Setting goals is one of the most important skills you can have as an athlete. But setting goals is sometimes harder than it sounds. If the goals are too easily reached, they can actually hold you back instead of motivating you to move forward. If the goals you set are too difficult they can seem unreachable and discourage you. Many people recommend setting a big, very difficult to attain main goal, then setting smaller sub-goals that will happen along the way to focus on as you move toward achieving the main goal.
If you are setting a goal for your 2k time on a C2 rower and your current time is 9 minutes, your main goal might be 7 minutes. You might set up sub-goals of 8:30, 8:00, 7:45, and so on clear till you get to your main goal of 7 minutes.
But I think setting sub-goals that are slightly different in nature from your main goal works even better. It works better because it give you a bit of mental variety and a periodic break from ALWAYS focusing on the same old thing. For instance when a beginner weightlifter decides he wants to snatch 100 kg, he might set his first sub-goal as a 100kg snatch deadlift. Obviously you will need snatch deadlift more than 100 to do a 100kg snatch but it is a nice first step. The second sub-goal might be to back squat 150kg. A 150kg back squat also does not guarantee the ability to snatch 100, but the snatch deadlift and the squat are strength levels that have to be met and surpassed on the road to a 100kg snatch. Other sub-goals could be meeting a certain number with the snatch from the hip, or power snatch.
The real trick is to pich sub-goals that are different than the main goal, but not too different. Different enough that they give you a mental break but not so different that meeting the sub-goals does not move you toward your main goal.
I recently got to know a woman who is very much like me in many ways. She is goal oriented and driven in most aspects of life. But she is clueless when it comes to eating and exercise. She goes to the gym and puts in the time but does not see the results. She exercises, rather than trains. And there is a huge difference between the two.
Folks who exercise often do not get results because even they do not know what the goals are. What exactly does it mean to get in shape? Or to become more fit? They describe their workout in a similar manner. They talk about how much time they spent at the gym, or maybe some very rough description of what they did like I walked for a while on the treadmill then I did some weights.
Achieving your goals starts with setting the correct goals. There is probably no goal more difficult to achieve than the goal of simply looking good with your shirt off or in a bikini. There is no definitive end point when you can say yes, I did it. And there are no performance markers along the way that let you know you’re moving in the right direction. To be successful you have to set performance goals that are easily definable and that can be very accurately measured. Accurately enough that you can see even very small changes that take place over an extended time.
For my friend that I spoke about earlier, the woman who “exercises” most evening, I would love to tell her to stop exercising and start training. Pick one or two performance goals and go after those goals like you were an athlete. Two goals that would be great for a woman who want to be in better shape would be to back squat 135 pounds for a set of 5 and to do a 2k in under 10 minutes. If she achieved both of these goals the side effect would be far more in terms of health or just being in “good shape” than anything she would ever have achieved just going to the gym and exercising. One of the reasons is that as soon as you start to focus on concrete goals, you just naturally move away from toxic dietary habits like skipping breakfast or lunch. Because the consequences move from hazy consequence like “it’s not healthy” to a very real and immediate like, if I don’t get some food down I am going to absolutely die on my 2k tonight, or if I don’t eat I have no chance to get that set of 5 with 100 pounds that I have planned tonight.
And that might be the real secret. Concrete performance goals make for concrete performance failures. And no one wants to fail.