Sometimes It Takes a Mule

Sept. 28, 2016
Simple motivations make all the difference in reaching a goal

About the author: Kelly R. Thompson is president and founder of Moti-Vitality LLC. Thompson can be reached at [email protected].


A couple of years ago, I met a lady named Lisa who I hoped would agree to spend the rest of her life with me. I researched rings, picked one out and even showed it to her mom to get an idea of whether she would like it. I was about four months away from heading to Las Vegas for the Water Quality Assn. Convention & Exposition, so I decided to invite Lisa to come with me for a few days beforehand. My plan was to take a helicopter ride from Las Vegas over the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, and through the Grand Canyon. The helicopter would land at the bottom of the West Rim of the canyon, where we would share a glass of champagne. It seemed like the perfect place to propose.

If all went well, we would drive down to the South Rim to ride mules the following day. 

I began making calls at the end of January to make the necessary reservations. Everything seemed to be in order until, while going through the rules of the mule ride, the staff member on the phone informed me that I could not weigh more than 225 lb fully clothed. My first thought was that I had no intention of riding a mule naked, but then I thought, “Hmm—I might be close to that weight.”

Once upon a time, I weighed in at a scrawny 165 lb, but that was in college. Since my first marriage, kids, a sales job and a slower metabolism happened, I have struggled to stay at a healthy weight. Eleven years ago—a few years before my divorce—I stepped on a scale and saw that I weighed almost 270 lb. In the following year, I lost almost 70 lb and swore I would never get that heavy again. It is strange how quickly the pounds can sneak up on you. I am a pretty active guy and do not recall a time when I could not hike 10 miles on a trail. On the other hand, I do like mashed potatoes. 

That night, after giving the mule company my non-refundable credit card payment, I stepped on a scale and saw that I weighed 248 lb—only 23 lb away from the mule ride.

Suddenly, I had a nightmare vision of the people at the mule stable telling Lisa (the day after she hopefully had said “yes”) that her new fiancé was too fat to ride a pack mule. Talk about a vital motivator!

I started doing the math. Assuming my clothes weighed 5 to 6 lb and taking into account scale variances, I figured I had 14 weeks to lose roughly 30 lb, which calculates to just more than 2 lb per week. That night I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app, and entered my goal weight and the date. The app determined how many calories I should eat each day and how many I could “earn” from exercise. I bought a FitBit and started fitness challenges with friends and family who also were trying to be more active. For the next 3.5 months, I avoided going out to eat, measured my food and exercised daily.

The point of this story is to illustrate that a goal is really just a dream without the following.


Anything worth doing is usually pretty hard, and breaking habits like going back for seconds or smoking one more cigarette can be tough. Look for a vital motivator—something that makes you want to change more than not change. I used to smoke and enjoy it, but 20 years ago, the birth of my son made me want to not smoke. In the case of the mule ride, I wanted to ride that mule more than I wanted a second helping.

Making It Realistic

There are some things that are simply not practical, and setting a goal to do something that cannot be done realistically actually may make things worse. If necessary, start small and move at a reasonable pace to accomplish your larger goal. 

A Deadline & Plan

Identify a specific objective and set a deadline. Then, break your final objective into smaller mini goals. I needed to lose a total of 30 lb in a certain period of time. Breaking it down into a series of smaller goals helped me focus on the long-term result. It was a lot easier to avoid discouragement, because 2 lb per week seemed far less daunting than 30 lb in three months.

Writing It Down

When I started tracking my food, I was amazed to learn how many calories were in certain foods, especially snacks. The apps I used provided graphs of my progress and made it easier to track what I was doing regularly.

Understanding the Impact of Your Efforts

Lisa did not know the ring was coming, but she was all for the effort of getting in shape. I was a bit obsessed and it had an impact on her, my friends and my family. We did not go out to eat, and when we cooked, we tracked and weighed every last ingredient to make sure I would have an accurate calorie count. Grocery shopping also can be more difficult when you try to shop for healthy food.

Finding Others With a Common Goal

If you are trying to quit smoking, it is a good idea to avoid hanging out with other smokers. Similarly, buffet-style restaurants are not the best places to go when preparing to ride a mule.

With the new fitness tracker craze, finding and connecting with other people who are trying to reach similar health goals is easier. The apps allow you to challenge and encourage each other regardless of where you live. Surround yourself with people who support and encourage you.  

In case you are wondering, Lisa said yes and we both got to ride mules in the Grand Canyon. But, as often is the case when I write these articles, I have to make the effort to follow my own advice. I am looking for the next vital motivator and setting my next mini goal.

I wonder how much weight I would have to lose to look good in a Speedo. Oh wait—it has to be realistic. I almost forgot. 

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