Setting Goals

8 Jan

I  came across a quote today that really resonates with me, and which reminds me about why I feel so strongly about making goals very specific and meaningful.

“Superficial goals lead to superficial results”

I saw this quote attributed to Attila the Hun. You know, that guy from history who led a nomadic nation on a journey of conquest from what is now modern day European Russia all the way to France, and controlled all of Northern and Western Europe. The guy responsible for giving even the mighty Roman Empire more than a few headaches and ulcers in his day. Regardless of the fame – or infamy – of the originator however, I find the quote itself is very meaningful and very true, particularly when it comes to setting personal goals relating to health and fitness.

Have you ever told yourself that you would like to eat healthier, lose weight, or exercise more, and then after the initial excitement where you try and make all of the changes you think you need to do these things, you start to slip, and then end up telling yourself that you gave it a go, but it was too hard now, and maybe you’ll try again later? Does this sound like you? Well, I’ll admit that this was me a few years ago, and it’s something I’m not entirely happy about in myself because that wasn’t the me that I was when I was a much younger man.

A goal is something specific. It is finite, clearly definable, measurable, and requires a journey of successes and failures in order to achieve.

Yes, that’s right, I said failures are part of the journey and in some ways I feel that the failures are more important than the successes along the way. I am a great believer that we need failures and mistakes because they are great tools by which we can learn more about ourselves, and which help us to identify flaws in our plans to reach our goals. There is a big difference however in being resigned to failure, and accepting failure as a part of personal growth, and the big difference is in how you deal with a failure, what you learn from it, and in how you apply what you’ve learned in order to better reach your goal.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure … than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

When I hear someone tell me that they want to be fit and healthy, I ask them “How fit?” and “How healthy?”. What do the words “fit” and “healthy” mean to you personally, and how will you know when you are “done”? Simply stating that you want to be fit is a wish and not a goal, and if you attempt to begin your health and fitness journey with wishes, you’re essentially making excuses for yourself to fail to ever reach your goal even before you’ve started the journey. Wishes are superficial, and they will never be powerful enough or meaningful enough to you personally to motivate you to persevere through all of the good and bad moments.

Goals themselves however are of little value without understanding why you wish to achieve them. It’s the “why” that gives a goal it’s meaning, and which empowers you to have the tenacity to achieve a goal regardless of the obstacles in your way. Without a meaningful “why”, failures become the excuses by which you will give yourself the permission to not reach your goals.

I often tell my kids that whether you succeed or fail at anything in life is all on you, but when you fail you shouldn’t think about blaming yourself for your failure, but rather you should be accountable for your failure (be an example to others that you own your mistakes), and take the opportunity to learn why you failed so that the next time you try you’ll be closer to your goals. Or to paraphrase part of William Edward Hickson‘s famous proverb:

If at first you don’t succeed, own it, learn, try, fail, own it, learn, and try again.

Setting personal goals should not allow for an all or nothing mentality. Actually I believe that setting ANY goal should never be all or nothing. Sure you might set a deadline, and yes that deadline might be important to you, but is it as important as the eventual attainment of the goal itself? It shouldn’t be if your why is well defined. And what about that goal itself? Is it an all encompassing thing that you wish to achieve, or is the goal really the sum of lots of little goals that you need to achieve along the journey? In other words, did you define your goal realistically?

It could be tempting to say that “I want to have a rockin’ body in 2 weeks because I want more than anything to win the Mr./Miss Universe competition being held then”, but seriously that isn’t likely to happen if you aren’t already close to being ready. If you set unrealistic expectations of yourself, you are planning to fail. Better to say instead that you want to have your rockin’ body in the shortest possible time, give yourself a powerful reason why this is so important to you, then commit yourself lots of little goals that will keep you motivated along the journey by providing you with lots of opportunities to be successful, and which will also help you to be able to better deal with the bumps that will inevitably appear on your journey from time to time.

So in summary:

  1. State your Goal.
    Be very specific by identifying what it is you need to achieve, and how you will know you have achieved it.
  2. Define your “Why”.
    Again, be very specific. Define what it is that makes your Goal more important to you than anything else you can think of.
  3. Plan to succeed.
    Define lot’s of little goals – Targets you wish to achieve along the way to your ultimate Goal.
  4. Be realistic.
    Accept that your Goal isn’t merely a destination, but a journey which requires time, effort, and patience.
  5. Accept that your Goal is not an “All or Nothing” proposition.
    Your ultimate success will be the sum of all of your successes along your journey. You may even change your mind about your end goal as you learn more about yourself, however your “Why” will remain the same, and it’s that reason which will be most important to you.
  6. Commit to your Goal.
    Make that commitment to yourself. Better yet, look to your support network and make your commitment to them also.
  7. Be accountable.
    First to yourself, then to your support network. Accountability means you give yourself permission to accept any consequences and to learn from mistakes leaving you with no time to worry about dealing with guilt, and no room for excuses.
  8. Enjoy the journey.
    No matter what may happen along the way, every opportunity to learn and everything you manage to get right are achievements. Take satisfaction in them and look forward to each and every step on the road to your own personal success.

5 Responses to “Setting Goals”

  1. Shanna Carson 21 February 2013 at 02:42 #

    Excellent post Sean and it’s so true that goals need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound) 🙂

    There is also a little technique you can use, if you have the courage that will almost guarantee the achievement of big goals and dreams. It is based on the idea of “social pressure”.

    Think about this; let’s say you have a goal to lose a certain amount of weight or achieve some desired level of fitness. You can set the goal privately and tell yourself, “I am going to achieve this goal by August 1.” On the other hand, you can make the goal public by telling all of your friends and family what you intend to do and even give a date for your desired completion.

    As soon as you take that goal public, you move into a different state of mind. No longer are you at the mercy of your own self-discipline (which has been tarnished by years of bad habits). Now you have a much more powerful force dictating your day to day actions and decisions.

    • Sean Robins 21 February 2013 at 08:28 #

      Social pressure can be a powerful motivator to those who are receptive to it, however it can also be a powerful de-motivator for those who don’t have a positive mindset. One of the problems with making your goals public is that it also makes your failures very public. While a desire to avoid public failure seems like a good motivator, it actually adds to the pressure and can make the attainment of goals feel harder and more like a chore than something to desire, because the focus becomes shifted to the pressure you place on yourself to avoid the public failure. This results in a very negative mindset that makes failure something to avoid and fear, rather than something to embrace and to learn from.

      Rather than having social pressure driving your actions and decisions, social support can work better to provide the love and encouragement needed to help overcome the failures that occur along the journey. Yes, this also requires that you make your goals public, however it also allows you to lean on your support networks to provide encouragement when you set a difficult goal, encouragement when a failure occurs to help you get back on track, and if you’ve surrounded yourself with good people, a reality check to ensure you are being realistic about not only your goals, but also for your reasons why you need to achieve those goals or your reasons for failure and where you might need to improve for next time.

      Yes, social support can also fail because it does require you to have good people to provide you with real encouragement and not platitude. It is however less confronting when failures occur, requires less “courage”, and allows you to rebuild a healthier mindset in stages that you can more easily handle, rather than forcing large personal change upon yourself all at once.

      I’m not really disagreeing with you, just putting up an alternative (perhaps complimentary) way of looking at it.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂


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