When I first started out as a personal trainer, I focused heavily on fat loss. I marketed myself as a fat loss coach and I regularly weighed and measured my clients. It was an obvious niche for a newbie trainer like myself; everyone wants to lose weight. 

I helped my clients through a goal-oriented process that went something like this:

Client tells me how many pounds they want to lose.

I teach them about weight loss vs. fat loss and the importance of muscle.

Client tells me how much fat they want to lose.

I ask them about their diet, and suggest changes that will help them reach their goal.

I formulate a workout plan for them based on their fat loss goal. 

I re-weigh and re-measure them every 6-8 weeks.

What happened was some of my clients reached their goal and some did not. And I was faced with an unexpected challenge for each of these scenarios.

The clients who reached their goals were happy, and we celebrated their hard-earned victory. But as soon as the excitement wore off, we were faced with the inevitable question … Now what? We had lost the very thing that gave us direction and purpose.

The clients who didn’t reach their goal felt like failures. I did my best to keep up their spirits. I tweaked their programs and tightened up their accountability process. Sometimes we re-assessed and came up with a more realistic fat-loss goal. It broke my heart to see them stuck in a negative cycle, but I coached them to keep plugging along because of the goal.

Both scenarios resulted in my clients feeling either deflated or defeated or both, and I eventually realized that I wasn’t OK with that. There had to be a better way.

And there is.

I no longer emphasize fat loss or goal setting in my personal training practice. This may sound totally nuts because it goes against a deeply ingrained norm in the fitness biz, but hear me out. 

I’m not saying that fat loss should be ignored or that wanting to lose a few pounds is bad. A healthy body composition is an important part of overall health, but it’s only part. Being lean is over-emphasized in the fitness industry, and it drives me crazy. I believe that fitness is much more than aesthetics and body fat percentage; it’s about being strong, mobile, and moving well. It’s about feeling good in your body and flourishing in your physicality.    

And I’m not saying that goals are bad. I’m just saying that a goal-driven approach to life can be a real joy stealer.

So, if not goals, then what? I believe there needs to be something that moves us along in life. And it has to be awesome, enjoyable, and empowering. It has to be worth pursuing on a daily basis in a sustainable way for the rest of your life. 

No goal can deliver on that level, but I have found something that can. 

The happiness system is an approach to life that fully embraces the journey and isn’t much concerned with the destination.  

In practice, using fitness as an example, the system looks like this:

Does being fit make you a happier person? Yes…

What do you need to do every day to be fit, and therefore be happier? Work out every day…

Now you have a system. 

You set the intention to work out every day and your job is to do what you intend on doing. It’s a process to follow, not a pinnacle to be reached.

But it might take you to some pretty cool places.