Are Your Goals Working Against You?

by | Feb 6, 2024 | Blog, Living All In

“If the goal is reached then I am a successful person, but if I miss the goal then I’m no good!”

Sound familiar?

Recently, I read an article by US Olympian and author, Lanny Basham, that made me rethink my goal setting. Yes, I have goals… and if you are anything like me, you’ve probably fallen victim to the completely untrue, and very self destructive thought, “if the goal is reached then I am a successful person, but if I miss the goal then I’m no good!”

Although it is not reality, it can still worm its way in… and we suddenly find ourselves a bit unsure and a bit ‘goal gun-shy’.  

The good news is, there’s another way!

So let’s talk goals!  Most people set goals in one of two ways; ‘go-big’ or ‘be realistic’. There are benefits and pitfalls of each… AND a third possibility.

Setting Realistic Goals

Many experts recommend setting ‘realistic’ goals that are attainable.  The idea behind a SMART goal is incremental improvement to build self-esteem and avoid the ‘not good enough’ demon mentioned above.  While the concept  is all well and good, and may stave off a bit of negative self-talk, in the end, realistic goals just don’t motivate us.

Not one champion, in any discipline, has used setting realistic goals, successfully, to get to the top. Why? 

To quote our Olympic medal winner, Lanny Basham, “There is nothing realistic about winning a Gold Medal in the Olympics, setting a world record, or reaching a dominant status in your sport.”

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 proclaimed that the United States would land a man on the moon before the decade was over. In 1961, that seemed outrageous, a politician’s dream not a possible future reality. By setting what would be considered an “unrealistic” goal, President Kennedy inspired the United States to achieve the seemingly impossible. 

Incremental, realistic goals don’t create the passion or drive within that allows us to become someone we are not. In order to do something you’ve never done, you have to become someone you are not.

Setting Big Goals

So, that brings us to the ‘go big’ goals. If ‘realistic’ or ‘incremental’ goals are not the path of the champion, surely ‘big’ goals are the answer, right? Kind of. While these are essential, they have to be supported by, or in conjunction with, a third type of goal (we’ll get to that in a moment -cliffhanger, I know!) or they are just oversized wishes.

First, let’s talk about the two foundational principles for a ‘go big’ or ‘rock star’ goal, a goal to take you firmly out of your comfort zone and push you to the next level. I call them BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), a term first used by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in “Built to Last,” a book that explores the habits of successful companies. 

  1. It has to be specific.
  2. It has to have a component of time.

“My goal is to win every competition and beat everyone” – while it has potential, it’s way too vague and has no urgency to motivate the actions necessary to become the person who could reach that goal. “My goal is to get first place at x, y & z competitions this year and beat my personal best at each event”. This version has specific components that can be understood and visualized, within a clear time frame.

Ok, now here’s the hard part: the goal is set, it’s big, it’s clear, and it’s still not enough.  Yep, you are going to come up short.

Why? It’s an outcome goal, and we have no control over outcomes.

Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone can motivate us, but to really own our greatness, we can’t be focused on the outcome of the event, we have to focus on the process of performing well enough to win.

Putting your attention on what it takes to become the person that can win is what will allow you to become that very person. Making the placement or score the center of your focus leaves you without any control. To achieve any goal, at some point there needs to be a plan, a process to get there. Focusing on, and surrendering to, the process gives you the tools to become the person that can win.

You are now focused on something you, and you alone, can control… your process.

To quote Lanny again, “You can predict and control how many days a week you train. You can control the discipline of your efforts. You can control what you choose to think about and do. You can control the competitions you enter and how you choose to train for them. You can control who your teachers are and the systems you use.

I’d reframe it slightly and change the word ‘control’ to the words ‘work on’. After all that’s the power of being in a process. We don’t control what we think and do, we choose a new and different way of thinking and doing (the thoughts and actions of the person we want to become) over and over.

The Most Effective Type of Goal

So how do we use this information? Personally, I set my goals BIG. I visualize myself as that person, and then I use that BIG vision to work backward into clear process goals, things on which I can work like: skills I’ll need to have, reworking my schedule to include research time, hiring a coach, setting up a rhythm that has space for working with my state of mind and attitude …all the internal, and external means to the ends I desire.

This way, regardless of outcome (the outer measurement over which I have no control) I have a means to measure the person I’ve become in the process; the progress that is guaranteed to happen when action is put into process goals. 

Here’s an example of how I used this in my prior dance career.

In 2018, I decided to compete in Line Dance for the first time ever. The studio had implemented a line program to help our students improve their couples dancing, and it was super successful. I joined our students and began my own journey. Line Dance was completely outside of my comfort zone and would challenge every aspect of my dancing, and my own personal self-image.

My BHAG was to win at the World Championships in both my divisions. (This is no small feat… because I taught dance for a living, I was required to enter the top division – putting me up against people who have been practicing and competing in this discipline for years!)

My process goals included carving out daily practice and visualization routines, finding the best coaches for myself, and changing the image that I have of myself as a couples dancer – to include being a champion line dancer.

I did not achieve my BHAG of winning the World Championships, but I came VERY close. I qualified for the World Championship AND podiumed in one of my divisions. I also accomplish every one of my process goals.

I made time in my schedule for my own practice and visualization, I worked with a top line dance coach and my self image now includes that of a champion line dancer. In addition, my dancing improved across the board, I learned more to help my students, and I created my own evidence that my process works.

This doesn’t just work for athletics, it works in business and at home, it works for anything you want to achieve. Your process is the only thing over which you have control. You can’t control if you’ll get a promotion, win the prestigious award or sell x number of items. You can control if you’ll show up and make 20 calls a week, do the research to know everything you can about that client you’re courting or build the skills you need to step up to the next level. 

Putting it to Practice

Have you set your goals for this year?

If not, maybe thinking about them differently will inspire you.

If so, add the support of process goals. Start by asking yourself, “Who do I need to become to accomplish this? What will I need to do, (add, subtract, change) for this to happen?”  Maybe you need to work on your confidence and mental attitude in addition to your technical skills. No matter who you are, stepping up requires both internal and external, both mental and physical skills – and growth.

Setting process goals helps not only going forward, but when you look back over the year, a placement won’t be all that you see, and won’t define you (good-bye negative self-talk, hello self-esteem!)  You’ll be celebrating all your internal and external developments, and thinking about where your next set of ‘go-big’ goals could take you!

Finally, be sure to think beyond your ‘go-big’ goal for when you do achieve it. You might also give some consideration to connecting with your future self to set some big, meaningful multi year goals! Those are just outright fun. Why not go for it?

May your year be filled with meaning, big goals, and lots of processes!

In case this is the first time we’re meeting, I’m Maren, an executive life coach, speaker, dancer, and serial entrepreneur empowering you to step into your purpose and live your most fulfilled life.

When you’re ready, here are a few ways I can help regardless of where you are on your journey to self discovery:

Book me to speak at your next event and inspire your team of high achievers to step into their purpose, master their mindset, amplify their impact, and find fulfillment.

Join the Dance with Life Program: Uncover your unique gifts and experience a more fulfilling way of success with my Dance with Life program. I’ve helped dozens of high achievers transform their lives. Learn how you can join this transformative journey.

Download my free guide – “Spinning Life in Your Favor”: Access three simple steps you can take TODAY to start dancing with life instead of slogging through it.

Listen to The Soulful Leader Podcast: Tune in to the Soulful Leader Podcast every Tuesday for inspiration, tools, and actionable tips for personal and professional growth.

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