From the time we are old enough to consciously have ambitions we are told that the best way to achieve them is to set goals. This almost seems the innate way that humans set out to achieve - focus on the target - and perhaps it is. We even have countless cliches about setting goals high, the most ubiquitous of which seems to find it's way onto every classroom wall:
Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars
This always conjured a lovely image in my mind of myself laying among the stars, as though in some sort of cosmic hammock. Lovely childhood images aside, is this the best way to set ambitions? Teaching ourselves aims high and reconcile a sub-optimal result as "good enough?" I say that it is not.
Choose a direction to travel rather than a destination to travel toward. When our goals are defined by the outcome we inevitably measure progress relative to the destination. How much do I still have to go? Look how far away I still am. And any other measures of what we have yet to achieve.
While it is normal to have a desired outcome when we simply focus on traveling the right direction we can more easily look back to where we started. All we have to do is maintain faith that if we continue to travel in the right direction we can and will arrive anywhere we desire to go. With eyes not trained so intently forward we are better able to look back and measure our progress by the ground we have already covered.
It feels wonderful to focus on what we have already accomplished since setting out rather than gauge success based on the gap between our present and desired locations.
"These days, life is different: I no longer have goals. Instead of an arbitrary target, I prefer to have a direction in which to travel. If you're searching for a sunrise, it's important to head east. For a sunset, head west"
- Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus
This outlook can apply to every aspect of life but so clearly arises when we measure our athletic performance. How many times have you set a PR and still been disappointed by your performance because it did not measure up to your expectation? So often I see an athlete (myself included) hit a personal best lift/time/etc. only to miss the subsequent attempt and walk away disappointed. It is healthy to always remain motivated and want to be better than you are but not to the detriment of relishing the progress that you have already made. While the number on the bar or the time is a great measure of progress, why is the specific number you had in mind so important? It is easy to focus on a specific landmark: 225 snatch, 405 backsquat, body-weight this, double body-weight that, etc... Is not the goal to simply be stronger/faster/better? Regardless of how you choose to measure, the primary goal should always to be better, stronger, faster, more well-rounded athlete? Learn to appreciate each and every step you take in that direction.
Disappointment is simply the gap between your expectations and reality. Reality simply is, no matter how we choose to view it. The only thing we can control in this equation is our expectations. Replace your expectation of a specific outcome with the desire to simply continue moving in the right direction and you will find yourself happily celebrating each small victory.
Over-focusing on a goal can not only hamper your ability to see the small progress but it can actually hinder the progress itself. Looking too far down the road can diminish your focus on the step directly in front you. Focus on what you can accomplish right here and now. Like a relaxed walking journey, focus on the step you are currently taking and the incremental progress it brings. Recognize that there will be countless steps to follow but take them as they come.
Stay the course, be patient, and know that you can get anywhere you desire to go.
Have you found a different way of maintaining a healthy outlook on your athletic or personal development? I believe learning to prioritize continual improvement while simultaneously celebrating in who you are right now is such a defining factor in a healthy existence. I would love to hear what others have to say on the topic. Please share your thoughts.
Thanks for reading.