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.
Take a moment to list your best and worst, characteristics, habits and actions. More on goal setting coming soon.