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The Importance of Setting Realistic Goals.

How to make the Bell Curve work for you!

Posted by jmboiardi - December 16th, 2013

We have all read many inspirational stories from fellow Hermanites and seen the motivational work Scott Herman does with the SHF community and the SHF website.   Many people have accomplished some amazing things and I applaud each and every one of them for their hard work and dedication. But what is it that makes some people succeed and others fail? Why does it have to be so hard to achieve a fitness goal or change your physique? It comes down to one basic principle of motivation and drive – setting realistic goals. This is especially true when you want to accomplish your fitness and/or physique goals NATURALLY. This article combines some science with a lot of pure individual mindset and will power to help you set your goals and execute on them.

First the science:

We are all familiar in some way, shape, or form with the concept of the Bell Curve.

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A Bell Curve basically illustrates that if you examine a statistically relevant sample size, there will be a distribution similar to the picture above – the majority or the “average” will aggregate towards the center of the curve and the “extremes” or “deviations” from the average (either high or low) will aggregate towards the ends. This can be applied to most anything: grades, body fat levels, fitness levels, weight loss, etc. It is important you remember this concept as you continue to read this article and think about my postulation for motivational success.

Human beings are goal-oriented organisms. We need some sense of direction and a path to get there. This is the most important aspect as to the outcome of your fitness or physique endeavor as this is 100% dependent on the individual and their mindset – not science, not drugs, not anything else. Many people describe what keeps them motivated as things like “seeing the results” or based on how they feel in their clothes or what their friends and family say. These are all excellent feedback mechanisms to keep one motivated. But it is important that one must set realistic goals to start or their path will be a journey of disillusionment and frustration. As Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character famously said, “A man needs to know his limitations.” How do I set realistic goals? Think back to the Bell Curve. If you set a goal against the general population, then your results will fall somewhere on this curve. Let me give you an example: Let’s say one sets a goal that they want to look like a fitness model. Fitness models have very low body fat (9% and lower) and well-defined and built physiques. Now the general population (the average individual and the fitness model are all members of the general population) will fall somewhere on the bell curve. Where you fall is determined by genetics and personal drive. Personal drive you control but genetics you don’t. Most people can get a good indicator of where they would fall based on their current and past body fat levels, familial traits (genetics), muscle size and shape, and their body’s reaction to weightlifting. People who train naturally and achieve a fitness model type physique are the exception to the rule and would fall to the extreme right of the bell curve. This means that the vast majority of the general population can never reach this goal no matter how hard they try, even if they use drugs or other non-natural methods, because the genetic lottery is just not in their favor. Thus a select few will reach their goal and the majority either will not achieve it or try resorting to non-natural means to try to “beat” genetics. Either way, this leads to frustration and unhealthy actions.

So how do I put the odds more in my favor to meet my goals? It comes down to your personal mindset and the drive you have to achieve them.

Take a look at the bell curve derived chart for body fat.

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As you can see, natural body fat achievement is highly dependent on age and gender (this chart is for males but there is a corresponding one for females). I keep emphasizing “natural” because the human body has a set safety threshold of body fat level that it will never go below no matter how hard you try. This bottom line threshold is different for everyone but it usually stops at around 4%. For the few genetically gifted individuals, this is easy to achieve. For others not so lucky, they will need to resort to drugs to overcome this limit regardless of the harm they do in the process. “Ideal” and “Average” would form the center of the bell curve and “Lean” and “Overfat” would be the extremes at the edge.

So back to the original question - how can you put the odds in your favor to meet your goals? Say you are a 40-year-old male with 26% body fat whose goal is to lose some weight and improve your physique thru lower body fat. You guesstimate from your current and past body state as well as your familial traits (genetics) that you are probably in the “Average” category – and the chart above would confirm your guess. This means that if you achieve a body fat reading lower than 26% but higher than or equal to 15% you have achieved your goal - if you set this realistic goal in relation to your “peers” rather than the general population. How much of the goal in the range of 26%-15% is totally up to you and your drive. In this example, I define “peers” as people of the same age and gender and of the same relative fitness level, weight and body fat levels. Therefore in this example, the extreme end of this realistic goal is 15% body fat.

However, if you compare it to what is considered fitness model level body fat (under 10%) in the general population your 15% doesn’t “feel” as good motivationally and you may feel as if you failed. You then may say “But wait, the chart shows that a 40 year old male can get as low as 6% body fat which is fitness model level so my 15% is no good.” One must remember, however, that this level is achievable by a very small fraction of the general population if you remember how the bell curve works. Therefore, by framing your results in what is realistically achievable for you and your peers the 15% body fat you achieved is fantastic and you succeeded.

The bottom line is this. You will always achieve your goals if you set realistic expectations and have unflappable determination. This is 100% dependent on the individual and their mindset. There are people out there whose attitude and will is stronger than the average person and what any bell curve will show and they more often than not attain their goals. The smart ones are the ones who combine this drive with reality.

In closing, I will leave you with one last thought on how to make the bell curve work for you. Try applying the bell curve mentality to your goals that you wish to undertake: Set a goal and ask yourself will I be the person to the left of the curve who has no will and determination to try or succeed? Will I be the person at the center who will give it a try and see some success but will be easily discouraged or frustrated? Or will I be the person at the extreme right - the person who trains and attacks their goals #HTH style and succeeds? If you choose to be the latter, than you will always be in the top extreme of the “motivational bell curve” – you in essence will never be “Average” and will always succeed by becoming the best you can be.

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Great article John, and 100% spot on! Am just getting around to reading a lot of articles on the SH site so hadn't seen this one before. With so many motivated and disciplined individuals on SH I am sure a lot of people can relate to this.

In my case, one example that comes to mind is that when 2 1/2 years ago I decided to get myself properly back into shape, I knew that whatever ftness routines I chose had to fit into my lifestyle, and less the other way round. That meant working out at home (did not want to be in a gym away from the kids/family (would rather work out with them in fact!), and doing things which could come with me when I travel, which I do a lot of. Hence bodyweight/TRX/skipping, especially in hotel rooms or site accomodation when on the road. I am sure this "realistic goal" is one reason I still do what I do. I can break out into a workout of some sort pretty much anywhere.

jmboiardi  Edit  Delete  Close

Excellent. Glad the article had value for you Mike