Welcome back to lockdown mental training, in this post I will be showing 4 steps to set effective wishes or goals. However before we get there, let's recap what we did so far. Recapping skills and techniques that you have started doing is just as important as trying to learn new skills. Remember that all of the things I talk about are mental skills, they will require time, effort and practice in order to be used effectively.
In the first blog, I talked about an important step, having situational honesty, that you need to take before you can start learning, practicing and ultimately implementing mental skills. If you haven't read it yet, I strongly suggest you do that first, you can find it here. In order to recap your progress on situational honesty you can answer these two questions, and I will answer them with you.
1. Have you made any lasting changes in your environment?
Personally, I have set up my working environment a bit more permanently. That means that I now have my recording equipment for videos and podcasts set up in a comfortable and easy to use way. This way I don't need to move things all the time. On top of that I have made some reoccurring appointments with colleagues to meet up online to talk about business, sport and mental training. However, I do still need a bit of a better storage solution close to my work station since some of my work is on the bed next to me now which is not a permanent solution. Overall, I have done a pretty good job at making my environment feel more permanent.
2. Have you started talking differently to yourself?
I have been really proud of how I have been avoiding the words normal and strange when describing the situation. At the beginning of the week, I noticed that I was referring to the pre-corona time as the 'normal' time and this being the 'strange' time. However, that implies that I am waiting for things to return to normal, which is not accepting my situation and might not happen anytime soon or even ever. Changing just that one word has made a big difference in the way I am feeling about working from home.
I hope that making steps like that have also helped you to accept your situation a little better. If you want some more help, I released an episode of my podcast, the imperfect athlete, in which I go over a simple, 3 question self-reflection method that can help you to understand what you are currently thinking, feeling and doing a little better.
Being self-employed in this new time can be really difficult with a lot of revenue falling away. Please support me and my business by sharing this post on your social media or sending it to two friends, thank you!
The next step of using sport psychology tools to thrive in the lockdown environment is to start taking a look at your goals for this period. However, as you probably noticed, the title of this blog post only mentions goals in parenthesis. I use the word 'wish' a lot as a synonym or replacement for the word 'goal'. This is not only because I think it sounds nicer, but I believe it captures the important aspects of a good objective better than the word 'goal' does. Let me explain by telling a story from when I was learning about goal setting.
My first goal setting class was when I was studying for my master's in Greece. One of the leading researcher in goal setting was my professor and in order to explain the basics, he conducted a small study with my class. He brought a device that measures grip strength (see above), basically it was scale you can grab on to and squeeze as hard as possible, the screen would then tell you the highest level of force you were able to exert. Each of the students had to walk up to the front of the class and try to squeeze the machine as hard as possible, after which their scores were noted down. Once we were all done with our baseline measurement, the professor explained that setting a goal would help us increase our score. After a brief explanation of the theory behind goal setting, we all had to come back to the front, our initial score would be called out and right then and there we would say what our new goal was. I can't exactly remember my scores, but let's say I did 50 on the first try, and set a goal of 60. I tried again, and lo and behold, 65! I not only reached my new goal of 60, but even went above it, goal setting works! Let's all set realistic goals that we can reach and productivity will be through the roof.
However, that wasn't nearly the most interesting thing that happened in that room. Sure, the students that reached their newly set goals make the exercise look cool, but what is way more important is what happened to the people that didn't reach their goal. What I noticed was that everyone improved their score, even if they weren't remotely close to their goal. Often when we talk about setting goals, we think that in order to be successful, and in order to for the exercise to be worth it, we need to reach our goals, and this is fundamentally not true. I would probably still have scored 65 if I set my goal at 70 or possibly even 80. The purpose of setting goals is to increase effort and motivation, which is also achieved when setting a goal of 70 or 80 and this is why I haver started to call them wishes: they are things, objectives, you would like to reach but the mere fact you are trying to reach them will increase effort and motivation. Or in other words:
"Shoot for the stars, you might make it, you might not, but at least you will reach the moon."
With that in mind, let's take a look at 4 steps you need to go through in order to set effective wishes:
1. You need to really want to reach it
First and foremost, your wish should be something you really want to reach. Something that you would be really happy with if you achieved it or feel extremely proud if you were able to complete it. When thinking of these wishes, you are allowed to think a little bit big and be honest about your desire. Too often do I see people set goals that are doomed to fail because there is no passion in them. For instance 14 year old athletes who say: "I want to consistently do this technical thing right". I don't know many 14 year olds who truly want that. A wish can be broad and a little bit of a dream, in the next steps we can modify to make it a bit more realistic. So really think to yourself, what would I like to achieve in this period?
2. It must be a challenge (you might fail)
The second step is to make sure your wish will be a challenge. Like I mentioned in the example of my professor, the objective of setting goals and wishes is not necessarily to reach them but rather to increase motivation and effort towards reaching them. Therefore, it is really important to set a goal that is challenge, or put more simply: you need to be a little bit unsure whether you will reach it or not. This second step is not as easy as you might think and it will take some practice to get it right. Striking the right balance between challenging and impossible is difficult but here are some good guidelines to help you. A challenging goal is probably something you have never been able to reach before or it has been a long time. For instance, in my case it would be running a 5k in under 20 minutes. I have never done it before, but I have been close in the past. I truly believe I can do it, but it will not be easy. If you don't know, you can always check what other people that are similar to you have been able to achieve. Remember, you are allowed to think big!
3. It needs to be within your control (or as much as possible)
Now that you have your big wish and you have made it challenging, you are probably feeling motivated to start going right away, but let's make sure that you are in control of it first. What I mean by control is that you have to be the person who is the primary influence on whether you reach the goal or not. A goal without any control would be: "I hope my neighbour moves out". You don't influence that at all. A goal with a lot of control would be: "I am going for a run 2 times a week". The tricky part with this step is to strike to right balance between step 1 and 2, and this step. However, one thing to keep in mind is that something that is a challenge, and therefore might not be completed doesn't take away from the control. In my example of the 5k run, I am not sure that I can reach it, but I am sure that I am in control of the outcome. I am the one who gets to influence whether I am successful or not. Generally, in order to complete this step ask yourself: "Is this the most amount of control, I can have?".
4. Break down your wish into multiple steps
So far, you have a goal you truly want to achieve, it is a challenge, and you have control over it (for the most part). Now we get to the last step, breaking it down in to bite size pieces. Basically, you have to figure out how you are going to get from where you are to your wish. If we take my example again, running a 5k in 20 minutes, I need to figure out how to get there. You are going to break down your wish, using this statement: "in order to reach [wish], I need to ...". In my example, in order to reach my 5k time, I need to run at least 3 times a week. And/or in order to reach my 5k time, I need to run at that pace every time I go for a run. Again, figuring out the right goals will take time and practice, so allow and expect to get it wrong a few times and have to adjust your goals in this step multiple times.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the objective of setting wishes and goals is to harness motivation and effort a rather than to complete goals. In my experience, approaching wish setting like this will give a bigger feeling of accomplishment, even when the wish isn't reached. If this whole process seems a little bit too daunting to tackle on your own, I have a special Covid goal setting package right now, that way, you can have all the support and expertise you need to successfully use this technique.