Most of us know how important goal setting is when working towards accomplishing our big dreams.
Without setting goals, you’re much more likely to wander aimlessly through your workouts and life, missing out on so many ways you could be fulfilling your potential.
Yet in order to be effective, goal setting has to go beyond a once a year scribbling down of New Year’s resolutions. Because it’s one thing to have goals—and another thing to actually work towards them.
A few months back, I randomly came across the book, The art of mental training: a guide to performance excellence by D.C. Gonzalez when looking for books on sports psychology and mental toughness. I’ve been fascinated by the role of the mind in sports and other high-achieving endeavors for a while now, and really connected with the Gonzalez’s approach to achieving peak performance in sports, career, and life. The book also breaks down goal setting in the best way I’ve ever come across.
As Gonzales says, “goals enhance performance and help create achievements.”
Yet not all goal setting is created equal. Here’s how to set meaningful goals you’ll actually accomplish:
Make Them Challenging—But Realistic
When you’re setting your goals, make sure they’re both challenging and realistic.
Slightly out of reach goals are best because they require a lot of hard work, yet they’re ultimately still attainable with effort.
Some examples of goals like this would be getting your first pistol squat, competing in an obstacle race like Tough Muddler, learning to do cool calisthenics moves like front levers, muscle ups, or handstand push-ups… the list goes on. Even making a goal to compete in something as far-reaching as American Ninja Warrior is realistic for many people, no matter where you’re starting from.
On the other hand, a goal of going to the NBA when you’re 45 years old and have never played basketball before is really just not very realistic and probably isn’t the best goal to set. Not that you can’t learn to play basketball at this age—you just most likely aren’t going to the NBA!
Make Sure They’re Your Goals
“Goals are most meaningful when they’re what you truly want for yourself, not what others want for you.” – Gonzalez
Don’t create a goal to run a marathon just because everyone else is doing it. Figure out goals that excite you—whether it’s to do your first pull-up, or climb Mt. Everest, or something entirely different.
Use your imagination—if you’re not sure what your current goals are, you might need to think back of things that interested you when you were younger and didn’t put up as many imaginary barriers. Even something as daring as skydiving at 80 years old is totally doable if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do and you put your mind to it.
Ideally, your goals both scare you and excite you.
State Them in a Positive Way
When you’re making your goals, it’s incredibly important to state them in a way that emphasizes what you actually want to happen, not what you want to avoid happening.
Why? Because our brains can really only hold onto one thought at a time, and when we state the negative—i.e. don’t choke at the end of the game—what do you think you’ll end up doing? You guessed it—choking.
Instead, frame your goals in a positive way, such as play with confidence to the best of my ability throughout the entire game.
This way, our brains can actually focus on what to do to get us to our goals, rather than dwelling on the negative. It makes a big difference—try it!
Attach it to a Timeline
The worst thing you can do when creating goals is to have them be completely open-ended. For most people, this creates a scenario where they have a list of goals they wish they would do someday but they never take a single step towards trying to accomplish them.
Instead, here’s the method Gonzales lays out and the goal setting method I’ve personally found most useful:
Start by creating long-term goals. You can think of these goals as ones you’d like to accomplish in around 2-3 years (or more, but that’s a good starting point).
Next, break your goals down into yearly goals. What would you need to accomplish in the next year to get you closer to your long-term goals? Try and be as specific as possible.
From there, create monthly goals. This allows you to break down your goals even further and keeps you taking steps forward. For example, if your long-term goal is to be able to do 10 pull-ups in a row, your monthly breakdown of this goal could specify how many days per week you want to focus on your pull-up training, what pull-up program or exercises you’ll be following to help you get there, how often you plan on communicating with your accountability buddy, etc.
Lastly, create daily goals to help you reach your long-term goals. In the case of pull-ups, this would most likely just be your specific pull-up workout, post-workout journaling, stretching, and anything else you’re doing that day to work towards your long-term pull-up goal.
Dream Big, Athletes!
Creating deliberate, well-thought-out goals will help you stay on track and accomplish way more in the long run. This method doesn’t just apply to fitness goals either—I’ve personally applied it to career and life goals as well with really great results.
And don’t forget, even if you don’t accomplish a goal in a set amount of time, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. We all fail, and failures can be some of the most valuable learning experiences if we let them be.
Just make sure to keep trying and dreaming big!