Extreme fitness for what? (The Financial Athlete #56)

“Moderation in all things is a recipe for a boring life.” — Ao (pastamanvibration)

A very healthy young girl whom I’ve known for several years sat next to me on a lounge chair by the pool. She enthusiastically shared her new fitness goal, “I want to trim my body fat to 8% or less!”

I laid back basking in the sun, my hands behind my head. “Why? You look great just the way you are,” I said, not lying.

The girl sat upright on her lounge chair. She said resolutely, “Thanks but I want to my abs to be really cut. I want to be lean and muscular. Not a trace of body fat. I’ll work out in the gym for hours daily and eat only nutritious food.”

“You want a body of a triathlete?”

She smiled, probably relieved to find someone who understood her. “Yes!”

“Then be a triathlete. Extreme fitness, rather than being an end unto itself, should be a by-product of the sport you love. ”


If your goal is an athletic build with under 8% body fat or to accumulate millions worth of assets, then good luck to you. These are enviable things. Just ask yourself three questions:

1. What do I forsake in pursuit of this goal few obtain?

For every direction taken, thousands more are not taken. The best known alternatives are what economists call opportunity costs. Work 80+ hours a week and you will miss out on being with friends and family. Do this for years and later in life you may find yourself alone in the world.

2. Why do some many others who shares this goal never reach it?

The point of goal setting is to motivate yourself or organization to advance. Mistakenly, goals are usually strictly defined quantitatively, and not arrived through a process of visualization. Such is the way of M.B.O. (Management-by-Objectives), which bureaucracies subscribe to. To run an organization the M.B.O. way lacks vision and may be detrimental to performance. As a case study of this, a renown coffee shop chain determined to cut costs ended the practice of grinding coffee at the point-of-sale. They centralized this task elsewhere and delivered grounded coffee in bulk to the coffee shops. This succeeded in cutting cost. It also succeeded in cutting the flavor and aroma of the coffee.

Shun personal goals measured quantitatively. Visualize being what you want to become. Throw away the weight scale. The mirror reveals everything you need to know about your body: posture, muscular imbalances, muscle/fat composition…. From there, you can make corrections with nutrition and physical activities you enjoy without the vanity of obsessing over an arbitrary number.

Don’t pressure yourself with quantitative financial goals. Forget about “outperforming the S&P” or “keeping up with the Jones”. Let the Jones be the Jones and you be you.

3. Do I dread or love the work I do to reach this goal?

Similar to extreme fitness, financial wealth should be viewed as a by-product of the work you love — work which enhances the lives of customers. It should not be viewed as an end unto itself. If you dread the work, chances are wealth will not follow.

“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


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