The Science I Use To Achieve My Goals; Leading and Lagging Indicators

I don’t give unsolicited advice. I just share my stories and talk about things that have worked for me.

Today is June 12, 2022. Back at the beginning of March, I wanted to show my team how to use and the importance of Leading and Lagging Indicators to achieve goals. So, what’s a leading and lagging indicator?

I once heard leading and lagging indicators explained by saying a leading indicator is looking out the windshield, and a lagging indicator is looking in the rearview mirror. Since I’m talking about losing weight in this example, a leading indicator is what you are doing to make something happen in the future. For example, measuring the number of calories I eat is a leading indicator as is measuring the number of hours I exercise. A lagging Indicator is something that you measure after the fact. In this example, it would be my weight loss which was caused by eating few calories and exercising more. Another example is, say I am trying to sell a product. In this case, the number of sales calls I make as a salesperson would be a leading indicator and the number of sales I actually made would be a lagging indicator. Make sense?

My goal is to achieve a weight of 220 pounds in 14 weeks. My starting weight was 247.8 pounds. When I started this challenge, I made the decision to track 4 Leading Indicators and 1 Lagging Indicator. The 4 Leading Indicators were whether I stayed under 1250 calories for the day, and also the three types of exercise I regularly do, lifting weights, yoga, and cardio. My Lagging Indicator was of course my weight.

For exercise, I set a weekly goal to lift weights 3 times, do Yoga 3 times, and then do 4 hours of cardio. Total those three up and you get 10 total exercise events each week. Multiply that out by 14 weeks and you get 140 exercise events in total for the entire challenge. Knowing that there would be times I might miss my workouts, I decided that if over the 14-week period I could achieve 85% of this goal, in other words, work out a total of 119 times, I should be good to reach my goal. As for consuming less than 1250 calories per day, I decided that I was going to need to hit this goal 90% of the time. Over the 14-week period, this means that on 88 of the 98 total days, I would need to stay under the 1250 daily calorie target.

I made a simple spreadsheet to track and record my daily stats. I printed out the spreadsheet and put it on a clipboard in my kitchen in a very visible place.

Each morning, I would wake up and weigh myself. I would then trot down to the kitchen and record that day’s weight along with the prior day’s results on exercise and calories. Over the 14-week period of this effort, I only missed recording my daily information a couple of times, and that was because I was out of town. At the end of each week, I would transfer the information I had recorded over to the spreadsheet I originally built. Once there, I would add up the totals and see how I was doing at hitting the overall exercise and caloric intake goals. I will explain in a moment why this daily exercise of recording my stats was so important, but first I want to talk about something else.

I have a friend named Miles that’s a doctor. I told him about the paper and clipboard tracking method that I was doing. He suggested I should keep my stats in an app on my phone. He said there are lots of apps that are made for just this reason, and it can track way more things than I am tracking. I told him this sounds good, but if I’m going to honor my commitment and achieve my goals, I have found that my chances of success are directly linked to keeping things simple and making the invisible, visible. First, I know what It takes to lose and keep off weight. 10-years ago I weighed 360-pounds. Because of my experience, I know that focusing on calories and exercise will deliver results. Next, putting my stats into an app on my phone would lead to invisibility. Having that daily tracker right there on my kitchen counter was a big accountability driver. There was no getting away from it. After all, the biggest problem when trying to lose weight is food, so the kitchen is the best place to put something like this.

Let’s get back to leading and lagging indicators.

As I mentioned above, I am measuring 5 different areas. I have 4 leading indicators and 1 is a lagging indicator. Just to make sure you are crystal clear on leading and lagging indicators, I want to explain it again and this time do it a bit differently. It’s that important. A leading indicator is usually about an action or activity that you are going to have to take in order to make something happen in the future. A lagging indicator is usually a RESULT of an action or actions you have taken in the past.

AS I said, my weight loss plan is set to take 14-weeks and deliver a 28-pound loss. I arrived at 14-weeks because I know that I can safely lose weight at a rate of about 2-pounds per week. What if I didn’t already know that I lose weight at about 2-pounds per week? Then it would be even MORE critical that I track my activity using leading and lagging indicators because if my plan was not delivering my desired result I would know, and I could amend my plan after about a month. Make sense?

So, what are the other reasons to use leading and lagging indicators? I will run through these quickly.

You eat an elephant one bite at a time. If you’ve got a big goal, it can seem overwhelming, and sometimes that leads to abandoning the goal. The best way to tackle a big goal is to break it down into bite-size pieces. When I climb a mountain, I climb it one section at a time. Same thing with endurance races or big tasks at work. Break it down. The smaller the better. Psychologically, it will make all the difference in the world. Next, when you are keeping score it allows you to pretend you are playing a game. The human mind loves to play games. Don’t believe me? One word, Wordle. When you gamify a process like this it adds fun and challenge. The last reason to use leading and lagging indicators is that you will be able to track progress. Seeing progress gives us the will and discipline to continue. I get frustrated when I feel I am not making progress. Let’s say the only thing I was doing in my effort to lose weight was eating better and then stepping on the scales every week or so. As you will see when we look at my daily and weekly weight loss totals, my progress was slow. In fact, it really didn’t even change that much month to month. What kept me going was knowing that although the weight loss was slow, I was making progress on my leading indicators. Because I knew that doing the work would eventually get me to where I wanted to be, all I needed to do was stick with the plan and give it time. One more thing on breaking big challenges down into smaller parts. There were days and weeks when my efforts fell short. When that happened, the loss did not feel so great. So, okay, I messed up and overate. That’s okay. I failed to play today’s game, but I have another game coming up tomorrow and I’m committed to winning that one.

Relentless Forward Progress or RFP. Why’s it so important for me to see forward progress? When I see and feel forward progress it strengthens my belief, hope, and motivation. It also strengthens my discipline. Why’s that? I think this experiment will show you that answer and the important role that Belief and Hope play in surviving.

An experiment was done with rats. They took the rats and put them in a glass beaker that was half-filled with water. They timed how long on average each rat would swim before it drowned. On average, a rat would swim about 15 minutes before drowning. They then changed things up a bit. What they changed was they would put the rat in the water and watch it. When the rat had reached its limit and was just about to give up and drown, they would pull the rat out of the water, dry it off, give it some food, give it time to catch its breath, and then put it right back into the water in the beaker. What happened next was beyond belief. The rat started swimming again and continued to swim. Now instead of just being able to swim for 15 minutes, they were able to swim for an average of between 40-60 HOURS! So, you might ask yourself, how can a rat that could only swim 15 minutes now swim 60 hours? Two words; They Believed. You see, when the rats were initially swimming and then rescued, something clicked in their little rat brain that led them to believe that someone would always rescue them whenever they are swimming and distressed. That said, their belief that help was coming kept them swimming way past their normal capabilities. A strong belief is incredibly powerful. Throughout this entire weight loss challenge, my belief in the process and in my ability to follow the process was rock solid.  When I initially read about the experiment, I was compelled to dive in further. What I found was the connection between Belief, Hope, and Motivation.

Here’s how this works. Belief is supported by Hope. Hope is supported by Motivation. Motivation is supported by three things; 1. The value of the potential rewards. 2. A belief that what they are doing will deliver the desired results. 3. A firm belief that if they get the results they desire they will get the rewards they desire. That, in a nutshell, is motivation. Do you feel motivated to do something? If you do, I bet the 3 things I just mentioned are present.

The reason I tell you this is because when you have a goal AND a pathway or plan to achieve the goal, these components are much like what happened to the rat being rescued from the water. A clear goal, and the plan to achieve the goal, are what fuel your belief and powers your hope. If you have something in your life you want to accomplish, but you have no plan to make it happen, I’m betting you feel hopeless. At least, that’s how I feel in this situation. I say that because I’ve been there. We all have. The way I’ve escaped those periods in my life always started with a plan and ended with me taking massive amounts of action. When I think about some of the things that I have done in my life that should have been way out of my reach, the number one thing that got me across the finish line was a belief that I could do it. Now then, it’ll not work out every time, but I can guarantee you certain defeat if you go at a tough goal lacking a plan, a belief, and a little bit of hope.

Hope. In the business world, every time you say the word hope, somebody says, “Hope is not a plan.” Well, maybe they’re right. However, hope has always been essential to getting me through the darkest periods of my life. I read a quote once that said, “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.” I think those rats that managed to swim 60 hours is proof that this is a true statement. The hope of rescue was greater than the fear of drowning.

There were days while I was doing this challenge that I felt like one of those rats in the glass beaker, treading water. Not going to lie. This challenge was very frustrating at times. There were days when I felt guilty because I overate or failed to follow my exercise plan. In addition to guilt, I felt disappointment. What’s even more frustrating are the days when I followed the plan to the letter, and the next day I step on the scale only to see I gained 3 pounds. How in the heck does that happen? Ugh!!!!!

So, what kept me “swimming” for 14-weeks through this weight loss challenge?

There are two roads in life; An easy road and a hard road. The road that is most traveled is the easy road. It is jam-packed with people. Navigating this road doesn’t take much effort. If you’re on this road, you will find a few things along the way of value. It’s a boring road. Whatever gifts you stumble across on this path are crappy and have little to no value to most people. Why? Because anyone can travel this road with ease. So, where’s the good stuff? Well, the good stuff is down the hard road. The hard road is a toll road. No free ride permitted. The price paid on the hard road is most likely some type of suffering. The easy road is fluffy and comfortable, but the hard road is full of sharp edges and things that bite. If you are willing to pay the price and deal with the inconvenience of the hard road, there are awesome gifts to be had. If you want a fulfilling, high-quality, and successful life, always take the hard road. Don’t be fooled into taking the easy road. The easy road is for those lacking in confidence, courage, personal responsibility, and grit. When you travel the easy road, you will think that it’s free. That there is no price to be paid. That’s not true. The price you pay will come later. The cost? Well, you’re going to need to get very good at limiting your expectations for yourself. You’re going to need to learn how to become happy with being unhappy. You’re also going to need to learn how to deal with jealousy because otherwise, you will hate the friends you have that choose to travel the hard road. If you can do all this, you’ll probably be okay. Also, be sure to tell those around you to set the bar low for you as well. If you don’t, then trouble will follow. One more thing you’ll need to deal with is when your remaining days in life are few, you’ll look back and feel regret. Just know that day is coming so you will be prepared.

Let’s switch things up and find a little sunshine in those last few sentences of doom and gloom. As long as there’s air in your body, it’s not too late to become the person you always wanted to be. Make a decision, then a plan, then start. Forget about the place where you are starting from or your starting line. Just start.

In a previous paragraph, I mentioned that I once weighed 360-pounds. That was my starting line. I will now share some of my story. I also want to get into how I discovered the discipline and accountability I needed to get to where I am today.

At 45 years old, I was already experiencing a hard time getting around. My health was in the gutter. Something had to change. I was a wreck. It all started with a commitment to walk a few blocks every day after work. I remember my first walk. I only made it a couple of blocks and I had these shooting pains up my legs. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. I walked through the pain and it finally faded after a few weeks. The walks changed from a few blocks to a mile. From a mile, I started doing a few miles. I then started to walk a very steep road leading to the bottom of the canyon by my house. I then started to walk fast. Later, I would start jogging. I then got a YMCA membership and started running on a treadmill. It gets cold in Idaho where I lived. A Y membership erased the weather excuse. I got faster and eventually started losing weight. I then discovered writing out my plan and tracking my leading and lagging indicators. This was really helpful in that it gets cold in Idaho. There were many days I did not “feel” like putting in the work. I did it anyway because of my written plan. I was not going to let my emotions control me. I had to gain better health and losing weight was key.

What keeps me going? The way I do it is by thinking about those people in my life where I feel the most responsibility; My family and others who I love and care about. I’ve always said that I do all of the stuff I do mainly for myself. That sounds good, but that’s not the entire truth. When I am on one of my missions and I am running out of gas, I find a way to do it and finish because I feel a responsibility to not let others down. In my first marathon, I remember wanting to quit around mile 22. My brain was telling my body that I had nothing left to give. I didn’t quit and continued running because I kept thinking about my daughter who despite all the pain she endured through 30 months of daily chemo, always found a way to smile. Fast forward to today, and what reinforced my discipline to follow my Project 220 weight loss challenge was thinking about my coworkers who knew about the challenge. If I didn’t finish and reach my goal, then they would probably think I’m weak or full of hot air. I had to finish. In June of 2021, I competed in what would be one of the most epic trials of endurance in my life. The 265-mile Texas Water Safari Canoe Race. The day I left work to drive to San Marcos for the race, I shared a bunch of the details about the race with folks at work. I remember a few people saying that there was no way I and my buddy Charlie would finish the race. I didn’t take these words as mean or negative. In fact, I think they were words of kindness to push me forward. Another possibility is that they were giving me an out; A way to not feel bad in the event I did not finish. In actuality, what they did was give me fuel. On day one, 12-hours into the race, when it started getting dark and we had paddled about 50 miles and I was exhausted, I thought about all of the people who were following me online. I pictured them and I also pictured how they were counting on me to finish. That said, I didn’t give up and I kept going. About 4 hours later, around midnight, when I split my head open on a low-hanging branch as we ran a rapid, I thought, “They’re counting on me.” I kept going. A few hours later in another rapid, when I broke my ultra-lightweight $300 paddle and had to start using a 4-pound backup paddle from Academy, I thought, “They’re counting on me.” I kept going. When we struggled to pull the canoe through log jams in the river for the rest of the night, I thought, “They’re counting on me.” I kept going. In the end, what kept me going through all of the mishaps, thunderstorms, heat exhaustion, sleep deprivation, snakes, spiders, and hallucinations was the thought, “They’re counting on me.” That single anchor thought in my mind is a big part of what got me to the finish line. The rest of it had to do with what normally fuels me and that is setting an example for my kids. More than anything, I want my kids to be fearless.

Discipline and motivation; Where does this come from? Well, it goes like this. It starts out with having a belief that your goal is attainable. From Belief, I gain hope. Once I have belief and hope, I then have the fuel I need to power my motivation. Where does motivation come from? It comes from having a genuine belief that if you take a certain action, that action will create a situation where in the end you will receive the reward you desire. For Project 220, I knew that over the long haul I would reach my goal weight if I maintained a calorie deficit through diet and exercise. Doing this works 100% of the time. Whenever I would feel myself slipping, I would picture and concentrate on all of the rewards that would come when I finally stepped on those scales and it said 220, as well as the people who would have a strengthened belief in me. Another thought was that my finishing would be an inspiration to others to achieve their own goals.

Let’s talk accountability. Nobody can hold me accountable except me. Often, you hear people say that they are going to hold other people accountable. That’s just not how it works. In other words, I can’t make somebody do something they don’t want to do. Sure, I might be able to enforce consequences on somebody if they don’t do something, but that’s not accountability. Throughout this entire Project 220 experiment, what kept me accountable was the thoughts of those around me. When I didn’t feel like working out, I would think about the commitment I made to all of my coworkers to fulfill my intentions. When I was at dinner with friends and they were all eating chips and hot sauce and drinking beer, I stayed the course of making healthy decisions by thinking about my coworkers. It’s always the thoughts of others that get me to press on and not give up. I remember sitting in a chute on the back of a bull a few years ago. I was scared out of my ever-loving mind. My brain was screaming at me to stop. What kept me in that chute and led to me completing my first ride on a bull was thinking about my son and him facing his fears in the Marines. In conclusion, it took me a very long time to develop the internal narrative I have now. I’ve not always been as comfortable with dangerous situations as I am now. It’s been a real journey. A journey that I believe anyone can accomplish if they want it bad enough.

Let’s wrap this up by talking about your internal narrative. Your internal narrative is literally the way you define yourself in your own mind. If you want success, you must learn to control your internal narrative. I think one of the reasons that we are seeing so much depression and failing mental health these days is because people have let their internal narrative get out of control. Their internal narrative of who they want to be, versus the reality of who they really are, is way out of alignment. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the quote by Emerson who said, “The problem with most people is they believe they shouldn’t have a problem.” If your internal narrative is one that says your life should be easy and carefree and then it is not, you are without a doubt going to be an unhappy person. Sure, it’s good to dream and have goals and aspirations, but if you don’t have belief, hope, motivation, and a plan to work towards that goal, your life is going to be unfulfilled. You will be doomed to sadness and view yourself as a victim. How do I know this? Because I’ve been there. The rapper T.I. says in his song Live Your Life, “Stop looking at what you ain’t got, and start being thankful for what you do got.” I’ve relied on those words when I’ve found my internal narrative out of alignment with reality. Those are the words that I use to aid me in shifting my internal narrative and finding happiness. I then, build from there.

So how did Project 220 End? On June 9, 2022, 95-days after starting, I reached my goal. I had a goal of keeping my daily caloric intake under 1250 calories. I was able to do that 74.7% of the time. I had a weekly goal to complete 10 exercise events whether it be cardio, weights, or yoga. I was able to achieve this goal 92.2% of the time. In the end, I lost 28.8-pounds. Here’s a link that will take you to my tracker sheet if you are interested in Project 220 Weight Loss Tracker.xlsx. On the right side of the tracker sheet, I did this additional chart that shows my daily weight. You should check it out. It’s pretty interesting. What it shows is that I had some immediate wins. I then slowed down and eventually hit a brick wall. I think my body was counting on me to give up. Eventually, I won, and my body gave up. It seems like I hit a tipping point where things began to happen fast. It’s funny in that this is the way it usually goes in life.

What’s next for me? Well, there’s this thing I’ve always wanted to do, but there is a 180-pound weight limit. The last time I weighed 180-pounds was in 7th grade. I think I will set a goal to get to 200-pounds by September and then figure out a way to temporarily knock off that last 20 so I can have my adventure. I know it’ll happen because I have already cast my intentions into the Universe and I’ve also now shared them with you.

Before I finish, here’s a little worksheet with some questions I use to discover a pathway to goal achievement. As I said, I don’t give unsolicited advice. It’s what I use, so feel free to use it if you like.

What is ONE goal you need to meet in the next 3-4 months? Write it here:
What is the benefit of doing this, what is your WHY?
What are the roadblocks that could prevent you from reaching your goal: _____________________________________________________________________________________
What will you do to overcome those roadblocks: _____________________________________________________________________________________
What Actions or Activities will you commit to daily and weekly to meet your goal? Set this target and that is one of your leading indicators. Set more if you can. Make you goal attainable, but stretch yourself: _____________________________________________________________________________________
Now name a Lagging Indicator (Result) that relates to your goal: ________________________________________
When you find it is difficult to stay on course with your plan, who or what are you going to think about to keep you going:
At this point, you have now essentially completed the same exercise I did with my weight loss goal. If you planned correctly (used the right ingredients) and then execute the plan, you are now on the journey to achieving your goal.