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An Interview with Rolando Garcia III—Intrinsic Excellence and Goal Setting

Rolando Garcia III on Goal Setting
Dragon Door: What do you feel are some of the more important, but also overlooked aspects of goal setting?

Rolando Garcia: First of all, I think goal setting itself is important. It’s a relatively sure way to actually achieve what we want to achieve. However as I mentioned in our previous interview if you take a good look at where you are in your life right now financially, professionally, and personally, chances are that five years ago you would not have envisioned where you are now. Think about that for a few minutes—there’s no way anyone could have foreseen where they are now five years ago, much less ten years ago. That’s an important thing to address in goal setting, and the reason why so many of the goals we set tend to fail. And if they fail, we tend to put it solely on ourselves—and I believe that is not right. That's not really the most accurate way to view it.

There’s a very specific perspective we can take with goal setting, and it's important to address it now because it's the time of the year when fitness professionals set goals for their clients’ results. It’s also important for us to set professional, financial, and personal goals for ourselves.

Dragon Door: Earlier on this call, you mentioned specific mindsets to have when approaching goal setting, how would you describe them?

Rolando Garcia: One of the best ways I can describe these ideas is with a story my dad told me: A swimmer tried to cross a channel several times in his twenties and thirties but wasn’t successful. When he hit his early forties he figured that he would go ahead and give it one last try. When he and his team arrived that day, he was absolutely determined to swim even though there was a thick fog over the channel. He figured that since he had trained for the swim, he and his team should still go ahead and do it. The team agreed with him, because it was their last shot. They began the swim, and proceeded with a strong sense of where they are according to the map—and because they'd passed through that particular section before. But after many miles, they were literally in uncharted waters.

It became strange at this point because they didn't know if they were close to the shore or still far away, and they panicked a little bit but decided to keep going. Although at some point after, the swimmer says he'd had enough because he doesn't know where they are. The team on the boat tells him they have a feeling that the shore is actually pretty close. But after a moment's thought, the swimmer wonders if they have been going in circles the whole time. In a split second, he decides to stop. They pull him out of the water, wrap him up, and give him some tea. Now he starts to say that it wasn’t meant to be and crossing the channel wasn’t something that was meant to be. But, soon the fog lifts, and to everyone’s shock and amazement, the shore is only 500 meters away.

My Dad forgot where he had read this story, but I remember how it resonated with me. It relates to goal setting in this way: how often do we set up a plan in our calendar with all of the steps and behaviors towards a goal simply because we can see the steps? And, how often do we abandon the goals we really want to achieve—the ones that have real meaning for us—simply because there’s a fog that keeps us from seeing the exact steps that will get us there?

More often than not, when a member comes to a gym and wants to talk about goal setting, the first two words out of their mouth are "realistic goals". Most of the time, what this person means by "realistic" is a goal with logical steps that lead to its completion. It is our job as fitness professionals to try and understand this person to such an extent that we can help them establish the goal they really want to achieve, but which is hidden beyond the fog.

Dragon Door: …and that which may or may not actually be something reachable by a step-by-step process.

Rolando Garcia: That's absolutely it. There are several perspectives here, as in the previous interview, one is that the primary skillset required by a leader is vision. Vision is required for going after a worthwhile goal good for yourself, the company, and everyone.

A good leader can pursue that goal without losing sight of it—no matter how thick the fog becomes. A manager will also try their best, despite the thickness of the fog (distractions, life, or anything that would distract from the goal). The management skillset helps us determine how to be flexible when setting up the steps towards the goal. The combination of the leadership and management skillsets allows us to achieve long-term goals. In order for the goal to be compelling, we have to be able to see it, identify the steps to get there, and ignore any distractions.

My book, Intrinsic Excellence is about how fitness professionals can enter this industry with the absolute goal of helping people, while achieving their financial goals at the same time. This balance is required for a stable career and the fitness professional’s wellbeing. It’s important for everyone who goes into the fitness industry to have a long term, sustainable goal so they can help many people for many years.

When a personal trainer says that he wants to make $60,000 a year, he will often think that he needs to make $5,000 each month to get there. This conclusion comes from his management skillset that creates measurable benchmarks to make the journey predictable. But there’s a problem—the journey is unpredictable.

For financial goals, we have to understand why this particular number we’ve chosen as a goal is important to us. That understanding will connect us to the vision, and the emotional resonance will compel us to action—whether or not the steps are identified, and especially when the journey threatens to veer off course.

Dragon Door: So, we need to have a solid reason for choosing a particular amount for our goal?

Rolando Garcia: Yes, and more importantly this reason has to be phrased in a certain way—this is where the significance really kicks in—and it has to be absolutely personal. With this emotional resonance, that specific dollar amount becomes connected to so many other things. Many times when people go for a goal with emotional resonance, they will do so with or without specific steps, and simply for what the goal represents.

When I was managing my previous division, I taught them backwards pass goaling. Normally, if someone looks at a fiscal year when they want to earn $60k/year they think about how that comes out to about $5k each month. That’s good, but now there's an understanding that they must earn $5k every month. This is a problem because life happens! For example, let’s say in January, this trainer earns $5k, in February they earn maybe $7k, but then in March some clients are on vacation, two others get sick, and yet another client moves away. Suddenly in March, this trainer is only earning $1,500 that month and is already in the negative!

The problem with the step by step approach of trying to manage averages on a per-month basis is that it’s a very fragile model which doesn't account for the natural fluctuations of life. Life doesn't work in averages, it thrives on fluctuations. So, instead of thinking about $60k as 5k a month, you have to look at a different average—you have to go backwards. If by next December, you should have made $60k, it’s important to determine how much you should have earned by the halfway point. As long as you land at $30k in June, you're fine regardless of what happens on a month by month basis.

This only works if you do a backwards pass algorithm, which is just simple math. Suddenly the trainer is no longer trudging from month to month, then suddenly daunted by a month like March in our example. He or she no longer has to drastically over-perform in April. With the backwards pass approach, they just need to make sure that they’re doing well by June. It’s a way of managing fluctuations.

Dragon Door: How do you recommend fitness professionals implement these ideas in their everyday scenarios?

Rolando Garcia: It's very important for all fitness professionals and personal trainers to know—based on their geographic location—their basic business cycle. We all know there’s a particular participation average over the holidays and during the summer, even though it will be different in California than on the East Coast. It’s very important for fitness professionals to actually take a look at the year instead of the individual paychecks they receive on a daily or weekly basis. They must think in terms of long term goal setting.

But there is a deeper way to look at this: trainers can take a probabilistic standpoint or a deterministic standpoint. In other words, they’re choosing between the probability of actually achieving the goal versus the deterministic standpoint of figuring out what steps are necessary to get there. The point of view will determine how unpredictability is managed.

If someone is absolutely deterministic and persists through the fog with their steps no matter what, they run the risk of going too far in the wrong direction. If you just keep swimming away in hopes of reaching land—you could end up swimming 500 meters, or you could have to swim 50,000 meters to reach land. So, it's important to marry these two mindsets in long term goal setting. It is probable that life will present obstacles, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't be deterministic in your approach, it's important to have steps towards the goal. Understand that there’s a good probability some of those steps will need to be reshuffled, but that doesn’t mean your goal has changed.

Dragon Door: How do these mindsets tie into identifying the vision of a given goal?

Rolando Garcia: In many ways, identifying the vision of a goal is the easiest part because it is instinctive. As human beings, at the most basic level we all know what we want. But the anxiety comes when we don’t believe. It will only take most people about five seconds to think of three things they really want to achieve in their lives, if they are being absolutely honest with themselves.

However, with the kinds of things that tend to happen in life, our belief in ourselves can be shaken. And even though we can identify what we want, we might rationalize it all away because we tell ourselves we shouldn't even try since, "No one has ever achieved that", "Who am I to achieve something like that", or "I have tried many times before and failed". These are the kind of obstacles that can get in the way of achieving the vision. But at our purest, most essential level, and once we are in touch with our true selves, our visions are full of life, and they give us life. This is what keeps us going.

It is important for us to really understand that although we can create all the steps that we want towards a particular goal, we should also consider what dreams and visions we are leaving behind simply because we allow the fog of life to convince us that achieving them was simply not meant to be.

Dragon Door: This reminds me of a topic you mentioned earlier—people trying to work towards a goal that they don’t believe they deserve. How would you help them to proceed?

Rolando Garcia: It's very interesting, because every fitness professional encounters this with every client we hope to inspire with our work. The first thing—and there’s more detail in my book—is to show the client that you believe in them, and through each session, each rep, each task that they accomplish, we hope the client learns to believe in themselves. We will be able to eventually show them a laundry list of tasks they have achieved simply because they believed that they could.

Even though fitness professionals deal with this on a daily basis with their clients, we have to understand it is at the very root of what we do. We help others believe in themselves, so we should also apply that same capability to ourselves. We have to learn to believe in ourselves to such an extent that we are capable of living the life that is the truest to who we are. That is very difficult, because many things in our world tell us what a good and successful life should look like, and it can distract us from who we really are. So, if we are in the profession of helping others believe in themselves while staying authentic to themselves, then it is important that we also stay authentic to ourselves.

All too often in this life, we are expected to achieve certain things—none of which are true to us. And if we have built a life that doesn’t compel us towards the life we want to live, but that actually imprisons us in someone else's vision of success, then that is not a life worth living.

Dragon Door: It seems like with family, friends, and the media, telling us what we should be doing, even adults sometimes have a hard time asking themselves what they really want from life…

Rolando Garcia: The interesting thing about those same well-meaning family and friends is that they can actually name all the actionable steps that they think YOU need to take to achieve the life they want you to live. There's comfort in it because someone already drew out the map with some validation because they have achieved a similar success. They seem to say that if you follow steps a, b, c, d, and e you will be happy like everybody else! But, the challenge is this—no one can show you the steps towards the life that you want to live.

You are in the uncharted water in the ocean of your life. No one has lived it before, and no one will live it afterwards. You can’t see where you're going, but you have a sense of where you are. In fact, if you listen closely enough you can almost hear the water against the shore you are trying to swim toward. The question is this, do you follow your instinct, or do you ask someone to give you a lifeline towards a life they have mapped out for you?

Here's an good example, I was talking to a trainer and asked him how much he wanted to make that year. He answered $60,000, so I asked him why. He said—and this is a true story—that almost no one in his family has ever made more than $45,000, so he thought that $60,000 was a good benchmark for him. After looking at his averages, I saw that based on his current productivity he was actually set to make about $95,000. When I told him this, he was in absolute disbelief, since it would be more than twice what his father had made. He asked, "Who am I to make that kind of money?" I asked him, "Who are you not to?"

Dragon Door: Did he end up making it?

Rolando Garcia: He did, and now it's his baseline. When a person starts to live the authentic life that they want, they won’t settle for anything less. The first hurdle is understanding the achievement of that authentic life will put them up against some very important barriers that they will need to overcome. But once past these barriers, they will be compelled to not only achieve their authentic life, but will know no other reality, no other life worth living than the one that they have the courage to live.

It isn’t even about achieving a particular dollar amount, and people have their own particular issues with money just like many have their own issues with their bodies or how they look to other people. At the end of the day, the real issue is not with the money, or the body, it’s an issue with their sense of authenticity.

Dragon Door: How would you define this authenticity?

Rolando Garcia: That could be a whole other interview, but this is my definition of authenticity: when you are not comparing yourself to anybody else, when you're not even noticing anybody else or what they have versus what you have achieved. No other benchmarks matter except the ones you set up for yourself. When your vision and your reality are one and the same, that is how you know you're living an authentic life.

Rolando Portrait thumbnailRolando Garcia, III works in Manhattan, NYC, managing one of the most exclusive fitness facilities in the USA.