How Dumbbells and Writing Will Help You Reach Goals

I’m thrilled to have Valerie Bisharat guest post today. A former student of mine, Valerie made a strong impression as an 8th grader in my algebra class. I admired her positive attitude and resolve when tackling difficult problems, both in and out of the classroom. Now an accomplished college senior, Valerie inspires others by taking on new challenges and continuing to set the bar higher for herself. She possesses a wealth of fitness knowledge, and blogs about her journey at Diamonds and Deadlifts. You can also folllow her on twitter.

What do dumbbells, narrative writing and goal-setting have in common? Everything, it turns out.

I started weight lifting three years ago. Since then, I’ve competed in a Figure competition (a division of bodybuilding, but with different judging criteria), developed a fitness blog, and most importantly, found myself on a marvelous journey that has prompted me to learn about every dimension of myself.

Training is a metaphor for life. It develops the mental habits and conditioning necessary to lead a successful, prosperous life you’re proud of every day.

Among other lessons, weight training has taught me:

  • Most barriers are mental and therefore invented
  • Behaviors we resist are those we should practice with the most heart (ahem, waking up before the sun to break a sweat…)
  • The challenging route is often the most rewarding one
  • Growth requires sacrifice, but produces gains that are ultimately extremely fulfilling
  • Goal-setting promotes confidence and is the cornerstone of a great life

Go-getters know with high goals come many setbacks. Failure is guaranteed. The best we can do is humble ourselves to those setbacks and use them as fuel.

This year, I faced setbacks galore: a tilted kneecap, three deaths of friends and family, course credit overload (NYU senior here), and extreme physical exhaustion.

So, I did the unthinkable: I quit my sport. And I’m better for it. I credit the soundness of this decision to my favorite exercise of all: The ‘Fess Up.

The ‘Fess Up is what I call the writing exercise I use whenever I’m not reaching a goal. It helps re-center me.

You don’t have to be a gym rat like me to use this strategy. It’s One Size Fits All. If you’re a professional and your goal is to improve your team’s performance, this exercise may help. Or a parent aiming to spend more time at home but finding yourself too tied up at work to peel yourself away.

The ‘Fess Up is all based on the premise that sometimes our unconscious minds prevent us from being our best selves. I know if I’m not reaching a goal, it’s likely because a negative force deep in my unconscious brain is throwing rocks at my more positive conscious mind. What do I do? Challenge that little force to come out and play.

STEP ONE: The primer. Sit alone in a quiet space with pen and paper. Start writing about the issue you’re facing. Write whatever comes to mind FIRST. The goal is not to make sense of anything yet. You’re trying to access your innermost thoughts and emotions. Don’t judge yourself. You may uncover some unsavory thoughts, but those can’t be channeled positively until they’re addressed.

STEP TWO: The self-interview. After you crack your less-conscious side, it’s time to start putting logic to those spontaneous and ugly feelings. This part is The Why. Each person’s issue requires different questions, but some key ones to consider might be: why am I not reaching my goal? Is this my goal or X person’s goal for me? What excuses am I making that are causing me to bow to my fears/nerves/discomforts?

STEP THREE: The graph. Draw three columns on a new page. Label them: Problem, Reason, Action, respectively. In the “Problem” column, identify your problem in plain terms. In the “Reason” column, outline why that resistance is occurring. Are you too busy to attack your goal in the scope that you initially hoped for? Do you need to break down the goal into smaller pieces? In the “Action” column, list at least one concrete behavior you can adopt to remedy the issue. Remember: introduce change slowly. It’s better to outline one realistic action versus three overwhelming actions.

You may find this approach too scientific. But there’s a remarkable way in which narrative writing becomes therapeutic—even before you take any action.

It wasn’t until I ‘Fessed Up to myself that I realized that my goal of competing was hampering my larger goal of being happy. So I’m done with competition-oriented workouts, and I like myself better now.

If you decide to use The ‘Fess Up exercise and want to share, I’d love to hear how it worked out (both puns intended.) Or, if you use a different strategy to reach your goals, I’m interested to know more. Please share in the comments below.

I also encourage you to ask any fitness, health or nutrition questions you might have. Until then, take care of your minds and bodies.




  1. Mikegoebel says:

    Hi Valerie, I enjoyed your post. I have recently re-engaged with a fitness/healthy lifestyle after a 15 year hiatus through a connection with Beachbody. I started with a cleanse and now I am working through P90X. I am not looking for competition level fitness but do strive for a strong physique. Given your fitness experience what is your opinion of infomercial programs like P90X, Insanity, Turbofire, etc? I feel that they are good programs and anything that gets people motivated, moving, and thinking about nutrition is a positive thing. I have signed as a coach and for the past few months I have been talking to people about achieving their fitness goals. It is amazing how many things people put in the way of their goals. Mental, physical, emotional reasons that they cannot achieve what they desire. I think your writing exercise is great. Sometimes all you have to do is confront your own issues so that you can move forward. It works for fitness and life. 

    • Valerie says:

       Hi Mike! Thank you for reading. Congratulations on getting started with fitness again. As for P90X and the like, I have seen people achieve incredible results with the program. I’ve never personally tried any of the infomercial programs, however. This sounds obvious, but I always tell people that the best workout plan is the one that you will perform consistently. It’s also important to make sure that you’re really challenging your body, not just by working out hard but by working out differently over time. It can never hurt to expand and diversify the types of workouts you’re doing.

      I agree that most barriers to people achieving physical fitness originate in the mind. Well put. I’m so glad you’re talking to others about the importance of health and fitness as well. If you help even just one person get moving in a new way, that is a truly monumental gift to that person.

      Best of luck along the rest of your fitness journey. Please reach out if you ever would like more advice or to share your progress. Take care!

  2. I love this approach, Valerie. I use a similar exercise when grappling with any major decision. Much like your situation, the process lead me to the conclusion I needed to take my junior year off from playing college basketball. I don’t believe I would have realized it unless I went through the writing exercise. The year off gave me the chance to refocus on critical areas of my life needing attention. I played again my senior year and had an amazing experience as a result of the break.

    • Valerie says:

       It’s amazing how sometimes, even if we love what we do, we need to step away to recharge and eventually appreciate it more. To me, it’s akin to the phrase, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” Pulling back can be a great gift…

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