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How to Set Goals Like Katie Ledecky

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How to Set Goals Like Katie Ledecky

This past summer Katie Ledecky showed the world that she is better at swimming than the rest of us are at pretty much anything.

She thoroughly cleaned up in Rio, winning four gold medals—three of them individual—and a silver. Her 400 and 800m freestyle wins were devastating, with her margin of victory in the latter a staggering 11-plus seconds. She swept the 200-400-800m freestyles, something that hadn’t been done since 1968, displaying a once-in-a-generation range of speed and ability.

She’s now a two time Olympian, kicked an American Ninja Warrior’s butt at a made-up game on Ellen, and tossed a heater when she threw the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game.

And did we also mention that she’s only nineteen years old?

Here are some goal setting tips us mortals can pick up from the greatest active swimmer on the planet:

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Keep them visible.

Thinking and dreaming about our goals is easy. Everyone does that. If you are even mildly serious about crushing your goal, jotting it down and having it in sight is almost mandatory.

After all, something changes when you take literally five seconds to write down your goal. It becomes a little more real.

When Ledecky and her coach Bruce Gemmell sat down after the 2013 FINA World Championships, where she rocked the world records in the 800m and 1500m freestyles, they discussed what was possible over the next three years leading into Rio. They decided on two goal times: 3:56 for the 400m freestyle, and 8:05 for the 800m freestyle.

Even though they kept the goals to themselves as they prepared for the Olympics, the goals she had set were never far—she had written “565” to signify her two goal times on her pull buoy. Every day during her swimming workouts, during the long 8,000-9,000-yard training sessions with a nearly endless number of flip turns, those three little numbers were there waiting for her, motivating her, reminding her of the purpose of all the work.

And how did she do in Rio? She pretty much nailed her goals right over the head, swimming a 3:56.46 in the 400m freestyle, and 8:04.79 in the 800m freestyle.

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Be willing and ready to fail.

The word failure carries with it so much negative baggage that the moment we slip up, fail, or otherwise disappoint ourselves we quit. We tell ourselves, “Ah, we didn’t really want it that bad” and move on to the next thing, never giving our goals a fair and consistent effort.

Which is too bad, because without the ability to brave the initial hurdles and resistance we can never truly improve or advance towards the hard and rewarding things we want from life.

One of Ledecky’s strengths is her willingness to fail in practice, to see past the initial struggle and keep at it. In Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, her coach related just how serious Ledecky was when it came to being willing to fail:

“There are days she fails catastrophically,” he said. “She fails in practice more than anybody in her [training] group, because she’ll start out like, ‘This is the pace I need to swim in the race, so I need to replicate it in practice.’ And she’ll go six repeats like that, and the tank goes empty and she just falls off. But you know what? She’ll come back the next day and try it again. And on the third day, she’ll nail it. And she’s been doing this since the first day I walked on the deck with her.”

Nobody likes failing at something or not being good at something the first time out. Being willing to fail is not about getting comfortable losing or sucking—it’s using the rage and frustration from not nailing it the first time to get the hang of it in future attempts.

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Surround yourself with people who will bring out the best in you.

If you looked at the people you keep in your circle, would you say that they are inspiring bigger and better things out of you, or are they encouraging mediocrity and the status quo?

When you hang out with people who are doing the things you want to do it’s inevitable that their influence will help push and propel you upwards.

Ledecky, having outpaced the female swimmers on her team, trained predominantly with male swimmers in the lead up to Rio. During altitude camps at the United States Olympic Training Center, she would go head to head with male swimmers on the national team and routinely “break” them.

One of the male swimmers that Ledecky “broke” included Conor Dwyer, who is no slouch himself in the middle distance swimming events—he placed 4th in the 400m freestyle in Rio and won a bronze in the 200m freestyle.

By surrounding herself with swimmers who were faster than her she rode their wake towards faster swimming, elevating her to times and records that are so far and above the competition it’s ridiculous.

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Meet and Exceed Your Goals

Whatever your goals are—whether it be learning how to swim faster freestyle, or get that promotion at work, or get in better shape—there are lessons that the top swimmer on the planet can teach you.

Write out your goals and keep them in sight. Be ready to fight back against those first few moments of difficulty. And surround yourself with people who will push you upwards.

Featured photo credit: Flickr via flickr.com

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Last Updated on September 8, 2021

10 Fitness Excuses You Need to Stop Making Now

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10 Fitness Excuses You Need to Stop Making Now

“You can have results or excuses. Not both.” – Anonymous

Human beings tend to only ever do as much as they absolutely need to.

Motivational speakers call this innate trait laziness, biologists call it efficiency. Either way, the fact remains: we are evolutionary wired to minimize time and energy wherever possible.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing. If we weren’t wired this way, we probably wouldn’t have survived this long as a species.

Back in our caveman days, before supermarkets, calories were worth their weight in gold. For cavemen, trying to actively burn off calories would have spelled certain death.

In this light, our fitness excuses make total sense. Our reptilian brain comes up with believable sounding rationalizations to stop us from burning off our precious calories; to minimize time and energy.

Unfortunately, due to our present access to highly calorific foods, the fitness excuses that once ensured our survival, now send us to an early grave.

Below I’ve provided the 10 most common fitness excuses our reptilian minds trick us into believing and why, ultimately, they’re all nonsense.

1. I don’t have enough time.

This is probably the most common fitness excuse of them all.

First off, when you say you don’t have enough time, what you’re really saying is “I don’t have enough time for that”. 

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Do you really think that if you were to add up all the time you spend watching TV and surfing the web throughout the average week you couldn’t replace any of it with a workout?

A 30 minute workout takes up 2% of your day.

Don’t ask yourself how much time you’re going to waste by working out a few times a week. Ask yourself how much of your life you’re going to waste being unfit and overweight.

2. I’m way too tired to workout.

Your mind, when it comes to exercising, is like a spoiled child. If you give in to its demands without a fight, it will see weakness and prey on it often.

If you miss one planned session, you’re much more likely to miss the next. The biggest journey always starts with one step and the biggest failings always start with one step backwards.

You need to show your mind who’s boss. You won’t always have lots of energy when you go to the gym but that doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is showing up and giving it a shot.

If you’re too tired to workout, change your sleeping habits, not your workout habits.

3. But exercise is so boring!

You don’t want to exercise because it’s boring?

So you find brushing your teeth, taking showers, styling your hair and getting dressed highly entertaining? No. We do these things because we have to. We accept them as part of life.

The people who never miss a workout are the ones who view it just like brushing their teeth. Complaining about it is just pointless. To be successful sometimes you’ve got to do things that aren’t as fun as watching your favorite TV show. That’s just life.

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If don’t enjoy your workouts, you don’t stop working out, you just workout differently. Try crossfit, martial arts, hiking, body building, powerlifting, running, or swimming. Try music. Try anything, but keep showing up.

4. I have no motivation to workout.

If you think you need motivation to train you’re already half beat.

What you really need is meta motivation: the motivation to train even when you’re not motivated. If you rely on your feelings to decide whether to workout or not, you never will. As you know, your feelings are designed to keep you caged up in your comfort pit.  Your feelings want you to be safe, not successful.

That said, there is a trick you can use to get yourself motivated to workout, and it’s  backed up with research. It’s called ‘the few minutes’ principle.

The basic idea is that procrastinators often put off doing certain things because the size of the task in front of them seems too overwhelming. By deciding to just go to the gym for a ‘few minutes’ you’ll often see the workout through to completion.

Are you motivated enough to train for two minutes? That’s all you need.

5. I have kids to look after.

One day your kids might have someone to look after too: you.

Don’t burden them with an ill parent when they have their own kids to look after. And don’t be the kind of parent who tells their kids exercise is good for them but doesn’t follow their own advice. Kids are smarter than that.

If you’re really struggling with managing your fitness and your kids, combine the two. Find a field and play frisbee for a few hours, go swimming, take a walk around the lake and feed some ducks. There are so many fun and cheap ways to exercise with your kids, the only limits are your imagination.

You kids should be your biggest reason to exercise, not your biggest excuse.

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6. I don’t have anyone to train with.

What you’re really saying with this fitness excuse is that you don’t have anyone to talk with while you train. If you’re training properly, you won’t need to talk.

Don’t get me wrong, having a training partner is great but here’s what you’ve got to understand: most people first meet their training partners at the gym. The reason you probably don’t have anyone to train with is because you don’t have many friends who train. Like attracts like.

By becoming someone who regularly trains, you’ll start attracting people into your life who also value health and fitness. You have to earn your training partners, they don’t come free.

7. I don’t feel very well.

After you get into the habit of overriding your fitness excuses and working out regularly, the thought of missing a workout starts to drive you insane. When I broke my jaw in two places the doctors told me I couldn’t lift heavy weights for three months. What did I do? I lifted light weights instead. Train smart, not hard.

At some point in our lives we’ve all pretended to be ill so we could skip a day of school. Some of the better actors among us probably blurred the lines in their mind between real symptoms and those imagined. It’s easy to exaggerate things when it fits our agenda.

If you’re really sick, I don’t recommend you train. But feeling a bit tired or achy – that’s no reason to skip a workout.

8. The gym is too expensive or far.

If you think you need a gym to achieve your fitness goals, you’ve been seriously misled.

The world is your fitness playground. Ever watched a training scene from a Rocky movie? He chases chickens, runs up steps, punches meat, and chops wood. Many people cite these scenes as their favorite.  Something about training dirty and raw resonates deep within us.

There are whole fitness subcultures dedicated to working out outdoors, and without formal equipment. Ever heard of Calisthenics, Tai Chi, Yoga or Parkour? Look them up.

If you want to put on muscle, try some typical strongman training like chopping wood, flipping tires, lifting barrels. Remember, if it’s important enough to you, you’ll find a way. Arnold Schwarzenegger made his own gym equipment out of chairs and sticks for the first year he trained. He claims he gained 25 pounds of muscle from doing this.

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9. I don’t know how to train properly.

If you’re reading this article, you’re obviously more than capable of figuring this out. The internet is brimming with routines and training tips. This site alone will give you more than you need. Read these 10 tips for better workouts, perfect for beginners.

However, it’s important that you don’t get too engulfed in the theory of ‘training properly’. Like most things in life, you learn best on the job. Ask people in the gym to show you how to use proper technique, then practice through action.

People love giving out tips. You might even get a training partner out of it.

10. I feel intimidated by the fit people there.

This is normal and everyone has this when they first start out. The environment is new, everyone there looks like they know what they’re doing. You feel like you’re in someone else’s home.

The number one reason you feel intimidated when you go to the gym is because you don’t go enough! If you started going regularly you’d get used to the place, the people and your fitness would improve. Everyone knows training improves your confidence. Just stick with it. It’s something you’ll laugh at a few months down the line.

Anyone can get in great shape. Anyone can become fit. But very few people ever do because they give in to their natural inclination to minimize time and effort.

Stop making excuses and just stick with it for two months. After that you’ll be finding excuses to workout even when you do have important stuff to get on with.

Featured photo credit: United Artists, Chartoff-Winkler Productions via Rocky (1976)

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