(Note: I’ve written this post from an athletic perspective, but these methods can be applied to all aspects of life, whether you’re launching a business, giving a presentation, going on a date, hosting a dinner party or braving a family reunion.)
I’ve never been much of a goal-setter—in the traditional sense. My “goals” for most races have been to go fast (preferably faster than ever before), to have fun, to learn something and to beat people.
Friends would ask me to be more specific. Do you want to win? What time are you going for? And I would squirm. “Sure,” I’d say, “winning would be fun. I just want to go fast and have fun.” My friend would roll her eyes and say something along the lines of “I want to do a 25-minute swim, a 90-minute bike and a 50-minute run and finish in the top 10 in my age group.” And then, if I were lucky, the race announcer would interrupt us, saving me from an awkward conversation.
What’s the difference between these two perspectives? In the above example, my friend is focused on outcome. She’s coming from what’s called a performance orientation, which is focused on achieving a specific time goal and a specific ranking. I’m coming from a mastery orientation, in which I’m focused on getting fitter, faster and stronger at every opportunity because I know that every opportunity will bring me closer to what some people call “mastery” and I call “awesomeness.”
Let me break it down a bit further. In the mastery orientation, I focus on things within my control. And so, when someone asks me to shift to a performance orientation by asking me what time or place I hope to achieve I want to run away. Why? Because I have no idea! I can’t predict the future. I can’t control what other people do so I can’t control what place I’ll come in. And while I can aim for a specific pace and time goal, what happens if I have an asthma attack or cut my foot coming out of the water or get a flat tire? If I have a specific time goal and any of those rather crappy, but totally possible things happens, I’ve already failed at reaching my goal. And that certainly takes all the fun out of racing.
Hang on. I’m not saying that it’s bad to want to get a certain time or to want to stand on the podium. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to achieve a specific time or place in a race. Desire is awesome! Hunger to push yourself is fantastic! Determination to go faster than you ever thought possible is amazing! Winning is marvelous!
BUT, mastery is all about the long-term vision, whether that long-term is a week, a month, a year or a decade away. It’s all about recognizing that every day, every moment, is part of the puzzle. It’s about accepting that you can’t get to the top of the mountain without climbing up every step. And it’s about goals—mastery goals.
Mastery goals focus on things that are within your control. That doesn’t mean they’re easy to achieve, just that whether or not you achieve them is completely up to you. To explain, I’ll take you through my goals for my first race of the season: The Olympic Distance Triathlon at Rev 3 Quassy.
I set four goals—A, B, C and D. The A goal was the one I wanted to achieve in an ideal world. If, at any time during the race, I wasn’t meeting the A goal, I would shift to my B goal. If things weren’t going so well with my B goal, I’d shift to my C goal. And, worst-case scenario, there was my D goal, which I was absolutely positive I could achieve.
A Goal: To be all in. (Be Audacious Joy.)
My big goal for this race was to be all in, specifically, to be audacious joy. What the hell does that mean? It means to be present, to be aware, to accept things unconditionally, to respond to situations as they come up and to be confident. It means trusting the process and knowing that I have nothing to lose. It means letting my heart and soul drive me. It means being bold and it means remembering that triathlons bring me joy and allow me to share joy.
B Goal: To stay present.
I get distracted easily. I’ll think about the bike while I’m swimming or about the run while I’m on the bike or I’ll think of something completely unrelated to the race (food, usually). My B Goal was to stay focused on the present. I would only think about one stroke, one step or one moment at a time.
C Goal: To trust the process, the plan, my body and the universe.
This was my first time racing with a plan (provided by my fabulous coach Marni Sumbal). I was both excited and terrified about sticking to a specific plan, but I was committed to following it as closely as possible. I would trust that this plan and this race were part of the process. I would trust that my body knew what to do. And I would trust that the universe had my back.
D Goal: To have fun and learn something.
My D goal, my worst-case scenario was to have fun and learn something. As worst case scenarios go, this was a pretty fabulous one.
What do you think about goals and goal-setting? Share in the comments.
Stay tuned for my actual race report from Quassy.