Sexification Note: This article of mine was originally published in Alan Aragon’s Research Review, but after receiving several e-mails about goal setting I felt that it would help a lot more people if I also posted it here.
Author Geoffrey Albert once said that “The most important thing about goals is having one.” This is clearly not the case. The world is overflowing with an abundance of goals, and if you need visual confirmation of this fact, just visit your local gym on January 1st and prepare to be amazed by the massive army of fitness warriors who have arrived on the field of battle. Many come armed with the latest 30 day workout program from their favorite magazine, while others just wing it and hope for the best. No matter how they’ve arrived at this point, the one common bond that links them all together is a goal that spurred them into action.
Just like all great battles however, the casualty rate is high. So why is it that after just a few weeks the number of gym goers actively pursuing their goal experience such a huge drop off? After all, they had a goal, right? Yes, but what they were sorely lacking – and what a large majority of successful people have – was a plan, and a goal without a plan is and will always be just a dream.
While a plan is important, a realistic plan will exponentially increase the likelihood of your success, and borrowing a few concepts Edwin Locke, a pioneer of goal-setting theory, can aid you in creating your own plan. In his book entitled A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance, Locke and his colleague Dr. Gary Latham outlined 5 key principles that must be in place in order to motivate us to succeed in the pursuit of our goals:
Clarity – If it is worth doing it is worth doing right the first time, but before we can do it right, we must clearly define what it is. Locke’s research brought to light the notion that the more clearly defined an objective is, the better the chances are of it actually being achieved. For instance, someone who simply wants to “get jacked” has a more ambiguous goal than someone who wants to “increase their front squat by 40lbs in 8 months while maintaining their current body fat levels.” The latter has an exact destination that they are heading towards, and when 4 10lb plates (or however you want to do the math) have been added to that original weight, the goal has been reached; the former however does not. When will his jacktitude quotient be met – 20, 40, or even 100 lbs later? Don’t hamstring yourself from the start by not giving yourself a clear target to shoot for.
Challenge – We must stretch ourselves outside of our comfort zones in order to grow as individuals, and this concept is also critical in setting ones plan for success. The less challenging a goal is, the less excited we are about achieving it. The less excited we are about achieving it, the less likely we are to even bother pursuing it. One tip that I learned from financial guru Dave Ramsey is the importance of starting with the easiest goals first. While the goal may not be exceedingly difficult, the importance of building momentum from the completion of smaller tasks cannot be underestimated. For instance, if your goal is to lose 15 lbs in 16 weeks, that initial weight that is lost during the first few weeks of dieting will serve as a sign that you can do it, and as a lesson to reflect on when the rate of loss slows down. By doing so, you will become more confident in your ability to succeed, which will carry over with you when you begin to tackle more challenging goals.
Commitment – This is where most people tend to fall off the wagon, down the hill and off the side of a cliff. If there is anything that I’ve learned from being surrounded by athletes from all walks of life it is this – effort and attitude trump all. You can have the best training program or business plan in the world, but if you lack pursuit, then you should expect it to show in your results. I would put my money on the person who has the worst training program known to man, but is willing to try their hardest every day.
Religious studies instructor and strength coach Dan John came up with a brilliantly effective and simple way for anyone to assess ones commitment. Simply look at your goals, then look at your behavior and ask yourself one question – do your behaviors match your goals? It’s very easy to say that you want to have an eye-turning physique, but if you’re a 120lb person who spends all nights partying and subsists on energy drinks andgraham crackers, then its time to change either your behaviors or your goals.
Feedback – Just imagine how many satellite launch failures would have occurred if it weren’t for the self-regulating inertial guidance system installed within the rocket. This system is responsible for making on the fly adjustments mid-flight to ensure that the satellite is placed in the exact orbit necessary for it not to come crashing back to Earth, or flying off into space. We as humans have this same system inside of us, but the problem is that we rarely use it.
Successful people do not just create a plan and follow it blindly; they are constantly re-evaluating it based on their results. If the plan they’ve come up with is taking them in the direction that they want to go in, then they just keep on chugging along. In the event that they do come across a snag in the road, they simply make the minor adjustments necessary to keep moving forward. Sadly, we’ve all seen examples of the person who completely demolishes their plan at the smallest sign of stagnation – or even when it hasn’t occurred at all! One week they’re doing total body training, and then the next week they’ve moved onto HIT, and before 30 days have passed they’ve booked a flight to Russia in order to train with self proclaimed kettlebell masters, all the while not getting an inch closer to their original goal. Don’t be that person. If you came across a road block while on a trip across country, would you turn around, drive all the way home, and then pick a different route? A complete overhaul is rarely necessary, so get in the habit of making small adjustments by using outcome-based decision making and you will be in a much better position to achieve what you desire.
Task Complexity — As an elite mountaineer with the accomplishment of reaching the summit of all 14 of the world’s eight-thousanders (mountains more than 8,000 feet above sea level) under his belt, Ed Viesturs knows a little something about goal achievement. While reading his book No Shortcuts to the Top, I couldn’t help but take note of his most repeated mantra – “Getting to the top is optional, but getting down is mandatory.” Some become so fixated on reaching the summit that in their mind the battle is won once they make it to the top, when in fact it has just begun. It is of paramount importance to make sure that you know what you’re up against when you decide to tackle a difficult task. While this isn’t always possible, the more informed you are, the better decisions you can make. The point of having a plan is make sure that you manage your resources appropriately in order to reach your destination, not to go out in a blaze of glory before you even get there. Mount Everest is the burial ground of many people who pushed to the top despite the fact that they lacked the necessary mental and physical resources. Let us not make this same mistake.
The greatest variable in achieving our goals is time. While taking our sweet time has its own consequences, going too fast or giving up too soon because we don’t have a realistic grasp on how long it will take is a much larger hazard. If you develop a plan that fails to acknowledge passion, planning, sacrifice, struggle, commitment and consistency as an integral part of the process, then it’s time hit the drawing board again. There is an entry fee for anything worth achieving in life, and as the great blues guitarist B.B King once said, “You have to pay the cost to be the boss.” By applying Locke’s principles of goal setting to your own endeavors, success will not be a matter of if, but when.
What goals do YOU have? What are you doing to get there? Is there anything that I can do to help? Let me know in the comment section!
Photo Credit: cameronparkins