The Problem With Having A Goal

If you want to achieve a certain body weight or composition, or maybe a business achievement, you will often be told that it is important to have a goal. A goal will help you see your ultimate target and the steps required to achieve that goal. You might have read about S.M.A.R.T goals but I am not going to address that concept other than to say any backronym, should be distrusted or at least met with suspicion. I could easily concoct and sell the same concept under the name D.U.M.B goals, but you wouldn’t buy it because you don’t want to be considered dumb, do you?

When you set a goal you don’t believe that you will not meet it, it is just a matter of when. The enemy of a goal is time, and that coupled with discipline as a depleting reserve will eventually result in forgetting about your original goal and mindset altogether. We all have a finite amount of effort in ourselves, whether it is in a given day when you arrive at work ready to go but find yourself flagging come 4 o’clock, or a 3 month diet plan that you follow diligently on day 1 and tell yourself you’ve been pretty good and treat yourself on day 30.

I’ve set plenty of goals for myself and I have failed far more often than not. I’ve found that setting a time frame to achieve a far off goal is not the way to go for the reasons above. My best results have been from very short term goals that are achievable in less than a week and preferably in just a few days. This short time frame gives you the ability to really see your future self clearly, albeit a few days from now.

I’ve told myself I get a six pack more times than I can count and it has never happened. The only time I got close was when I was running around 10 miles a day, I looked like a skeleton frankly and it wasn’t healthy. The six pack wasn’t the goal I should have set myself however because it is a much longer process than a week. There were stages I needed to achieve along the way that I didn’t define clearly, like getting rid of the beer belly by eating and drinking healthy. My goal should have been to eat no chocolate for 3 days because that is easy to envision and I can see the end in sight, not to say that is the end of the process of course but breaking the process down into very small chunks in the grand scheme of things is the key to success. Small successes lead to big successes.

The goals you choose are risky because they come from over thinking things and discussions with friends and family. You have an element of commitment the moment you mention a goal idea to somebody and before you know it you are running the London marathon, planning training runs between pub crawls. These types of goals that sort of come together as if by magic are pipe dreams and will never end the way you believed when you started.

When a goal chooses you, that is when you know you have a realistic target you want to meet. When you attempt something and your internal monologue takes over and says this is within your ability and if it is not that is all the more tempting to go after. I’ve been bouldering at an indoor gym since February and I’ve been hooked ever since, I enjoy the challenge of both mental and physical, and the almost solitary endeavour each climber goes through as they compete against increasingly difficult grades. I was just enjoying going to the gym without actually going to the gym, feeling the aches after grappling with plastic holds and joking around like a grown up child.

I’m not particularly good at climbing and I started on my 31st birthday, I’m a little heavier than I could be and my strength is basic. I climbed the basic grades and learned the concepts, watched other climbers, young and old, and learned from the more experienced no matter their age. The early grades in the gym are full of nice friendly hand holds and it’s like climbing a wonky ladder that has seen better days, nothing particularly exciting. I’ve always preferred competing against myself and by myself, not being relied on by a team or trying to be better than my opposite number, I see that as a short sighted target being just good enough to appease my team mates or just good enough to best my fellow amateur. I enjoy most of all the relaxed nature of climbing, there is no requirement to follow the competition rules and you can basically make up your own games.

For a bit more fun I decided to try a grade that is about 2 grades above what I know I can climb, just to see what happens, and I fell on the final move. That was when I had a goal that effectively chose me. As I fell I realised it was literally within reach and if I could stick that route then there was no reason why I couldn’t, with time, be climbing the hardest climbs in the gym. The result has been that I am eating better any training more which is helping me see and feel the benefits without worrying about climbing V8+ by February.

So don’t set yourself a goal, just be you and do your thing and let a goal choose you as you go about doing the things you enjoy. Try new things and let the combination of interests develop you mind creatively to figure out what you care about inside. Don’t set weak goals, let a goal consume you and reap the benefits.

Zen and Competition

I watched the recent track and field world championships in London and found it interesting when discussing the results with people, I often heard things like, “we didn’t win many medals” or “we won the men’s relay event, with the 3rd fastest time ever”.

I watch the England football team in the last 2 major tournaments, the world cup and the euros, they were terrible and I heard from others how “terrible we are at football” and “we are an embarrassment”. I’m currently watching England vs Slovakia and we are losing at the moment, I laughed out loud when Slovakia scored.

Frankly I think people feel that because Britain held the largest empire on the planet once upon a time, we cannot possibly fall from grace such that teams considered lesser funded and trained should out do our representative athletes. This is foolish. Don’t forget that Macedonia have zero notable athletes that I can tell you about (feel free to correct me) and they were once led my Alexander the Great. Genghis Khan dominated Asia in the 12th century – as a result 0.5% of the world population could be a direct descendant of this man. You don’t see Mongols or Macedonians expecting more, so eat some humble pie and remember sitting on your sofa and watching is not the same as coaching or participating, to warrant a sense of contribution to the end result – be it good or bad.

What I find interesting is how ready we are to share in the successes and failures of our representative athletes and teams. I mean all those people who referred to the performances and results as if they contributed should really step back and consider this for both their humility and stress levels.

I didn’t contribute one tiny bit to the England football team, or the programme behind the organisation, the tactics, the decision making, or anything else of value. I didn’t contribute one tiny bit to the UK athletics teams, or the programme behind the organisation, the tactics, the decision making, or anything else of value – not even buying a lottery ticket, which I assume goes towards funding British athletes. So why should I feel like I can share in the successes of these athletes or lament in the failures?

After the last major international football tournament, I think it was euro 2016 but frankly this shows how little it affects me now, I made the decision to not watch the England team again. I enjoy football and looking back this was unreasonable of a commitment for me. I have since decided to approach televised sports with an element of zen, which has resulted in a better experience I am watching now and I support England without the frustration I once felt when seeing a flamboyant movement get broken down by the opposition who are playing by simple fundamentals.

I relax and enjoy the contest, the good and the bad, I exist as a spectator with no real affiliation with the respective teams. England just scored, I am happy and it is a positive as I am by birth right affiliated to England, but I don’t feel I have contributed to the goal because I have done nothing to deserve that sense of jubilation. At the same time, if England go behind again in this game I won’t curse the poor performance, it will just be.

I can tell you my blood pressure is great, my stress levels are low, and I will get a good nights sleep whatever the result of this game, with the team I am affiliated to but have done nothing to contribute.

Strong Opinions, Loosely Held

I think it makes sense for my first article to address my philosophy on ‘opinions’, I have many and I am sure you do too, and there is only one thing I know for sure and that is that my opinions are wrong.

I remember being at school and my physics teacher telling us, “everything I teach you this year will be wrong ten years”. This stuck with me for a long time because here was a person considered to be an expert on a subject and he was openly and honestly admitting that what he knew to be “fact” now, would soon be proven wrong.

The beauty of this gesture is that he had at some point converted his solid concepts into fluid concepts with the ability to change, so long as the data supported the new state of a concept.

Now I know everything

If you haven’t already, at some point in your life you will think you know all you will ever need to know. Then you will realise you were wrong, and at a later date you may again think you know everything and again you will be humbled. The process will continue as you get older, hopefully decreasing in frequency.

I have often feared not knowing something, I would get embarrassed if I couldn’t answer a question. This happened in school, and this happened in the workplace. This is sometimes manifested in Imposter Syndrome, the belief that you are faking it and nobody has noticed yet, well I have been an imposter when it comes to every topic I now have some knowledge of.

I know nothing

I don’t know about you but when I was born I knew nothing. I didn’t know how to manage a team, talk to clients, talk at all; I didn’t even know what teams or clients were but I am sure others did. Not knowing these things as a new born isn’t unreasonable because we accept that a new born has not learnt the alphabet, language, numbers, mathematics. At some point we chose to learn these concepts.

Now, when I find out I don’t know something, I think ‘good’, because I know it means I get to learn something – Jocko Willink used to say this to his Navy Seals when on of them came to him with a problem (Extreme Ownership). If someone asks me something and I don’t know the answer, I happily reply with, “I don’t know, but I can find out.”. The difference here is the spoken contract with myself to investigate a concept or topic further so I am in a position to provide better answer next time.

I know some things

Today I have strong opinions based on the information available to me at this time. This means I fully accept that my opinion could/should change based on new incoming information, provided the quality of the information lends towards changing my opinion.

I might be duped into changing my opinion for the worse but I know eventually my opinions will be stronger for it.

“It’s not what you read, it’s how you read”

I believe you should consume information from as many sources as possible, people are very generous with their opinions and you can gain a lot of information. The important thing to remember is that the amount of information a by product of your resulting opinion. You can hear/read the same message many different ways, you could call this an ‘Echo Chamber’. It is only when you look outside that held opinion that you truly begin to reason with and understand a concept so that you can have confidence in your opinions.

I make decisions

Most people would say they are not very good decision makers, and I would say to those people that they are good decision makers who are afraid of being held accountable for a wrong decision. When I make a decision it is based on the information available to me at the time of deciding, I know that a day, week, month from now my decision will not be considered the right decision (unless I am very lucky) in retrospect, but that is the problem with decisions made in retrospect – they are supported by all the new data but will always be too late.

Have you ever played, ‘Would you rather’? The premise of the game is that I present to you 2 equally repulsive experiences, and you choose the least repulsive experience in your opinion. The next stage of the game is that I repeat the proposition but this time I make your previous choice a little worse, and see how that affects your decision this time. If you have played this game you will notice that the person asking the ‘Would you rather’ doesn’t turn around and say, “OMG I can’t believe you option 1 based on information you didn’t have at the time”. So make decisions with confidence.

Be brave

Go ahead and share your opinions, and learn from others opinions, and change your opinions. Listen to smart opinions, and listen to dumb opinions, and from that form your own opinions and repeat the process. Protect your opinions against weak evidence and have the humility to let your opinion crumble, only to be rebuilt stronger.