Having goals is important, isn’t it? They give you something to work towards. They provide motivation and help you starting certain endeavours. But they also have a dark side. Stagnation. Plateaus. Frustration. Luckily there is a better way of approaching goals, so let’s get started!
Most people start their fitness journey with a precise goal in mind. Lose 50kg. Weigh under 100kg. Run a marathon. Those goals are powerful motivations to keep going and I had quite a similar approach when I started training for strength. I wanted to be able to squat double my bodyweight, which is something most guys with enough dedication can do. It’s a nice goal to have in mind, a certain weight on the bar, a little daunting, but possible.
Having precise goals
And it got me started. At that time I also was doing Crossfit regularly, but I felt I couldn’t improve. I had to scale almost all of the workouts down and I figured out if I became stronger in the squat, I would be stronger in the workouts. One day we started doing the famous 5-3-1 program by Jim Wendler and I was instantly hooked. I stuck to it religiously and cut my Crossfit workouts down to focus entirely on becoming stronger.
And it worked really well! Numbers were increasing and my goal to squat double my bodyweight came nearer. And I was motivated and happy …
… until I met the dark side of precise goals: Life. Reality. Precise goals are nice as long as everything works out as planned, but as soon as things get tricky, progress stalls and motivation is lost. Many people give up here.
And that’s exactly what happened to me. A combination of a physically strenous job that I didn’t like and a suboptimal squat form led to constant back pain. I couldn’t squat anymore. I couldn’t deadlift and I couldn’t do ninety percent of the Crossfit movements anymore. And nobody could help me, neither doctors nor physiotherapists. The ugly end of my pretty goal to squat double my bodyweight.
That’s why I’m not a big fan of precise goals. You might realise that they are impossible to reach. And then you fall off the high motivation horse into the darkness of giving up. Precise goals, or as they are often called in literature, performance goals, have an external focus, they only look at something that you want to have, ignoring the most important part: what you have to do to get there.
Time to grow
We have now established that performance goals are a good starting point, but they become pretty useless once things start to get difficult. This is why people struggle with New Year’s resolutions. Motivation to reach a certain goal is high, but as soon as things get dire, they fall off the band wagon.
Because of that, you need to shift to a growth mindset. This is the internal goal. In the beginning you want to be strong, but you should focus on how you want to become strong. What does it take? How are you getting there? What changes do you have to make? What habits do you need to implement?
This is where the real magic happens. The growth mindset. The journey. Now you stop dreaming about a certain goal and start actually working for it. Tweaking things, micromanaging, min-maxing. The stuff I really enjoy about coaching.
To give you an example for the “I want to squat double my bodyweight” goal:
- Get a powerlifting coach to work on your form.
- Implement a periodized program with hypertrophy and strength training phases.
- Make time for the long powerlifting-style training sessions.
- Optimize sleep and recovery.
- Supplement with creatine.
- Set up a nutrition plan with bulking and cutting phases to keep bodyweight in check.
- Warm up properly to avoid injuries.
- Optimize nutrition for maximum performance.
The list goes on and on and on. It is about finding tiny advantages that you can easily implement. Little extra percentages that add up over the long run, and it’s always a longer run than you would expect, that finally all come together to help you reach your goals.
So maybe it’s time to give up the goalsetting and focus on the most important part: start it! Get working! And then enjoy the process. Learn, tweak and grow. And never forget to have fun with your fitness journey.
If you need help with (not 😉 ) setting goals, take a look at my online coaching service. Maybe it’s exactly the type of intervention you need to finally get started, get growing and reaching your goals without even thinking about them.