The Ugly Side of Goal Setting

Dave Thomas Coaching

I like goals. Goals are my favorite.

Or so…they used to be. I used to love setting and reaching a tangible goal in the gym. A lift, a time, a PR. It gave me something to constantly strive for, and a great feeling once I hit it.

Then, a new goal. And the cycle repeats itself.

Again, and again, and again.

A constant, “now what?”

Man, did I get tired and stressed out by this over a five year period. While it might sound crazy to talk about goals in anything other than a Tony Robbins-esque positive light, I do believe there is an underbelly to goal setting that isn’t quite so great if you’re not able to find joy in fitness beyond the chase.

For one, numeric goals addict us to tangibility as our barometer for success. A number, a time, a PR. All the things I mentioned a second ago that are unquestionably great. But what happens when we stop hitting them? Your training age is inversely related to the amount of PRs you hit. The more you train, the less often they happen. It happens to us all. They go from monthly, to bi-annually, to yearly. And maybe even longer. You either need to be prepared for “life after constant PRs”, to be able to see fitness for what it is (life improvement, not holding you mentally hostage to success) or you’re going to run your body and mind into the ground continuing to chase numbers.

Numerical goals also shift our lens into thinking that the number means everything. I believe we long ago addicted ourselves to numbers in the gym, and that’s a road that unfortunately can’t be un-walked. We are always going to want to hit numbers, and the bigger the number, the better. Strength can be expressed in literally dozens of ways, but I have often seen athletes think they have become weaker because the number in their favorite lift has not gone up, or perhaps it may have gone backwards.

“How did I get weaker?”

Well, maybe you didn’t. Maybe on this single particular day, you can only lift 95% of what you previously could lift 100%. Big deal.

PRs are great goals, but they are micro goals. As I have gotten older and my log sheet of training hours longer, I have begun to appreciate macro goals. Get stronger. Get faster. Get more athletic. That’s it.

Let numerical PRs happen, but don’t go constantly chasing them. Addict yourself to process, not outcome.

I see athletes become lost when they aren’t “training for something”, and constantly need something in which to apply focus. It’s the gym version of addictive personality behavior, always chasing the dopamine and the rush of achievement. If one is to be successful at fitness long-term, I believe that ideology has to be shed. I went through a very hard time a year ago when some injuries forced me to alter my training. I didn’t really know what to do or how to go about going to the gym. If I couldn’t measure my strength in the form of a number or a goal, what was the purpose? That’s how I know I am getting better, right? I was miserable at this for many months, until finally, I realized that’s not at all why I go to the gym, strength train, and do crazy shit with my body.

I do it because I enjoy it. I enjoy being there. I enjoy working hard, and I am enriched by process, not outcome. I am now playing the long game with fitness. At 35, I want to go another 30 years of training, at least. And there’s simply no way to get joy out of it if I am constantly applying a rigged game to myself or defining my goals in a binary format.

Rather than see goals as shortsighted as what you are going to attempt to lift next, try thinking about them in a more macro, long-term approach. See all the ways you can get stronger in a year, feel better, and move healthier.

Set goals. Reach goals. Just don’t go addicting yourself to the mentality that training and fitness has to always require them.

It’s okay to just enjoy the process.

Dave Thomas San Diego Performance360-Dave Thomas



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