My friend Tony Tao running his first marathon in 2007.


Last year, Martin Rooney, renowned strength and conditioning coach, was interviewed on The Fightworks Podcast on the topic of fitness resolutions for the coming year.   He shared a framework for how to approach goal-setting that I found extremely valuable and that I’d like to share and expound upon here.   I would also suggest (re)listening to that segment because Martin’s energy and enthusiasm help ignite fire.


Martin’s framework is encapsulated in the acronym M.A.T., which stands for Measurable, Attainable, and Timeframe.   Let’s break these down.

Measurable: A goal that is not concrete and measurable is a goal that is doomed to fail because of ambiguity.  The only way to know if you hit a target is to have a defined target in the first place.  Many of us begin with a resolution, or what I will call an “intention.”  This is a very important seed, and since it often emerges from a deeply emotional and spiritual place within us, it is often amorphous.  The key to converting that from amorphous intention into reality, though, is to make it into something actionable.

In The Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss illustrates how to take an intention and transform it into an action item.  One of his examples follows:

Become fluent in Chinese —–> Hold a 5-minute conversation with a Chinese co-worker.

I’ll share a personal example as it applies to BJJ.  My “intention” for this year is to improve my jiujitsu so that I am on a purple belt level.  The personal target that brings that into reality is: Submit three purple belts in one sparring session.

Be on purple belt level —-> Submit three purple belts in one sparring session.

Attainable: If your goal is simply out of reach, it is booby-trapped for failure.  When goal setting, be ambitious but sensible.  The ambition part is important, as the audacity of the goal serves as inspiration especially when the inevitable hurdles appear.   However, to shoot for something that is simply not possible is a great way to create excuses for inaction.

Timeframe: You must hold yourself accountable, and a great way to do that is by setting a deadline.   However, a timeframe is not just about accountability.  In my professional endeavors, especially as a 5th grade teacher in the South Bronx and as a Recruitment Director for Teach for America, having a deadline in the future allowed me to plan backwards from the end point and define milestone markers to track progress.  At these regular checkpoints, I knew if I was on track to reaching my goal or if I wasn’t.  And, knowing the latter ahead of time allowed for real-time adjustments.

Other Thoughts:

1.  Less is more. – Busy doesn’t always mean purposeful.  Focus on just two or three goals that will have a transformational impact on your jiujitsu (or on your life.)  Your goal could be to tap someone with a low-percentage submission.  Or, your goal could be to realize that smoking is inhibiting your full potential on the mats (and in life) and thus seek the help of a medical professional to implement a plan to stop all smoking in 4 months time.

2.  Publicly share your goals.  (Or don’t.) – I’m of the school of thought that sharing your goals publicly with influential stakeholders who will hold you to them (your coach, a spouse, etc.) increases your chances of achieving said goal.  However, I recently listened to a fascinating TED talk that actually argued the opposite.  (see video below) Ultimately, do what you think best sets you up for success.

Apply the Technique

Consumption is human, creation is divine.  Don’t just read this post, but apply Martin’s formula and my tips to a couple of goals that will move you forward, whether on the mats or in some other area in your life.  If you want to share them publicly, please post in the comments below.

Odds & Ends

Gracie Diet Phase-in // Week 3 (no two starches)

I am now in the third week of the Gracie Diet phase-in plan.  Now, in addition to waiting at least 4.5 hours between meals, and avoiding desserts and sodas, I now have to ensure that none of my meals has more than one starch as a component.  This meant that I ditched the buns to my sliders so I could eat the yucca fries last night.  It meant reaching for the whole wheat bread instead of the multi-grain loaf this morning.

So far, I’m not seeing significant change in energy levels, though it’s still early.  I can say, though, that thanks to the diet, I am realizing that I consumed more food previously that I really needed.  I’ll keep you posted on how this week goes.