First, you must choose a goal before you can achieve it, and second, the more difficult and dangerous your goals is, the more effort you must put into achieving it. All achievement starts with goals, and Musashi emphasized that you should be ambitious in setting them.
— Samurai Strategies
Goal setting? I know what you meatheads are thinking right about now. Hold off on that thought for a minute, though, because despite trying to come off as intellectual and well-rounded through studying exercise physiology, nutritional biochemistry, philosophy, and sports psychology, deep down I'm just a pure, simple, fucking meathead like most of you.
I like training in the gym, of course, as well as football, MMA, fire, action movies with gun fights and explosions, porn (both in traditional video format and newer, internet options), Will Ferrell (the movies, not the guy — although he is rocking the mean, brown sugar chest hair), Jessica Alba (the girl, not the movies — although Good Luck Chuck was funny), the occasional whiskey, and when I grow up I want to be just like "the most interesting man alive" guy...am I missing anything?
Setting goals is for dudes with "man-ginas" right? It's for little girls and desperate housewives who, gosh-darn-it, are going to take control of their lives and empower themselves. It's for powerless office workers who can't get out of the grind or get their bosses to stop shitting on them. It's for cheesy, self-help seminars and gurus. It's not for the head of the wolfpack, the alpha males that roam the Testosterone site...or perhaps it is?
What if I told you that you've been setting goals — albeit most of the time subconsciously — all of your life? Hitting new PR's, reaching a certain level of body fat percentage or conditioning, rehabbing an injury, winning a competition, taking the hottest girl at the bar/club home for the night, etc.
What if I also told you that CONSCIOUSLY setting these goals, keeping them always in the forefront of your mind, and setting a definitive plan of action towards achieving those goals can be the difference between consistent mediocrity and consistent excellence?
I'm not only a T NATION contributor (damn that sounds good), but I'm also a fan. I've read most of the content on this site. The authors and coaches come from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise, but a universal theme they seem to all share is that they're constantly setting goals — for themselves, for their businesses, and for their athletes/clients.
I believe that's one of the major reasons why they're so successful. I know that I've achieved more personally, athletically, and financially in the last two years than in the ten years prior because of the fact that I've been actively setting and pursuing personal goals.
Setting goals is a powerful tool that can be used in almost every aspect of our lives — self-improvement, career advancement, educational development, athletic achievement, communication, and financial control. Those who have never used goals for guidance or motivation tend to write them off as self-help nonsense. Those who have experienced their power, however, set and monitor goals on a regular basis to maximize their true potential.
All achievement starts with goals. You have to know where you want to go first before you have a chance of reaching that final destination. Setting goals helps us block out life's distractions and narrow our focus to a specific task at hand. It helps us set priorities in our lives. It gives us the power to tap into our energies and abilities and use them to maximum effect.
Goals provide us with specific reasons for performing our daily actions. Without goals we often wander from moment to moment, task to task without a purpose. We end up spinning our wheels, stuck in the same spot as years past, with no real accomplishments to show for it. Actively striving to achieve our goals propels us forward and upward to new heights.
Real Athletes vs. Weekend Warriors?
Athletes and coaches understand the power of goal setting. In the off-season or at the start of the season, players and teams set specific goals for the upcoming year. They then set a specific plan of action to achieve those goals. They begin with the small immediate steps right in front of them, have those steps build upon each other, and then start making exponentially bigger and bigger strides until the ultimate goal is accomplished.
Football is a great example. The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl, but that starts with a simple commitment to off season workouts and conditioning programs. Then come productive training camps and preseason games. Then the goal is to win in week 1, and each successive week that follows.
As the season progresses the stakes rise — it's win the division, secure home field advantage, win the divisional round, win the conference championship, and finally, win the big dance.
Ambitious goals motivate athletes to work hard and push through the rigors of training. It helps them to work through the daily grind of the long, competitive season. It gives them a reason to make the sacrifices necessary to reach the top of the mountain.
As strength and/or physique athletes, we need to borrow this practice from traditional sports. We need to treat bodybuilding, power lifting, body composition or beach training, or whatever else is your "G-thang" as a real sport, not some weekend warrior hobby.
We must live the life of a true athlete, and act accordingly. We can't just go through the motions like 90% of the gym population. Housewives balancing on balls don't need goals, but real Iron Warriors do. We need real goals with real timelines and we need to hold ourselves personally accountable to the active pursuit of achieving those goals.
Practical Application (The 7-Point Plan)
The first rule of achieving your goal — know what you want. I don't really worry about the reward, but to set in motion the machinery to achieve it...when you drop a pebble into a pool of water, the pebble starts a series of ripples that expand until they encompass the whole pool. This is exactly what will happen when I give my ideas a definitive plan of action.
— Bruce Lee.
What U got sucka? What is it that you want to achieve in the Iron Game? Do you want to make Ronnie Coleman look tiny, Bruce Lee look fat, deadlift a house, rehab an injury faster than Wolverine? Here's what you need to do in the real world to start regularly achieving success:
1. Set a goal
We want a lot of things in life, but at times we have to narrow our focus to a single, specific task at hand in order to achieve greatness. If we spread ourselves too thin, we end up spinning our wheels.
What is it that you want to achieve more than anything else at this moment? Think priorities, some other stuff will just have to get put on the back burner for now. Do you want to win a pro, national, state, or local bodybuilding competition, ditto for power/strength sports, rehab an injury, correct some muscular imbalances, reduce chronic pain, or look good in a pink speedo for your upcoming island vacation?
Or is it business related? Do you want to build up your clientele, open a training studio, write in the industry (my current goal — thanks, TC), become a leading expert in your field, or just give it all up and use your T-body to strip for a living? Honestly, I don't give a shit what your goal is, I just want to help you achieve it.
2. Write it down
These days, people talk a lot of shit, but do very little. It's not what you think, read, analyze, or say, its what you DO that counts in this world. Writing your goal down is the first step in taking it out of the world of meaningless words and putting it into the world of meaningful action. It's right there in front of you on a damn piece of paper, and you yourself actively put it there.
3. Place your goal where you can see it every day
It's too easy to get lost, sidetracked, or distracted in this hectic world. You need to keep your goal in the forefront of your mind at all times if you have any chance at success. Put your goal up in a place where you will see it multiple times a day to remind you of its importance: on your desk, as your computer screensaver, in your calendar/day-planner (paper or electronic), on your fridge, or hell, write it down on your toilet paper so you see it every time you wipe your ass (or your "va-guy-na", because setting goals is for pussies, remember?).
4. Set a timeline
Yeah I borrowed this from the whole S.M.A.R.T. goals philosophy. Who gives a shit? It's good info. You need to have a concrete time frame in which you want to achieve your goal, otherwise you can keep procrastinating, putting things off, starting again tomorrow when you slip up, etc.
Bodybuilders (pre-contest phase) and strength athletes (training meso/macro-cycles) are already familiar with this approach. But even if you don't plan on competing, you still need a timeframe, we'll call it an "in-season," within which you need to get your shit done. Goals without a timeframe remain goals, and not accomplishments, forever. Give yourself a finite amount of time — say, 12-16 weeks — to attack your goal.
5. Tell at least one other person about your goals
The more people you tell the better, but you need to share your goal with at least one other person. This holds you accountable to someone, and forces you to actively pursue your goal. If you keep your goals a secret, you have no one to call you out when you are slacking off or falling off track.
It's too easy to give up when the going gets tough. By not telling anyone, you automatically give yourself an easy way out. If you quit, no one knows that you were even chasing after something. And more importantly, no one knows that you failed. You can just start over again with no real consequences. At least if you tell someone and you bail out, you'll have to deal with all of the questions about what happened? No one likes to look like a weasel.
That's why I love those UFC Countdown shows. The fighters talk a lot of shit and tell the whole world about their goal — beating the crap out of their opponent and winning the title. They put pressure on themselves, and must train hard to back up their trash talk. If they don't, there are serious consequences. It's lights out for them. Put some pressure on yourself to work toward your goal.
6. Find the most efficient path to your goal
This generally involves learning the process from experts, and from professionals who have successfully traveled down the path (and have helped others travel down that path) that you want to go.
Meatheads — we're a stubborn bunch aren't we? We know everything and no one can teach us anything. Not to sound like a company man, but dude, some of the contributors to this site have been coaching for multiple decades and literally have thousands of success stories. Why not take a look around and see if you can learn something new from an expert in your particular sport?
7. Start with the little steps
So you have your "Super Bowl" goal, but accomplishing it is still a long season away. What are the immediate steps you need to start taking right NOW to move closer to that goal? You need to jump in the car and start taking all of the turns, roads, highways, and exits before you reach your final destination.
What do you need to do in the next month? Increase your PR by a few pounds, drop some body fat, or correct a muscle imbalance? Make a plan and implement it. What do you need to do in the next week? Train 5 times without missing a day and eat 35-42 meals all geared towards physique development and recovery. Commit to that and actually do it, no more bullshit excuses.
What do you need to do in the gym tonight? Quit dicking around, train like you have an immediate short-term goal staring you in the face, and attack your workout like a man on a mission.
IT'S IN YOUR HANDS NOW
If you still think goal setting is for pussies, then there's not much more I can say to you. I can only help those who want to be helped. But be careful, you may end up the bitter dude "hating" on everyone, reading about other peoples' success stories instead of living your own.