Losing 20 pounds in less than a day isn’t that big of a deal to me. As a wrestler and a fighter, I’ve cut that much weight dozens of times. It involves hours of intense exercise and not eating or drinking anything.

Not that it was real weight loss. As soon as I made the required weight, I gained it all back and then some. Cutting weight is not the same as losing weight. Cutting weight through exercise and dehydration is a temporary solution designed to hit the specific goal of passing the pre-match weigh-in. It is definitely not good for you and in the long run probably makes healthy weight loss more difficult.

Last week a good friend asked for my help. Six months ago, he had set a weight loss goal (to be at a certain weight) by a certain date. Because of his pursuit of this goal, he has completely transformed his body. He looks amazing. The deadline for his goal  was fast approaching and he still had a few pounds he needed to shed. So, he asked me if I could help him quickly cut the last five pounds.

I told him I wouldn’t help.

“What? It’s my goal,” he said. “I’m going to make it. I just have to get to 215.”

Now, when he started his weight loss journey, the purpose wasn’t to weigh 215 lbs. His purpose was to lose body fat, feel better, and become strong and fit. 215 was just a number.

In the effort to turn his desire for fitness into a SMART Goal (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound), he decided that he would use weight loss by a certain date as a measuring stick. The idea was that he was overweight and that 215 would be a healthy weight for him. But there was one problem. As the deadline approached, he forgot about his purpose and became focused on what the scale said.He was willing to sacrifice being healthier and fitter to reach the “goal.”

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This often happens to us at work as well. We want a better job so we can live the type of life we imagined and take care of our family as we dreamed. But, in an effort to get that better job, we throw ourselves into our work, leaving less time for the very things that we started out working for. Then when we do get the promotion that allows us to have that better life, we sacrifice the life for the job. We lose sight of our original purpose and confuse it with our means of getting there.

We let the means become the end.

We let the prize become the purpose.

My friend would probably be fine if he cut the last five pounds. Wringing the water out of his system for a couple days is not the worst thing you can do. But the problem is that he has gotten distracted from his real purpose. Whether his scale reads 214.9 or 217 on Friday doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he’s built habits around eating healthy, whole foods and exercising on a regular basis. What matters is that he’s broken bad habits and has transformed his body and his life.

It is easy to get caught up in strategy and let the milestones along the way take the place of the real goals. Keeping your eyes on the prize is essential if you want to grab it, just make sure it is really the prize you want to win.

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