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Goals don’t work, unless . . .

Yes, you read me correctly: focusing on your goals doesn’t work, in fact goals don’t work unless you don’t focus on them.  Let me explain.

To get the most out of your performance, it’s imperative that you maintain present-minded focus.  If you’re not focused completely on the present moment, your opportunity for performance declines correspondingly.  So, if you are distracted by a thought about the future or about what you want (or don’t want) in the future – your “what ifs?” or “shoulds”, as I refer to them – you simply cannot play your best.

What if we lose?  What if I make another mistake? I should be playing better! I should be in the lead! Etc.

Now, if we look at a goal, it is clear that a goal is a future-based thought or idea.  It is something we want to happen sometime in the future.  Therefore, if we focus intently on our goal, we are in fact focusing on our future versus staying presented to what we need to do right now.  In other words, by focusing on your goal you get distracted from your performance, since performance only happens in the present.

I would even go so far as to say that the majority of athletes who are expected to win but do not are actually distracted by their goal to win, by their constant focus on the outcome versus the process.

So, if you’re not supposed to focus on your goal, what do you do?  How do you stay in a present-minded focus and still know you’re going to achieve your goal (or at least be best set-up to do so)?

To answer this, let’s look at the definition of a goal.  A goal is your winning point, what you’re aiming for.  It’s literally sets the direction of your action towards the finish line which is the goal.  It is not what you’re focused on, but instead what your actions are supposed to point towards.

Which brings me back to my first comment: goals don’t work unless you use them as a guidepost, a compass instead of obsessing and über focusing on them.

So the solution to the goal dilemma is simple: keep checking in against your goal. Keep asking yourself “Are my actions right now in line with my goal?”  If you answer yes, then keep doing the same thing.  If you answer no, something’s gotta change.

For example, if you’re being lazy in training, or complaining about what you have to do next, you could simply ask yourself: Is what I’m doing right now in line with my goal?  That sort of behaviour probably is not, so now you have the opportunity to shift it to line up with your goal.  Just knowing this is a powerful impetus to take different actions, to achieve the sort of results you really want.

In this way you can use your goal to guide you versus take you out.

Your Get Psyched Game-Plan for the month:

  1. Create a new goal
  2. Subdivide that into smaller goals that lead to your bigger goal – don’t go to crazy here, let’s focus on a few things at a time.
  3. Write those goals down somewhere where you can see them everyday – in your phone, on a paper on your wall, on the bathroom mirror.
  4. When you are in training or competition, ask yourself intermittently: “Are my actions right now in line with my goal?”
    • If you answer yes, then keep doing the same thing.
    • If you answer no, something’s gotta change.
  5. Take the action that’s in line with the goal you want to achieve
  6. Repeat

At first, when working on a new goal, you might need to remind yourself a lot.  Then it’ll get easier and easier.  It’s like anything, practice makes perfect – so keep working on this to become the champion that you are.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments out of acting on your Goal-Guiding Game-Plan.

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