’s my new years resolution to help her with her new years resolution every step of the way for success. It’s always easier if there’s someone to keep you encouraged, teamwork is a big plus!!

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[…] Check out this site for all kinds or healthy living tips ” Marks Daily Apple“. […]

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[…] Focus on the journey at hand and you just might find those resolutions will come true. […]

Jonna
Jonna
6 years 8 months ago

HA! Yes, I have been fighting the hoardes of resolvers at the gym. Every year it’ s the same thing. You can spot them a mile away. It’s insane and driving me a bit crazy! Part of me wants to just tell them to give up now, go back to their unhealthful lifestyles and let the rest of us that come to the gym all the time have our machines back!!!! It would save all of us alot of headaches in the long run..

Donna
Donna
6 years 8 months ago

I could NEVER tell someone who’s needing to exercise to lose weight and be healthier “TO” give up! Instead, i’ll encourage those “DON’T” give up because Winners Never Quit and Quitters Never Win! They have to keep trying to succeed and some need our help to do it, anybody can make changes. It’s amazing what happens when someone is encourged!!!

Kapo
Kapo
6 years 8 months ago

I’m resolving to quit the after effects of quitting smoking. The ten lbs., the occasional craving, the rare self-pity. I resolve to wake up whenever I feel aversion. Almost all aversions are conditioned, urgent, and completely thoughtless.

David Timbro
David Timbro
6 years 8 months ago
Great post Mark, I prefer the Goal setting approach myself. Resolutions not kept usually aren’t thought about tell next New Year’s again. With goals I can see/monitor my result make a change and move forward like,…well like a journey as you stated. A plane going to Hawaii is off course 90% of the time. The pilot makes small adjustment as he gets feed back from his instruments just like we can from how we feel, our energy level how are clothes fit, if we dropped some weight on the scale and many other ways. You’re totally right, you don’t just… Read more »
mike
mike
6 years 8 months ago

Luckily resolution people generally don’t take up space at the squat rack. Emiright?

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[…] as a whole these days; quick fixed, fast gains and the magic pill to solve it all.  I really like Mark’s recent write-up on NYR.  It’s directed towards health/fitness but I think it can be used […]

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[…] Dan John Seminar – Dominic Munnelly It’s a Journey, Not a Race – Mark Sisson Tony Interviews Colm after the September Invitational Register for […]

Aaron Curl
6 years 8 months ago

Good article. I don’t wait until new years to set goals. I already have several goals set and in motion. Slow and steady I will reach all of my goals! Makes it easier when you have great websites like this one! Keep up the good work Mark!

mikesnyhere
mikesnyhere
6 years 7 months ago
I quit smoking in 04,and gave up sodas to avoid wieght gain at the same time.in 6-7 weeks i had lost 16 lbs.i then cut out refined sugars mostly and kept losing.from 220 to 180 in about a year and mostly kept it off,up n down a few pounds.havnt seen my abs since 17 yrs old im 43 now.never excersize untill last couple weeks strengh and posture improved dramatically!,and along with the primal blueprint eating lifestyle im sure to see my abs again.thank you mark and worker bee!i am keeping workouts very mild i am absolutely amazed at how quickely… Read more »
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6 years 6 months ago

[…] Continue reading… […]

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[…] for visiting!There’s nothing like a receiving an email from a reader that chronicles their Primal journey. It makes my day. This one, from active forum member Timothy Williams, was sent in a couple months […]

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[…] principles described in The Primal Blueprint. Whatever the theme, though, one thing can be certain. Health is a journey. It has its ups and downs, struggles and achievements, moments of dramatic change, plateaus and […]

JC- FitMarker
6 years 1 month ago

Now that we’re more than halfway through the year, I wonder how many here are still at it and which ones have fallen off the bandwagon!

Jeff
5 years 10 months ago

Learning to enjoy the journey was a big part for me. Not only in health, but other areas as well. It provides consistency, rather than random bursts.

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[…] space or joining a gym, changing schedules to allow for more sleep. For most of us, however, the journey takes on more personal dimensions. It’s about knowing yourself (which, for most of us, reveals […]

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[…] Check out this site for all kinds or healthy living tips ” Marks Daily Apple“. […]

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[…] It’s a Journey, Not a Race | Mark's Daily Apple Appropriate link for new years, and a funny line in first paragraph about farmers markets. lol. Previewing S+G, I'm going to try it but there are a lot of advanced moves. I will let ya know. Looks fun but hard. Breakie was peppers, tomatoes onions and eggs. […]

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