Goals. Creating goals, sticking to goals, goal acronyms, goal retreats. Goal setting is a popular topic critical to success yet it has also been hammered to a pulp. A pulp of old school to-do lists scribbled on post-its. Oh. Is that just me? Well, let me tell you what I’ve realized as a compulsive list maker and goal-setter and what I’ve learned as my life experience shifted from highschool leadership conferences to personal coach.
Let’s start with a question for you.
What do you think?
Have we hammered the concept of “goals”, with all the flashy Instagram quotes and Facebook statuses, to the point where we have become desensitized to what setting goals truly means and/or the impact they have when goals are a part of our day-to-day life (and not just the day-to-day newsfeed)?
Google "goal or motivation quotes” and you will be given a selection of encouraging words for your image board. Attend any leadership or management conference and you will discuss a familiar mantra re: goals over and over again.
But words and actions are different things.
A goal (outcome) and the actions (behaviours) required to reach a goal translate quite differently in daily life.
About 15 years ago, I was in the early stages of my coaching career working full-time as a trainer. I was hired by my clients because they had goals. (Shockingly, it wasn’t because of my incredible wit and charm @ 6am. Well, maybe a little of column A, a little of column B).
Aside from the aforementioned wit and charm, here’s what my clients wanted:
#1: Weight loss NOTE: People typically mean “change body composition" or "decrease body fat" which is an important differentiation from “lose weight".
#2: Manage/eliminate pre-existing pain in back, knees, hips or shoulders #3: Run a race #4: Get stronger
#5: Get smaller
#6: Get bigger
#7: Get faster
I feel that everyone can agree that these are, indeed, “goals” as classified by your highschool career planning class. You can even draw them out to become SMART (specific – measurable – attainable – realistic – timely) goals. However, it does not change the fact that all of these are outcomes not actions.
An outcome is a goal though, right? Yes.
However, you don’t DO an outcome.
I cannot wake up in the morning and check “lose weight” off my to-do list. It’s not something I can perform.
Let’s go back to my early coaching days because there are a few things to cover.
From the classic Spice Girls anthem, we begin: What do you really, really want?
At this point in my career, I had a lot to learn (and, let me be the first to tell you, I still do) but, thankfully I understood that my clients didn’t want to just lose weight or finish a half marathon. There was always something else. Something that required a small (or lengthy) archaeological dig. Something else that the client linked to the outcome whether consciously or subconsciously.
Note for coaches:
Although it is helpful when your client can articulate their deeper motivation and desires, some just aren’t game and that’s a-okay. It’s helpful for you as a coach to observe, listen and understand what might be going on so you can help your client reach their true desired outcome and experience success.
As a strength and conditioning coach and yoga instructor, it’s incredible witnessing people reach physical goals but I love-love how this confidence and self-awareness fills up and spills over into other areas of their life.
Interestingly, these two outcomes (a. performance / physical b. inside stuff) rarely occur at the same time.
Do these different outcomes travel similar roads? Sure, they definitely can, but it is not imperative that one leads to the other and vice versa. This is where I feel we need to steer the conversation.
Let's explore three case studies to highlight how we can benefit from looking at goal setting differently.
1. HOW OUTCOMES DIFFER (and unintentionally link together)
I remember making a client cry on the floor. Shiiiiiiiit.
Annie* was a 45 year-old woman who was crushing it at training. She had never trained before. She was earning incredible results after only a few months. Her joy and attitude made her a dream client.
We were chatting after a session and she was telling me about how she was organizing job interviews for her 24 year-old son (noted: hmmm… the previous weekend, she was working on school business with her 21 year-old son). She continued on about how she was wrestling with whether she should take a weekend getaway with her girlfriends because she had some other family stuff she could have been doing. She was speaking lightheartedly about it all and so I responded in kind, “Annie. You should absolutely go! When was the last time you did something just for you?”. BAM. I thought I was reading the situation correctly but … no. I thought she was simply working through some scheduling technicalities aloud but I missed the full intensity of the situation. She started to cry tears of guilt and sadness. I quickly escorted her off the floor and then she confided that she couldn’t remember the last time she did something for herself and “for fun” and that she felt guilty even going to the gym. Oh.
Annie had common “umbrella” goals on paper: lose weight, improve health.
What she really wanted: a realization of her self-worth and an identity that validated investing time and energy in herself.
She was reconnecting with who she was beyond, but not exclusively of, the titles of wife and mom. She struggled with how she could prioritize herself while still being there for her family.
I firmly (FIRMLY) believe that when you take care of yourself physically, mentally, and psychologically, you make space to offer your true essence to the world. Whether that means hitting the gym, taking time out to read when you could be doing something else or simply saying “no” without feeling that you need to justify anything beyond the reasoning that it simply honours you, your time and your energy.
I believe it but it doesn't make it easy to set aside personal time, unfortunately. Sometimes, though, the universe reinforces your decision by letting you watch your babies wake up, find each other and animatedly play while you paint. Something you would missed had you been doing laundry or working on your book.
2. HOW OUTCOMES (words) DIFFER FROM BEHAVIOURS (actions)
This point is imperative for change to occur but highly individualized so this is where I want to let you marinate for a bit:
What are the actions required for me to ___________?
Back track as much as you can to chop your goal into the smallest, most manageable chunks and start there.
Let’s quickly explore a common goal to play around with this concept.
OUTCOME GOAL: increase hydration
ANOTHER WAY TO LOOK AT IT: drink more water
Let's break down the steps:
DEEPER - learn how much water I should aim for each day Okay - and then what? DEEPER - outline water intake goals throughout day (drink 1.5L by noon, 2L by 3pm, etc.) Cool - how? DEEPER - create a system for monitoring intake goals (example – alarm set on phone) Great - how do you start? DEEPER – figure out how much I’m drinking now Yep - and...? DEEPER – aim to add 500mL every few days until at goal volume That will work. And how? DEEPER – pick one time of day to add first 500mL Yes. And how can we make this happen? DEEPER – get water bottle DEEPER – be prepared for day
EXAMPLE STARTING BEHAVIOURS: Fill water bottle up night before bed. Finish bottle within first hour of morning.
3. HOW OUTCOMES CAN INTERTWINE FOR EXTRA MAGIC
When external outcomes (physical and performance goals) collide with internal motivations (how you feel), it can bring you to crazy-sweet (not a technical term) levels. Do you need to _____________________ (state physical goal) to obtain ____________________ (state psychological/emotional goal)? No. Although they can intertwine, one doesn’t equal or directly lead to the other.
Let’s quickly explore a common goal to play around with this concept.
EXTERNAL / PHYSICAL GOAL: run a 10K
INTERNAL / EMOTIONAL GOAL: gain confidence
EXTERNAL affecting internal: ~ Running a 10K can shift how you feel about what you are capable of performing.
INTERNAL affecting external: ~ Feeling more confident might make you run faster.
~ Increased motivation to try harder after experiencing previous outcome success.
~ Increased self-awareness emotionally and physically helping to ward of injury.
Other crazy-sweet side effects and lessons learned from accomplishing performance goals: ~ Empowerment: “Whhhooooaaa. I did it! What else can I do?” ~ Perseverance: “Wow. It took a while. I failed. I struggled. But I made it!” ~ Sense of personal identity: “I had to dig deep. I learned about what works for me. I learned what doesn’t.”
So now what….?
You, dear reader.
#1. What do you want, do you really, really want?
I want to run a marathon.
I want to write a book.
I want to travel to _________.
I want to start doing yoga. I want to eat more vegetables.
I want to ________(goal above) because _________________ because ______________because __________________ (….keep digging)!
#3. Tell someone.
It’s important to put your goal out there. Verbalize it. Put it on paper.
Word of caution:
Have you ever noticed when someone talks about what they are going to do (over and over), that they get the praise and approval for going to do something (i.e. "that’s a great idea", "you should do that", "you’ll be great") without actually doing it?
Word from observation:
Have you ever noticed when someone is LIVING their goal, they rarely have to exclaim it? Case in point – I used to work in a world-famous, fancy-schmancy hotel. I had a position that allowed me to be personal, versus corporate, with the patrons. The silly-rich and super-famous people were down-to-earth and kind. The insecure rich people trying to prove themselves would not look you in the eye when they talked at (not to) you.
#4. Build a team. Find the best resources for you.
You aren’t expected to know everything or do it on your own. The likelihood of getting where you want to go is heightened when you have support, guidance and outside accountability.
#5. Check yourself.
Whether it’s through social media or announcing it to your family and friends old school (re: in person) or checklists for behaviour compliance or all of the above.
Have you ever caught yourself saying the same thing over and over again? I am not referring to that story from your youth that continually resurfaces and is a solid crowd-pleaser (like that time I was in a production of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and my toga broke or that time by sister and I went for a spring hike and it started to snow and we became so cold that we had to team-effort turn the truck on because our fingers were too cold to close around the key). I'm talking about what you want to do or stop doing or change in your life.
I have this general policy with my friends and family. (And they return the favour - especially my family). If you need to comment about something shitty, negative or frustrating in your life in order to release it or process it – the floor is yours. Extra points if you’re hilarious, there are props and wine has mysteriously landed in my hand. But then what? If you tell the same story over and over again, then that just means you’re complaining. Floor revoked.
The important thing is that once you identify something needs to be changed (after a hilarious portrayal of the situation over wine), you need to do something about it because none of the people enjoying your show and the wine can do that for you.
(…the “you” in all that is obviously me talking about myself.)
I guess this is a colourful way of saying...
All the fancy words and motivational haikus in the world will not take us where we want to go
if we are only looking at the end line.
First, I need to know what I really, really want. (Thanks, SG.)
Second, I need to break my outcomes down into behaviours and then down
and down again into the smallest actions.
This is where success begins.