Just Pick One

The key to successfully achieving a goal begins with actually picking one. Just one. Read more about choosing your path and focusing on it. Photo from Creative Commons.

With the New Year, I hear of people wanting to effect change in their lives. And I am as excited for them as they are! Change may be scary, but it can also be an adventurous path to personal and/or professional success.

Making a New Year’s resolution has become a tradition for some, and something to avoid for others. Perhaps you’ve been disappointed in the past. You made a big goal for yourself, and once again, you didn’t meet that goal. You didn’t meet it this year, last year, or the year before.

Well, guess what. You are not alone. Big goals that people want, in general:

  1. Improved health and fitness, in the form of weight loss, improved eating habits, and a regular exercise routine;
  2. Increase financial security, such as learning about investments, developing a career path, changing careers, and launching a business;
  3. Improved relationships, such as refining communication skills, limiting and extinguishing painful behaviors, and starting a new romantic relationship;
  4. Balancing work and life into something reasonable, sustainable, and meaningful;
  5. Learning a new skill, such as riding a bicycle, learning a new language, and playing a musical instrument.

In 2013, I wrote about New Year’s resolutions in a post, encouraging people to consider looking at these big goals as an evolution, not a revolution. You see, revolution is “change now”; it is violent and quick; it either happens or it does not.  Evolution involves small changes over the long haul, making it more likely to stick to a plan, even if there are a few hiccups. Evolution keeps moving forward. Take a quick look at that post for some tips on making a lifestyle evolution that helps changes really stick.

This year’s New Year’s resolution tip is simple. If you have never, or rarely ever, been able to follow through on a big goal for the year (and wasn’t related to employed work, where you have someone you are accountable to), all I want you to try for this year is this.

Pick one. Just one.

And then, learn how to break that one goal down into actionable points that you can see on a calendar, point at, and track.

When you can get that one goal laid out in such a way that you can see how reasonable it is to achieve, you may be able to pick another one a little bit down the road. But I recommend that you pick just one for now, and learn how to approach it by focusing.

Pick One

For the purpose of example, I’m going to select a topic that makes the headlines every day of the year as a big goal. Let’s say that the goal you have for this year — your Big Goal — is to lose weight. Not just one or two pounds, which you can do by being on Whole30 for about a week. I mean, weight loss on the level of a couple of bowling balls that you are truly tired of carrying.

Refining that Big Goal, let’s say  you decide that you would like to lose thirty pounds in six months. That’s somewhere between 1-2 pounds a week for 24 weeks = 500 to 1000 less calories per day (subtracted from your maintenance nutrition). So you need to find out what your body needs on a daily basis just to maintain your current weight, and then figure out how many calories per day to remove, and come up with a plan that includes enough macro and micronutrients so that you don’t: 1. starve, 2. feel like you’re dying, 3. get sick, 4. give up early, or 5. drive everyone around you absolutely batty because you’re moody, tired, grumpy, or mad.

That, my friend, is a lot of work! And that is why I am suggesting that you pick one goal, and that you focus on that one goal. Because hello! – can you imagine nailing three or more intense but unrelated goals that require similar amounts of research, preparation, support, and intensity to accomplish them?

Continuing on, to successfully act on this weight loss goal, you will need to:

  1. Determine your maintenance caloric intake (which may require you to go to a nutritionist, keep a food diary, and/or complete a few tests and measures),
  2. Determine how many calories to safely reduce per day, and how to count and track calories (which may require you to download an app for your smartphone and learn to enter in your foods),
  3. Learn where to cut calories, such as excess carbohydrates, hidden sugars in processed foods, fruit juices, alcohol, and trans fats (which means learning about what the ingredients of foods),
  4. Learn how to shop for and prepare food from scratch, and include more servings of vegetable (and learn meal planning, selecting recipes, and simple food preparation skills).

Each step requires some serious learning and sometimes steep learning curves. By picking just one goal, you’ll be giving yourself the bandwidth to break it down into reasonable actions and time to learn each one.

In this method of just picking one goal – in this example, weight loss – you will notice I haven’t said anything about exercise. The science of weight loss has already proven that you can lose weight successfully without adding in fitness activity right away; in fact, it may be easier.

With a six-month goal time, just focusing on the food part of the weight loss equation of nutrition + exercise at first will make it more likely that you can achieve that goal. You can always add in the fitness with weight lifting and cardio when you have met enough of your nutritional goals to adjust your nutrition for moderate exercise. It is not a surprise to me that successful weight loss stories include mantras, such as “get trim in the kitchen; get fit in the gym”.

This is not to say that you can’t find any success by hitting two or more goals at one time. However, my caveat at the beginning of this post specified that this pathway of choosing just one goal was for the person who has not been able to achieve her or her goal on several occasions. Which bring me to the pinnacle of why it works.


In October 2015, my triathlon coach sat down with me in his office and asked, “So when do you want to train for an Ironman?”

I asked, “How about next year?”

The rest of the conversation was about expectations and a generalized description of the coming months of preparation to race one of the most well-known and admired tests of endurance on the planet. The one recommendation my coach shared that day  that shocked me the most was this one: no short races before my Ironman race.

This is, in fact, an excellent example of what I mean by focusing on your goal with all your available energy, resources, support, in some cases, finances as well. Let me explain.

In the Pacific Northwest, our weather generally has cyclists on the roads from sometime in March until sometime in October when the rainy and colder weather returns. Come race season, there is a race a week within driving distance: swimming races, duathlons, triathlons, running races of distances covering five, ten, twenty one, and forty two kilometers, and trail running events of all distances. There are Ragnar races, ultramarathons, and relays to be had. My “race brain” loves this!

If I wanted to, I could book up my entire weekend schedule from late May to late October and start collecting finisher medals. Races are fun and motivating! At the same time, the intensity of even shorter races come at a cost. The body needs time to recover. You can get injured. And short distance races are usually completed with intensity, all cylinders firing, with no time spent to fuel or pee.

Focusing, in this example, looks like removing all distractions.  Since shorter races do not serve the purposes of my customized training plan, they do not make it on the schedule. I found myself killing my darlings; all the short and sweet triathlons and fun running races bow to the almighty Big Race (a.k.a. the ‘A’ race).  And short races, while less expensive than the A race, can drain the wallet quickly. This pattern isn’t just true for amateurs like myself. Pulling professional athletes from races to save up energy for a big race is common. And if it’s good enough for the pros, it’s good enough for the rest of us.

The idea of focusing runs counterintuitive to “having it all” by doing “all the things” simultaneously. Yet by definition, focusing is the act of paying particular attention to something, the way a magnifying glass can focus the heat of the sun on a spot on the ground and heat a rock, or hitting a nail head repeatedly drives the nail into a wall.

Similarly, when you focus on your one goal, you will apply your attention and energy to accomplishing your goal with little distraction.  You may determine that you have several stepping stones that help you achieve your goal. As long as those smaller goals are designed to get you closer to your one big goal, it will work. If they are simply things that distract you from the end goal, they will likely need to either be removed, or placed further down on your priority list.

Your Next Step

Do you like the idea of choosing one goal, defining that goal into measurable actions, and then focusing on that goal to set yourself up for success?

Your next step is to think of and write down one thing by the end of this month that gets you closer to your goal. And then, put it in your calendar so you have reminders to get it done.

Having trouble staying organized your big goal or resolution? Last year, I started experimenting with two project management platforms, Asana and Trello. Check them out, and if you find yourself attracted to using one, see if it can help you organize your weekly actions towards getting your big goal accomplished this year.

For myself, I’m on TrainingPeaks synced with my Garmin watch for my workouts and races, and I’m on Trello with my website designer for a new business I’m launching in 3Q 2016.



See you at the Finish Line!

By Imei Hsu

Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, AIP Coach and PN1-NC, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 30+ years in healthcare (22+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is a two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018); she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for 100 Mile trail races and a backyard ultra. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, camping under the stars, and cooking real food.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *