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An alternative approach to goal setting

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On goal setting: I am going to treat this as a post dedicated to purely athletic based goals. Whether or not you qualify to have athletic based goals is a subject for another day. Goals are a fickle beast, because often we think of goals in terms of outcomes, and this is often a flawed way of thinking. This way of thinking, we start at the goal and work backwards, detailing what we need to do to achieve this goal. This is an often-encouraged way of thinking about our goals, but often, in a large number of circumstances, it is flawed. Everyone knows where they want to be, but often not where they are right now. Say we moved to a new unknown city and we asked for directions. Lets pretend we are in Sydney asking for directions to the Opera House. It would be somewhat useless to get directions to walk to the opera house without initially establishing where we are now. And yet, this is what we do with goal setting the entire time. Where we currently are is not as simple as “Right, I squat 90 kg, in 6 months I would like to squat 100kg”. A reasonable goal. But where you currently are cannot be reduced to a number, because there are so many factors at play in the gym, including lifestyle, age, previous injury history and technique. The above goal may be reasonable for a relatively uninjured, young athlete who has achieved 90kg squats off nothing more than sipping from the fountain of youth. It may be a less realistic goal for an older person who has struggled through knee pain, and has poor form, and is about to encounter a stressful life event (say moving houses). Really truly establishing where you are now is the first step in thinking about goals.

The second step in the goal setting process that is often manipulated by starting at the outcome, is what is the process to get to the goal. So lets say once again my goal is to get to the Opera House. I kind of want to see it. It’s sort of cool. But now I’m still in Melbourne, have no money and no car so I have to walk. Off I go. Now I walk off because my goal was to get to the Opera house. But now the process to get there has become completely unrealistic. I do not have the resources (a car or money for a plane ticket) to achieve the goal, but embark on this fools journey anyhow because hey, only losers don’t achieve their goals right? This is what normal goal setting often looks like. People set goals without a true evaluation of what exactly the requirements are to achieve the goal, and what their resources are to dedicate towards the goal. This is a really crucial step. What people do when they start at the goal and work backwards is often they overestimate their resources to dedicate towards the goals relative to its importance to them. 2 weeks into a 12 weeks journey they quit, all because they should not necessarily have begun the journey in the first place.

These are two examples of how the common goal setting procedure of starting at a goal and working backwards is often a very flawed way of thinking. The solution is simple. Develop an understanding on what is truly important to you. Develop an understanding of where you are, physically, financially, spiritually etc. Develop an understanding of what overflow of effort from your everyday life you can dedicate to the pursuit of a new goal. Follow this process of starting from where you are now will mean that in the majority of cases, the goal should become self apparent.