Motivation, part 2: Goals and Sacrifice


2014 – late January through late May

Like many people, I have a problem with my weight. I’m not what you would call fat, but my favorite outdoor activities have always involved fighting gravity: rock climbing, hiking up mountains, cycling up hills.

So weight has always been a consideration, but I also enjoy food and drink. And I snack too much. For the last two decades I’ve put on weight every winter when it’s easy to eat and drink and it’s difficult to get enough exercise to burn the calories.

But I’ve always wanted to be fit and strong in June. That’s when the great weeklong cycling events of Ride the Rockies and Bicycle Tour of Colorado are held. For many years I had the goal of losing weight by the time the Bicycle Tour of Colorado began. But that’s a lie – I never really had the goal of losing weight. I had the goal of riding strongly on the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. It was the goal of wanting to ride well that motivated me to lose weight. (And to track my weight as part of the process of losing it. As Peter Drucker supposedly said, “What gets measured gets managed”.)


2015 – Early December 2014 through early May 2015

This year (2015) I didn’t sign up for Bicycle Tour of Colorado. Instead, Tanya and I decided to go to New Zealand for 3 months to cycle and hike. But that left me without a goal, and the lack of a goal left me with no desire to suffer the pain of food and drink deprivation.

The first part of the chart on the left shows the two months before we left for New Zealand. The big erratic swings are a result of unsuccessfully trying the 5:2 diet (more on that below.)

The straight line is the time we were in New Zealand, when I didn’t measure my weight. The final horrifying data point is from when we got back to Tucson and I could finally use the scale I’ve always used. What happened in New Zealand? I ate well – which included snacking between meals and eating chocolate after every evening meal. And I didn’t do enough long rides and hikes to burn the calories. Despite what you might have read about all calories not being equal, it really does boil down to calories in vs. calories out. And most exercise simply doesn’t burn enough calories, so weight control is really a question of food control.

To digress briefly, I graduated from university summa cum laude in Mathematics. I didn’t do it by being super smart, but by hard work. When I was at university, the entire degree depended on one week of exams at the end of the final year. For several months before the exams, I went through every past exam paper I could find. I did every question on every paper, and when I didn’t know how to do it – which was quite often – I went and talked with the appropriate professor. Studying mathematics and working through exam papers became my life. Nothing else was important.

What was the point of this digression? Despite all the attention I paid to mathematics, the biggest lesson I learned from university was that I could accomplish anything I wanted – if I wanted it enough. And wanting it enough meant being willing to deprive myself of all the other things I would like to have done.

That’s why my 2015 weight chart goes in the wrong direction – I didn’t have a goal that drove me, so I didn’t want the weight loss enough to give up the eating, drinking, snacking, and eating chocolate. I had no goal that made pain and sacrifice worthwhile.

It’s not enough to have a goal; one must also be willing to let go of conflicting wants. As David Wong puts it, “If you want to become a different person, part of it is deciding which parts of you need to die.” Or, as Mark Manson says, “What we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.”

Do you have any goals that you are not making progress towards because you can’t let go of some other desire or can’t tolerate some particular discomfort?

Links and Other Clicks

Mark Manson and David Wong both have wonderful articles about the cost of accomplishing goals or meeting wants. Manson’s article, The Most Important Question of Your Life, asks what pain you are willing to endure. Wong’s article, 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Own Life, is worth reading in its entirety, but #4, Not Thinking About What Part of You Will Die, talks about the costs.

The 5:2 diet was recommended to me by my friend Bernard Bom who follows it successfully. It’s basically very simple. Two non-consecutive days a week you eat only 600 calories (500 for women). The other days you eat normally. After reaching his target weight, Bernard changed to a 6:1 diet. When I tried it, I didn’t eat normally on the other days; instead I tended to overindulge, as if I’d earned the right to eat more than usual. I’ll try it again sometime 🙂

Ride the Rockies and Bicycle Tour of Colorado – two beautiful rides in the heart of the Rockies. I’ve done one or the other (and twice both) for almost 20 years, and the week of riding is always one of the best weeks of my year. Ride, eat, drink, sleep; repeat. Absolutely wonderful.

This entry was posted in Habits, Measurement. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Motivation, part 2: Goals and Sacrifice

  1. Pam Roberts says:

    Well, I think one of the factors you are leaving out is age, unfortunately! Our metabolisms DO slow down…not to say you can’t still do the “calories in, calories out” thing….but getting them out requires more work than before. I think also with age comes the dilution of the motivation you speak of….when we were young, we couldn’t afford the good food and drink we can now, and so we partake more. I LIKE going out…it gets me out of the house, with friends……..and of course, I bring in more calories because it’s harder to control them in a restaurant situation. Jack was nearly 60 when he died….his weight had slowly crept up over the years, and yet, he still put in grueling gazillion hour days of “exercise”…sometimes as part of a climbing day, sometimes more regimented. For me, my weight is pretty much the same it’s been for years……..but right now at age 55, I feel much less “bikini ready” than ever before. I am less solid, a bit squishier in the middle……and also, I am less interested in denying myself the simple pleasures of food and drink! I find it interesting sort of straddling two sport cultures. As I climber, I totally understand the need for strength vs. weight…..and I see the young hardbodies at the gym, and am envious…..I know I’ll never return to that state again at this point in my life. But when I go to the beach, and am around surfers………..few but the most dedicated really care about being “honed” like climbers. In fact, most surfers of my/our age are a bit on the softer side……but somehow, they carry it differently, and so it looks fine, and doesn’t seem to impede their prowess. And I envy them their mid-day party-lunches………pot-luck affairs on a weekend, food that would make any Boulder climber’s hair stand on end. And yet they smile, laugh, console each other through hardships and celebrate small victories just like we do….just with a few extra pounds! 🙂
    I must say though, I look forward to the end of the school year (one week), and perhaps the end of this incessant rain, when I can ride my bike everywhere instead of drive, and enjoy the fact that my added “padding” is melting away without real sacrifice………..good luck!!! 🙂


    • Alec Sharp says:

      You are completely right Pam, motivation is more difficult as we get older, and it’s harder to resist the pleasures of good food, drink and friends. I know I’ll never have the motivation and discipline to be a great cyclist, but I do enjoy being able to keep up with my friends, which is one reason I worry about my weight!


  2. 5:2 didn’t do anything for me. I did it for 3 months and lost 1 pound.


  3. Marcus says:

    I really enjoyed the two linked articles, thanks.

    Re the 5:2 Diet, I first came across it in the context of longevity (from Michael Mosley’s excellent UK TV shows), with its (possible) link to IGF1 levels, and I continue to think of it more in that context. The 5:2 plan itself was a non starter for me as an abstainer rather than a moderator (indeed I recall you’re an abstainer too Alex, so am wondering how you managed with the moderation required on the “2” days?). However I have (and am) successfully using other intermittent fasting strategies both for weight management, hormesis and hopefully for long term health.

    Indeed I would suggest that that last motivator is one that we can tap into more as we age and the effects of aging (and athletic wear and tear) become more apparent. I want to keep driving my weight lower not because I want a beach body, but because I want to continue to be able to ride my bike up mountains at 80.


  4. Kevin says:

    It’s a rainy day, so I’m catching up with your blog. Since my retirement 7/31, I’ve lost about 10 pounds without a goal, just a general intention. Sure, only 3 months, but decent progress. I’ve also been walking daily. Not sure I could call it an obsession, and I’ve not formally tracked it. The only days I’ve missed have involved all-day airline travel and intense work in the garden that would suitably substitute for the exercise. Typically at least 1 hour (2.5-3 miles), but sometimes more and sometimes less. I feel great, but there’s less time for other things. Nonetheless, I don’t care. I just keep walking.


    • Alec Sharp says:

      Congratulations Kevin. 10 pounds is fantastic! And so is walking every day. I try to either cycle or walk every day, but don’t try very hard, and thus don’t do it every day 😦


  5. Kevin says:

    That you would be obsessed with weight is laughable. But, you’ve only got one data point after returning to Tucson, but your day-to-day variance is more like 5 pounds. So if that one data point is at the high end — which is likely if measured just after flying home with extra meals, extra liquids, etc. — that means you gained only an average of 2 to 3 pounds.

    Oh, yes, you obsess, so that might be meaningful!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s