After a decent swim workout one day, I was about to leave my gym and score a bagel from my favorite muffin shop, when a guy that maintains a locker close to my own walked in. He just completed his workout, but it was obvious that the Endorphin Fairy hadn’t visited him and sprinkled the dose of daily positivity that a good workout usually provides. I guess he noticed that my backpack has a small luggage tag on it that says that I’m a Certified Ironman Coach – so he decided to start a quick conversation.
He didn’t open up with “Hello” or “How was your workout?”; instead, he simply dove into his dialogue in such a manner that I wasn’t quite sure whether he was directing his words to me or simply going 21st century Shakespeare soliloquy. He opened up with “….I hate it when a workout sucks. You ever have to deal with that?” When I failed to immediately respond, he followed up with “…I figured I’d ask a fellow gym rat…”. Realizing that I was the target of his question, I replied that yes, I deal with lousy workout performance more often than I care to admit. He shared the fact that he didn’t feel like he sees any benefit to working out any more. His exact words were “…I’m not getting any stronger or any faster. I’m not even losing any weight. It’s frustrating.” I don’t think he was prepared for my response. Instead of saying “yeah, I am dealing with the same issues…”, I asked a simple question. “So what’s your goal?” He looked at me quizzically, and then said “what do you mean?” That response initiated a conversation where I wound up unleashing a little inner Lombardi.
We spent the next 30 minutes talking about realistic goal-setting. I had absolutely no idea I’d enjoy that type of discussion as much as I did, and I think he walked away with a bit of an enhanced perspective on his training practices…so I figured I’d share a synopsis of what we discussed in the hope that it may help someone else.
The mens locker room in my gym is pretty cool. It has a separate lounge area with couches and a large screen TV planning ESPN all day. We sat down for a few minutes, I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Mike. After the introductions were over, I asked my last question again: “So…..what’s your goal? Are you training for something specific?” His answer didn’t surprise me: “Well, I’d like to try a 10k or a half marathon or something, and maybe go from there. But I don’t know which one, or when, or where…” At this point, I had enough perspective to try to help. So, I began to talk his ears off – and this is basically what I said:
In my opinion, if a person wants to enhance their training they should first set a goal for him / herself. Once a goal is set, develop a plan to achieve it (because a goal without a plan is just a wish). Once a plan is set, there is only one last thing to do: execute. It really is that simple….
- Set a goal,
- Create a plan, and
People make things a lot more complex than they really need to be. If you really think about it, those three steps are all you need to focus on in order to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Set a Goal
Spend some time thinking about a goal that you’d like to achieve. It has to be something that you are passionate about, and it should take some real hard effort to attain it. Once you have that goal set for yourself, I recommend telling someone else all about it. I don’t mean go blab it to everyone in sight; instead, pick someone that you trust, tell him / her the goal you set yourself and why it means a lot to you. Why should you tell someone you trust about it? Because that person will help you to own the goal – meaning that he / she will help keep you focused when things get a bit challenging or life throws distractions at you.
Also: the goal needs to MEAN something to you. The more personal the goal, the harder it will be to give up on it as the work gets tougher. There will be times where the level of effort demanded will require more than simple physical performance to complete it. In those moments, you need to be able to recall what your WHY is. Your WHY will keep you going when your arms and legs are too weary.
One other thing to consider: if the goal doesn’t scare you a little, it isn’t big enough. It needs to be a big, bold, and daring. Some people, upon hearing about it, may immediately tell you that there is no way you can achieve it. That whatever you are trying to achieve is impossible. When you hear the naysayers toss out their negativity, your response should be a single word: Good. Why do I say this? Because once you begin hearing the doubters take up their rallying cry, then you know that your goal is big enough. Remember that “impossible” is just a big word thrown around by small men. Let others doubt you – let their doubt fuel your focus. As Les Brown once said, “When I told people what I wanted to do with my life they laughed. They said ‘you think that YOU can be a motivational speaker and become independently wealthy? HA’. They all laughed. They laughed, and I achieved my dream. They all laughed……let them laugh at you.”
One more thing to consider: surround yourself with positivity. Let’s say that you have a regular training partner, who you hit the gym a few times a week with. He / she is fun to be around, and the time in the gym together is fun. Now you decide to set this huge goal for yourself, whatever it may be. It far exceeds any similar goal that your training buddy maintains for him / herself. So you tell your workout buddy your new, big goal and he / she isn’t the font of encouragement that you had hoped for. Well, if he / she is going to solely offer negative feedback, you need to begin working out solo, or find a team / workout friend that offers the positive vibes that you require. Your goals – your dreams – were given to YOU and you alone. You are the only person that can achieve them. No one can do it for you.
Create a Plan
Now that you’ve chosen a goal, develop a plan – because, like I said a few minutes ago, a goal without a plan is just a wish. Write down your plan somewhere. Get detailed. List the steps you need to take in order to achieve it. Then take out a calendar and break down those steps into small tasks that you can complete daily. Allocate time on your calendar each day to bring yourself just that little bit closer to your goal.
After you allocate time on your calendar, the next step is to get a bit granular with your actual plan for the following morning / afternoon / evening. Write down what you plan to do in as much detail as you can. For example, don’t just put in your calendar “morning – 5am run”. Be specific. Instead, say something like “5am – going to do one loop of the park. I want to keep a 10 minute per mile pace. I’ll work on my arm swing as I run up each hill”. Then, right before you go to bed, re-read your goal for the next day, and try to picture you getting tomorrow’s work done well. Doing this should help you get up in the morning, no matter how early the alarm goes off. If you plan to work out really early in the morning, leave your gym clothes near your bed – that way you see them all laid out and ready to go the night before. This is another way to ensure that you are up and ready to go when the alarm sounds. When working toward an important goal, everything you do needs to be premeditated. There are only 86,400 seconds in a day – how you use them are critical.
When you set a specific time each day to work toward your goal, it’s important that you minimize the distractions. If you choose to work at 5am, then make sure that everyone understands that its your personal time – and you shut off the rest of the world. Stick to your game plan for the scheduled time. It takes 21 days to develop a habit – so the first three weeks are critical.
Make sure you log your results. Write down what you did as compared to the planned workout, This allows you to see your improvement over time. Write down the good, the bad and the ugly performances. Be honest in your description, because the bad workouts will help you figure out what went wrong and how to improve.
This is the hardest part of the whole thing: you need to wake up every day and . execute the plan you put together. Happiness doesn’t come from big pieces of great success, but from small advantages hammered out day after day. Follow your plan and be loyal to it. As the days go by, you’ll begin to realize just how much you NEED your new habits – just how much you crave the daily work that gets you a bit closer to your goal. At some point, you’ll realize that you have fallen in love with the process – and once that happens, you are off to the races.
The importance of having a big, intimidating future goal that will take some serious effort to achieve is like the North Star to a sailboat: it provides direction and allows the helmsman to keep the vessel on course. However, don’t spend most of your time simply focused on that future target; instead, use the goal as your North Star while staying focused in the present to the daily work you complete to get you from rough seas to safe harbor.
While I disagree with much of the philosopher Nietzsche’s writings, I do like to think of a single point he made that translates well to this subject. He believed that each of us, given the necessary effort and focus, can will his / her own destiny. Have a far-off goal, yet do not lose your strong focus in the present. Every day, make yourself and those around you better. Dance with the game of life to the tune of your own spirit. He had a name for a person that can do these things….he called that person Ubermensch.
You can be your own Superman. There are no limits to what a person can accomplish.