In the last 9 months during COVID-19, I was insanely unhealthy.
Before then, I had been exercising regularly through my routine of running and cycling. And I enjoyed getting out for both fresh air and sweat. But ever since COVID-19 became a pandemic, and our team moved to working from home, then my wife became pregnant, suddenly I found myself spending the majority of my time at home.
I was running an investor-backed startup called Toasty as the CEO, and there was tremendous pressure on me to make it work. “Giving the best I can” was my mantra at that time, which meant sacrificing other things in order to give everything I had to Toasty.
I was unhealthy because I stopped going outside to exercise, fearing that I could expose myself to COVID-19 and affect my pregnant wife. But more importantly, I started dwelling on my work at Toasty and I worked from 7am to 11pm 3 days a week. I was “in the zone”. I made Toasty the highest priority and decided to defer other things. With the amount of pressure, I also ate and drank a lot to ease my stress, completely breaking my calorie quota each day. And because of that, I also became lazier to exercise.
Then one day, I put on an old t-shirt and headed out. In the elevator, I looked into the mirror and couldn’t help to shout in my mind “What happened to me?” My belly was unbearable! I knew I was becoming a father, but that didn’t mean I had to pick up a dadbod. I was embarrassed by myself and I knew I had to make a change.
I then embarked on a 14 days challenge to put my belly back in shape. I didn’t know if 14 days would be enough to see a drastic body change, but it was a timeframe that I could comfortably accept. I also didn’t want a trainer or coach, I knew I could do this myself. So in this period, I focused on 4 things:
- Running - I had been a runner and I knew cardio was important to get the body going
- Pumping HIIT - the best way to lose fat
- Eating clean - a proper diet was equally important to all the exercises
- Adding protein - a high protein intake can boost my metabolism, which means burning more calories
My belly went from 87cm to 82cm in 4 weeks, and then to 80cm in 2 more weeks. A 9% reduction.
My bodyweight went from 154 lbs to 149 lbs. A mere 3.2% lighter, that’s perfect as I didn’t want to lose too much weight.
14 days turned into 6 weeks, and it is still going today. The success of the past 6 weeks made me realize the power of goal-setting, progression, and motivation. And I started thinking about why it went so well.
I decided to answer some of my inner questions:
- How did a 14 days challenge turn into a 6 weeks thing and it is still going on in my life right now?
- What were the key ingredients or secret formulas that made it relatively easy to achieve my goal?
- What was different about this challenge vs my previous set goals?
Let’s take a look at what I did in the last 6 weeks compared to the first 9 months of 2020. This is my running calendar on Strava.
From Jan to Sep, on average I ran less than 2 hours a month, and I rarely did any exercise other than running.
Starting from mid-Oct, I’ve boosted up to at least 10-13 hours of running in a month.
I also started following some Youtube videos for 20-min HIIT, I did it on average 4-5 times a week. This meant for at least half the week, I ran and did HIIT on the same day!
Eating wise, I ordered calorie-controlled meal plans so that I could burn more than I took in each day.
Most importantly, I put up a piece of paper and recorded my weight and waist every morning. I forgot to do so on some days. And as you can see, I was drunk one day (lol) so I didn’t manage to exercise.
Why did it work? The 5 magical ingredients.
1. I gave myself an achievable timeframe
14 days is a great length to push for change. It is long enough to develop habits and routines, yet it is short enough for me to see the finish line. It is important for me to know that there is an end to this.
2. I wasn’t thinking about my end goal
My end goal was to lose my big belly. But to focus on that wasn’t going to get me there, so I didn’t think about it at all.
Instead, every day I woke up, I was thinking about going for a run, doing a 20-min HIIT, and what I was going to eat. These things were top of my mind, not my end goal which was out of my control.
3. I made this top of my mind
I was so embarrassed about my belly that this whole challenge became top of my mind during this period. Every day I was thinking about it, doing it, and observing results.
I was immersed into the experience. And I was having fun.
4. I measured daily progress
As you can see at the sheet above, I recorded my bodyweight and waist on a piece of paper first thing every morning.
This was not a pure tracking system. This was a mental system.
When this was the first thing I did every morning, I was drawn to being impressed by myself by my consistency and perseverance, and I got even more excited.
5. I bragged about myself
The best of all five. Bragging was a big motivation. In other words, I called it “celebrating small wins”.
As I pushed for these 7am runs and seemingly disgusting meals, I had people around me wondering how I did that. And with results coming in, I got to show off to families/friends about the tremendous progress I was making.
What role did my mind play in all these?
When I internalized the 5 points above, even though they mapped to a fitness goal in this case, the same formula could be applied to all sorts of goal setting.
I’m sure a lot of you reading this will now go “This is just like other frameworks I’ve tried before, but they never worked.”
You’re right, it is similar to say SMART Goals. But here I want you to realize one thing, the 5 ingredients are all pointing at one critical factor in achieving my goal: my mind.
You can see that everything I did here was directing my mind to the right mindset by setting up the appropriate cues.
For example, I set 14 days to tell my mind that it was short and I could easily do it. Or I told my mind to not think about things I couldn’t control. Or I forced my mind to look at progress on a piece of paper every day. Or I bragged to make my mind feel good.
What I realized from these 6 weeks was that developing habits and routines weren’t enough because, without goals, they didn’t mean anything. When my belly got down to 80cm, I lost about 40% of the motivation to get myself out of bed to run. I needed a new goal when the last goal is achieved.
So the formula works only if we keep setting short-term goals using the 5 ingredients and keep repeating.
I also learned that a lot about achieving goals comes down to how you engineer the small details to cue your own mind. With the right cue, you do the right things. When you do the right things, you make things happen in your control. When you make enough of these things happen, your ultimate goal is achieved.
I wouldn’t overwhelm myself with too many short-term goals at the same time, because I think it is just impossible to have so many “top of minds”. To me, combining career goals, fitness goals, family goals, and mental goals, having 4 at the same time is the limit. Of course, as we practice, we might be able to increase that number.
And why did goal setting fail for me previously?
I’ve set many goals for myself in my life. Some I achieved, and some I failed. I used to love putting up my new year solutions on my blog, so let’s take a look at what I set in the past years.
These are my goals for 2019, and looking back, they’re large and vague goals, they’re things I couldn’t control. And you bet it, it was out of my mind after about a week into 2019.
Going forward, I will abandon the whole concept of new year resolutions. Instead, I will give myself loads of 14 days challenges in different areas of my life, achieve them, and celebrate small wins.
You can get an easy start now
The challenge for you right now is that you understand you have to guide your mind when you set new goals, but to apply a model like this seems like a lot of work, and you don’t know where to start.
Just like starting anything new, I recommend starting small and then celebrating it soon.
The goal here is to have a successful story about achieving a goal in 14 days. Once you get there, then you’ll naturally expand in your own ways.
To get you started, I have this framework set up so you can clone the Google Sheet for free here.
Download: Click Here
Fill this in, and get started today.
I can guarantee you that something good is going to come out after these 14 days.
If you would like a second pair of eyes to look through what you have noted down, I’d be happy to review and give you some feedback. Just hit me up on this Twitter thread and we can connect and chat!