It’s a Journey, Not a Race

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!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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50 thoughts on “It’s a Journey, Not a Race”

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  1. 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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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 went cold-turkey thanks to a very obvious sugar addiction. I’ve gone enough rounds with taking it out and failing that I know what to expect (withdrawal, delayed but inevitable weight loss and lots of energy!) Whenever I am tempted to eat something sugary, I think about the long-term ramifications. If my pants fit better, woohoo, but that’s just a side effect. No sugar means I will feel better and be in better control of hunger.

    Good luck to everyone out there! Focus on the journey!!

    1. 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.

  4. 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 wasn’t substituting fat with muscle because I wasn’t training hard enough).

    I’m now focussing on being as Grok as possible for life. That way the race only ends when I get eaten by a lion or there’s another meteor strike or I find a bear in my cave or…

    1. 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 🙂

    2. 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

  5. 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 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…

  6. 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.

    1. Add a third nod.

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

  7. 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.

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

  9. 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 want to know your “WHY.” Your “WHY” is the reason behind whether you succeed or fail any weight loss efforts. Let’s use “Mary as an Example:

    “I want to lose 30 lbs.,” says Mary.

    OK, Mary, why?

    “I want to lose 30 lbs. because I want to look better.”

    OK, Mary, why?

    “Well, if I don’t look better, then I won’t feel better about myself.”

    OK, Mary, we’re getting closer… But didn’t you gain weight last year and you took a little off, but now you’re back to that weight again or perhaps a little heavier. What will make it different this time?

    “I’ll have my friends support me this time.”

    Uh, but didn’t they support you last year? And then when you fell off the wagon, because they were your friends, they gently let you down so you didn’t feel uncomfortable about gaining weight, didn’t they?

    “Uh, yeah.”

    This time, Mary, and all others out there, figure out your real WHY for losing weight. Make it uncomfortable on yourself. Play it out – what will happen if you continue to gain weight? What do you stand to lose? Your health suffers. You could lose yourself in a never ending cycle of comparing yourself to others who are in shape. But let’s not worry about that – let’s just focus on you – and your health. Many studies show that weight gain leads to obesity which leads to diabetes which leads to the dependence of insulin to counteract your blood sugar – and that could lead to death. Uh, I mean earlier death, because diabetes will shorten your life expectancy by at least 7 years.

    My grandfather died from heart disease and diabetes. I’d give anything to have had seven extra years with him. If you’re a parent – and overweight – your actions could lead to taking away seven years from your life and indirectly from those around you that you “love.”

    Is your WHY becoming clearer?

    Weight loss can be hard. Just ask the former Biggest Loser champ who lost close to 200 lbs. and then as recent as this week gained most of it back. Food can be an addiction, just like alcohol or drugs, until you step back and realize what it is doing to you and your family or friends. This is no time to beat yourself up, but it is not time to make a resolution. It’s time to start a journey. Enjoy the scenery along the way. And guaranteed, you’ll never look back – except to check out those BEFORE pics!

    1. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!!

  12. 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.

  13. 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)

  14. 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 lifestyle vs. temporary commitment thing – the difference between the PB and what most people think of when they hear the word ‘diet.’ So it’s not likely that I’ll abandon them all midway through February.

  15. 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 as well.
    Since finding his program and executing it (Monthly goals in 6 areas of life) I’ve found that I can achieve more in a month, through goal setting and acheiving, than 80% (+) of the population who make New Years Resolutions.
    So although I did set “New Years Resolutions”, they are for the first month of the year, and each month there after will have new goals. Much more achievable that way. And when you achieve your goals, you tend to set more and accomplish those too… it’s a snowball effect.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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 have to realize that they failed at it).
    Last month I was reading James Allen’s book “Above Life’s Turmoil” and he dedicates a chapter to resolutions (chapter 16). It really opened my and gave me a clear understanding of what it means to make a resolution. James Allen literature is not some flashy motivational pep-talk, but rather he speaks with clarity and simplicity.

    Here is the Free James Allen Library online. Check it out!!!

  19. 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, strength, conviction, and above all, consistency.

    Here’s to a healthy 2010…


    1. 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.

  20. 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 reminder… a painful ugly reminder.

    I guess why it resounded was that I chose to start easing more Primal (I’d already all but given up bread) starting on January 1. And today I learned a valuable lesson – I should have made the choice to IF til dinner rather than eat the junk. It’s a learning process and I’m a bit further on my journey than I was this morning before I left home.

  21. 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 to slack line two years ago, walking on my hands can’t be any harder than that. My goals and the process of achieving them are satisfying to me. I think a lot of it is the pattern set with previous goals. Humans fall into patterns. By setting small, attainable goals first we can set ourselves up for success and build a pattern of that. Good coaches and teachers all know about making the conditions right for success and creating scaffolds to boost up their students/athletes. My best coach believed I could do more than I thought I could, but he never told me I could do something that I couldn’t. So much of it is mental. Convince yourself you can.

  22. 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. I wasn’t looking to lose weight or get healthier or anything — I was happy with my weight and thought I was pretty healthy. I actually heard of the Paleo Diet while looking up a jump rope routine, checked it out, found some websites, read some stuff, and changed my life practically the next day. I fall off the horse plenty of times, but then I just get back on and keep going. Isn’t that how it should be?

  23. 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 non-resolution goal.

  24. 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 for health and hopefully get off the BP meds I am on.

  25. 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 : )

  26. 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!!

    1. 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.

      1. 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!!

  27. 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..

  28. 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!!!

  29. 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.

  30. 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 set goals and bang you’re a new person it’s all about being a little bit better than you used to be day by day.


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

  32. 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!

  33. I quit smoking in 04,and gave up sodas to avoid wieght gain at the same 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 our bodies responde to diet and excorsize. thank you again mikesny.

  34. 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!

  35. 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.

  36. Yes, taking on too much will cause you to fail. Starting with small achievable goals will help you rocket to your fitness goals.