Setting The Right Goals
MAKE YOUR GOAL PERSONAL
First and foremost, your goal needs to be created for the most important person: you. It’s so easy to spend time and energy striving for achievements that others want us to meet. Making and meeting goals is difficult in the first place; it will be much harder to achieve a goal that’s not rewarding or meaningful to you. Of course, other people have a place in your goals— although you’re completing a goal for yourself, it feels good to acknowledge how your teammates, family, and friends will benefit as well. Plus, if you really need motivation, look hard at a list of what you, and others, have to lose. Remind yourself of what’s at stake.
Once you’ve made a goal that you are comfortable with, be deliberate about how you approach achieving it. It’s important to anticipate obstacles before they occur. You won’t be as intimidated or discouraged if they don’t come as a surprise. I have spoken to countless athletes who’ve tried to meet their goal, or a similar one, several times already with limited success. Just putting your head down and trying harder doesn’t cut it, though. Before you start again, think about the situations that derailed your efforts in the past. Were you blocked by your own negative, self-defeating thoughts? Or was it other situations or people that offered distractions? If you take the time to list your obstacles, you can develop different strategies and be armed with a plan of attack when they come up-- because, trust me, they will.
I had a client, Mark, whose goal was to improve his fitness. After setting his SMART goal of reaching a certain fitness benchmark, he faced the challenge of finding the time to exercise. One significant obstacle was that he enjoyed being with his friends so much that he rarely turned down invitations to hang with them. When the choice came up, Mark always put his friends first. We discussed how to make it easier for him by all but eliminating that difficult choice. We came up with a solution where he set a time to exercise at the end of his workday that was written in stone. When he was asked to hang with friends, his answer always was, “I’d love to join you guys-- after I get back from my workout.” It was comforting for him to know the exact time he would be occupied by exercise; he saw it just like any other daily commitment rather than something that would occupy his thoughts all day. And once Mark had a specific schedule, he rarely had to turn down invitations-- his friends wanted to support him and easily planned around his workout time.
BUILD IN A CHEERLEADER
Another helpful strategy I recommend, and one that I see less often in sports, is identifying a change partner. There’s no rule that says you have to go at this alone! Find someone who can be positive and supportive along with you during this process. A teammate or a friend who is also working towards a goal can help keep you honest and motivated. They’ll make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to- and offer suggestions when you get stuck.
TIPS FOR THE JOURNEY
Great dreams are filled with passion and intensity, the emotions that give us the motivation to follow through with difficult situations. Think of dreams as fuel for a car; without fuel, the car won’t be able to get out of the garage. And before you reach wherever your fuel can take you, you have to map out the best way to get there. If you make it, you’ve reached your ultimate destination: where dream and realities merge.
If you search google maps for directions, it asks you to input two values first: your starting location and ending location. In your plan of action to achieve your dreams, you have to take an honest look at where you’re starting. Inventory all aspects of your performance: physical skills, mental skills, conditioning, and strategy. Rate each one on a scale through 1-5. Really think about this; if you aren’t sure how to evaluate certain areas, consult with your coach, teammate, or trusted friend. The areas that receive a 4 or 5 need some continued attention to maintain that high level, while the areas with lower scores will need more practice for improvement. This way you can put your time and energy where it’s most needed.
SELECTING A RELEVANT GOAL
What kind of goals do you set? Your dreams may have given you your ultimate destination, but every road trip needs some stops along the way-- places to refuel, re-energize, and recommit to the journey at hand. Performance goals, or process goals, are different from outcome goals (like a win) because you have direct control over achieving them. They’ll help you create a realistic plan of action to take you to your dream goal, and also provide concrete steps for you to focus on. For example, if your performance ratings suggest that you have a tendency to overfocus on past mistakes, your associated performance goal could be “I will let go of the past and focus on the present moment.” Just like any physical skill, you’ll learn this through repetition, so include it when you practice; by the time you compete, that goal will have become a habit.
LEARN FROM THE PROCESS
Keeping track of your progress is the key to staying on track during your dream-to-reality journey. Many athletes I’ve coached have found it helpful to create a chart system where you can list specific goals and evaluate your performance for each one. As you prepare for practice, you can focus your energy by reviewing the goals; after practice, you can take the time to review and evaluate your performance. This also is an excellent way of keeping track of how much you’ve accomplished over time.
Let’s summarize Your Plan of Action.
Your goal is:
For you— you should really want this!
Before starting out:
Rate your abilities
Identify obstacles and create solutions to each
Find a buddy to help keep you on track
Establish smaller “performance goals” to serve as benchmarks
Once you begin the process:
Keep track of your progress; rate your abilities
Remember to look back and be proud of what you’ve accomplished over time!
I often find that preparing for the journey is the hardest part. Be diligent and detailed, but don’t forget to look back and see how far you’ve come. At the end of the day, if you don’t reach a goal, the progress you’ve made towards it will always be invaluable. There may be times along the journey where you may want to reevaluate your goals. That’s OK, too.
I have one last piece of advice: Protect your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you that they are unrealistic; that isn’t the point. The point is to strive to achieve them every day. It’s the striving where the real magic gets made.