Everyone thinks they understand goal setting. They say, “I want to win states,” occasionally milk a little motivation out of that thought, but otherwise go about their business. What’s the matter with this? The benefit of goal setting isn’t that it helps fill trophy cases, it’s that it is the best way to promote personal growth and change. From this perspective, goal setting goes from a superficial zero-sum game, to a powerful, life-altering tool.
What’s the difference between winning something and earning it? It’s the difference between being Michael Jordan and renting his trophies.
Types of Goals
Superficial: Winning the state tournament is a goal, but it’s a superficial goal. This means that achieving it doesn’t necessarily say anything about your character or discipline, but the higher the goal, the more likely it is to develop these qualities.
Here is an example. If my goal is to bench press two hundred pounds and I achieve it, that alone doesn’t mean very much, because there are plenty of completely awful people who can bench press two hundred pounds without any training at all. However if my goal is to run a four minute mile, and I achieve it, it’s almost certain that I am a person of extreme discipline.
There is nothing wrong with superficial goals. Human beings are practical animals and they just aren’t programmed to pursue personal growth for the fun of it, because frankly it’s not very fun. It’s superficial, practical goals that make discipline the next logical step.
Personal: Personal goals are the hardest because they address weaknesses of personality and character. Are you a moral person? A good family member, teammate, citizen? Are you angry, selfish, cruel? Evaluating yourself in this fashion requires a lot of honesty.
Why is this important (in addition to the fact that vicious, greedy, disorganized people don’t perform very well in high pressure situations)? The higher the goal, the more support you need, and this support comes in a lot of forms. Intellectual, emotional, financial… great athletes almost always seem to have a network of people engineering their success. This sort of network doesn’t present itself to jerks.
Lastly, personal growth is important because it is the ultimate source of confidence. Many people have fixed mindsets, believing that talent is inherent and that people don’t grow or change. This gives them a deep seeded fear of defeat and cripples their personal development (more on this later). However people who assume control of their identity can believe they have the ability to aspire to anything. If you are going to take responsibility for your actions and eventually thoughts, personal goals must be pursued.
Habitual: Habitual goals are the opposite of personal ones, but they are targeting exactly the same thing. What do you do on a daily basis? How good is your diet? Preparation for practice? Preparation for matches? Practice habits? Academic habits? Any aspect of life can be broken down into actions, most of which we don’t even think about.
Focusing on small, daily actions like this is crucial for a number of reasons, chief among them is that in order to promote personal change, you need to buy into the idea that every action you take contributes to who you are. Diet, academics, sleep, organization…there are all opportunities to build discipline or undermine it.
The second part of this two part series focuses on educating people on and short, medium, and long term goals. Like superficial, personal, and habitual goals, these goals are tools that are used in different ways but are all aimed at the same result. Once you understand all of them, and how to combine them, you should have something akin to a road map for your idea of success.
This type of goal should be invented daily. It represents the little steps which add up to your medium and long term goals. “Drill one hundred single legs”, “Win a one minute period against Bob at practice,” “ride out Bob”, “run a mile after practice.” These types of goals are easy to understand and evaluate as a success or failure.
The key to short term goals, and medium term goals, is making sure they align with your long term superficial goals. If you can take anyone down, but get pinned by anyone with the guts to throw a half nelson, you don’t need to stay after practice drilling single legs. The trick to managing all these goals is keeping them all thoughtfully dedicated to a single purpose.
Medium term goals are about changing patterns. They are the significant steps that should occur on the way to your long term superficial goals. For instance a short term might be, “I want to beat Bob in practice today,” while a medium term goal would be, “I want to be better than Bob,” and all the while you are working towards winning Fargo.
“Become the best leg rider in the state,” “master the stand-up”, “become more explosive wrestler”, “be the toughest kid on the team”….these are all stepping stones that sit in the space between what you do on a daily basis, and the goals you can only fulfill on certain days of the year.
Long Term goals can be superficial or conceptual. “I want to win the Olympics”, and “I want to the most well respected wrestler in the state” are both acceptable long term goals. The crucial aspect of forming these goals is knowing yourself and what you want. What is success to you? What level of success do you want?
These questions are mostly a function of how disciplined you are and how disciplined you want to become. If you are unwilling to wrestle in the off season and refuse to quit smoking cigarettes, winning Fargo might not be in the cards, but this doesn’t mean there success isn’t an option.
As an exercise in goal setting fill out the grid below. Fitting your superficial, personal, and habitual goals into short medium and long term contexts can be challenging and confusing at first, but after some thought the use of each box will become clear, and you be able to pursue your goals with clarity.
Lastly, don’t take on too much at once. You don’t have to reach all your goals all the time, but never reaching them is hurtful to confidence and tends to derail the process. Similarly, suffocating yourself with a huge number of goals is another way to engineer failure. Place yourself in positions to succeed.
If you enjoyed this two part series on Goal Setting, check out this article on a CRUCIAL difference between the mentalities of successful and frustrated people, HERE.