Episode 50: Mel Davis on Goal Setting: A Human Approach

No matter how much you know, no matter how much experience you have, no matter how steadfast or disciplined or committed you are, you’re human. And, as Dr. Mel Davis, Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt, and Renaissance Periodization Coach explains, that’s a critical thing to recognize. It’s the key to reaching your aesthetic, athletic, and health goals.

Mel begins our podcast by describing what she considers to be the most important thing a coach can do for their clients: Work with them to set realistic expectations from the get-go. This means acknowledging that, because we’re all human, because our lives are multifaceted, and because we are responsible for more than just reaching our nutrition/ fitness goals, there are going to be setbacks. Obstacles, hiccups. There are going to be times when progress isn’t linear. And that’s okay.

To position her clients for success in the face of the inevitable, Mel encourages them to plan for the bumps in the road. To sit down with a pen and a piece of paper, and to determine how they will encounter challenges to their diet plans. When will they intentionally sacrifice optimal nutrition practices in order to engage in important life events (like a sister’s wedding)? And how can they react when temptations arise that aren’t worth deviating from the plan?

Part of the answer to these questions involves rehearsal. Writing down what to say when someone offers an extra piece of cake is a powerful practice. Under social pressure, as Mel explains, our knee-jerk reactions can interrupt our progress. So, rehearsing alternatives to knee-jerk reactions can help you stick to your plan when faced with temptation.

Mel points out that it’s also important to plan out when not to stick to the plan. In other words, it’s important to prioritize. As Mel puts it, “There are things that are more important than your diet or fitness plan.” These things should be factored into your diet or training program. Family life, work schedule, social events-- these can be used to delineate periods of strict adherence to nutrition practices and periods of a more lax approach to dieting.

By engaging her clients in the exercise of detailed planning, Mel integrates the realities of their lives into their programs. She also helps them recognize that, in order to reach their goals in a sustainable, healthy manner, they may have to extend their desired timeframe.

Though this could be disappointing to new clients who want to see results quickly, establishing realistic timeframes is essential to making progress. To help her clients recognize this, Mel appeals to their senses of reason. She intentionally asks questions that shift mindsets, like, “Would you rather crash and burn and never get there, or would you rather definitely get there in two years?” Rationally, of course, everyone would choose success over non-success.

In the same way that coaches must help their clients approach health and fitness rationally, they must also approach their programming rationally. This means that they must make behavior changes manageable for their clients. To encourage this, coaches can break goals into constituent components, or they can isolate discrete habits to focus on sequentially. Pushing a client to hurtle full tilt into a completely new lifestyle would be detrimental and futile. As Mel puts it, “One sure-fire way to make people unsuccessful is to completely overhaul their life and habits.”

But one way to increase the chances of dieting success is to involve social support. Mel discusses the role community has in people’s pursuit of health and fitness goals, stating “One of the best things you can do is tell all of your friends and family about [your goals].” Not only does transparency make it easier to sacrifice things like dining out or getting drinks, but it also provides people with witnesses that can help them stick to their plans when doing so gets difficult.

Mel concludes our podcast with a discussion about cultural differences that impact people’s progress towards health and fitness goals, as well as the importance of rest, recovery, reflection, and cultivating an internal locus of control. She explains that dieting success lies in realistic, detailed planning, community, and leveraging human psychology to reach human goals. If you want to learn more about Mel Davis, her approach to nutrition, and the Renaissance Periodization team, visit https://renaissanceperiodization.com/ or follow her on instagram at: regressive_underload.

Kyle Clechenko