What is a goal?

By definition, the object of a person’s ambitions or efforts. An aim or desired result. By practice, we set them – big ones – and then do a bunch of stuff hoping, wishing it might help us get to our goal.

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Hit or miss.

Here’s the problem with goals. They tell us where we want to go but don’t say anything about what we’re going to do to get there. Goals are simply outcomes. And, unfortunately outcomes are outside of your control. That’s why you’ll hear many coaches tell you to let go of the outcome, instead focus on the process. The process is the small series of steps and acts that you need to take to reach your outcome. These steps are 100% within your control.

There’s a great book out there about goal setting called Burn Your Goals by Josh Metcalf. In his words:

I was tired of seeing people get high off the thrill of setting big goals when they weren’t willing to commit to the controllables. Burn your wish list. I want to see your commitment list. I want to know what you are committed to doing with your 24 hours a day to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. What are you willing to sacrifice inside your 86,4000 seconds every day to become the person you want to be? We don’t have control over our outcomes, but we do have control over how we use our time. Time is the only resource that is the same for everyone. Rather than focusing on arbitrary goals, focus 100% of your energy on your commitments and controllables.

For many of you, you’ve probably set a big, far off goal: set a PR, finish an Ironman. How can you improve your chances of actually achieving your goal? Think about the commitments, the steps in the process to get there.

Let’s use an example. Perhaps your goal is to qualify for Kona. That’s a clear endpoint – the outcome. But that goal once set says nothing about how you’re actually going to get there. Focus on the commitments. First, you need to commit to killer consistency in your training. To do that, you’ll need to nail the details of nutrition, hydration and sleep on a daily basis. See where it’s going? Each step can be broken down into a series of smaller steps – each one requiring a commitment or action. Go through this process and you’ll see that setting a goal and actually achieving it requires an extraordinary amount of effort. Setting the goal isn’t enough. Hoping you get there isn’t enough. Neither is “working hard” or “giving it your best.” Instead, it requires committed, thoughtful action every single day.

A few weeks ago, I encouraged my athletes to write a goal for the next month. Then, write out the commitments they needed to make daily to reach that goal. At the end of this month, I want them to evaluate themselves. Self-reflection is a critical part of success – being honest with yourself about how you’re doing. Look back and see how you did. Then, create a plan either to make the commitments more attainable or how to move on to the next goal. This self-reflection process helps you to take ownership of your goal. Your coach’s responsibility is to teach you to grow; but your responsibility is taking ownership of your development by tracking and evaluating how you’re growing. Post your commitment somewhere you can see it every single day. Hold yourself accountable, keep it within your reach. Use it as a filter to make choices and guide behavior.

A few inspiring tidbits from Metcalf on commitments:

Don’t seek success – seek challenges. Dreams are on the other side of challenges. Anyone can dream a dream and set a goal, the real question is how much are you willing to suffer. How many times will you be willing to say NO to instant gratification in order to say YES to your dreams that are so far off they feel you will never reach them? How many times will you hear the feedback that is tough? Don’t yearn for validation, yearn for learning. How many times will you be willing to persevere in the face of adversity? True humility is believing you can do anything you set your mind to and being willing to confidently take steps towards your dreams knowing that you were created for a purpose. If you are waiting on your moment, know that when the moment arrives you won’t be prepared. Because while you were waiting, others were training. When the moment arrives, only those who have been training and expecting the day to arrive will be ready to seize the opportunity. And those people tend to create and attract many of those opportunities to them because they’ve been training rather than waiting. Ask yourself: “how would I use my 86,4000 seconds today if I knew I was going to get the opportunity of my dreams?” The opportunity will come. Will you be ready? And if you fail along the way? Remind yourself: whatever happens to me today is an opportunity to learn and be better for tomorrow. Failure is your First Attempt In Learning. It’s a path leading towards success.

Now, if all of this feels overwhelming, especially for those setting a big, far off, audacious goal, ask yourself: what is the smallest version of your dream you can start RIGHT NOW, doing the BEST you can, with what YOU have?

This is where we can tie in another great book, The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. Keller knows the most successful people are constantly asking what’s my ONE thing? It’s a thing that sits at the center of their success and is the starting point for big results.

Here are some tips from Keller on how to achieve your one thing:

Fully commit: Achieving your ONE Thing takes complete commitment. This means sacrificing a lot of other “could dos” for the “should dos”. Sports champions are very committed people. They give their all towards the goal of making it to the championship game.

Never give up: Stanford professor Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) uses professional baseball player Billy Beane as an example when discussing a champion’s mindset. He had amazing natural talent, but any setback would mentally derail him. Big goals require mental toughness. You have to be able to overcome obstacles and handle the curveballs. You can’t let problems along the way cause you to give up on the goal.

Know that you can grow: Those setbacks mentioned above are teachable moments. They reveal what has to be done to reach the goal. You have to see failures as a way to learn, adapt and improve, because failure is going to happen to everyone. You have to believe that you can grow and that you aren’t limited to your current situation. Talent and natural capabilities are potential, not a glass ceiling.

Own your shortcomings: Growth can only happen when you own your shortcomings. If not, you run the risk of missing opportunities to improve. You’ll waste valuable energy and time trying to conceal or downplay the shortcomings instead of improving them.

Surround yourself with a supportive team: There’s a lot of truth to the idea that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Champions know that they need a supportive team to stay at the top of their game. Since they own their shortcomings they seek out people who can help them overcome the deficiencies.

Find a coach or mentor: A mentor is the most valuable player on your team. They can help you plot your course based on their experience and knowledge. They can provide much needed support when things seem to be stalling or going off track. Your coach is the person you can rely on to shoot you straight and tell you what you need to hear not what you want to hear.

If goal setting was enough, there would be a lot more successful athletes out there. The ones who reach their goals have a strong understanding of the daily commitments required to achieve their goal. The hard work they put into their workouts is nothing compared to the hard work it takes to honor those commitments in the face of adversity, challenge or their own personal shortcomings day after day. Each day, they focus on ONE thing they need to do to make everything else easier en route to their goal. They don’t create ‘to do’ lists, they create success lists. Commit steps on your success list and find your way to extraordinary results.