Toolkit to Master the Skill of Goal Setting
Turn “outcome goals” into “behaviour goals”: Generally, when someone asks about their fitness goals, most people start with the outcome(s) they want:
- I want to lose 20 Kgs.
- I want that thin-skinned, ripped look.
- I want to binge less often.
- I want to deadlift double my bodyweight.
Outcome goals describe how we want things to be at the end of the process.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting things. Or talking about what you want. Or starting with the end in mind. But we can’t stop there.
Wanting things isn’t enough. Even if you really, really, really want them. Because: We often can’t control outcomes.
Outcomes are affected by many external factors like:
- Your job gets crazy busy.
- Your kid gets sick.
- Your gym closes because of Covid Lockdown.
- Someone unwell at home needs your help.
- Your kids have exams
And they’re influenced by physical limitations. Like:
- You get sick.
- You’re traveling a lot.
- You’re having problems sleeping.
You get the idea what I mean?
But you can control what you do. That’s why behaviour goals are so important: They focus on the things we do have control over. Behaviour goals represent your commitment to practice a particular set of actions or tasks every day, as consistently and regularly as possible. eg. You want to lose weight. Write that down as an outcome you want. Now let’s think about all the little steps we can take to move toward that outcome, and which ones should come first. A simple but very effective tool to lose weight is Eating Slow. Eating slow will not shed your weight immediately. But in fact, eating slowly helps you pay more attention to what you’re eating and how. That means over time, you make better food choices easily and effortlessly. Eating slowly helps you eat a bit less, but still feel satisfied. It helps decrease bloating because now you’re chewing and digesting your food better, which is another plus for losing weight.
Since eating slowly helps you eat less, and eating less most often leads to fat loss (not to mention the benefits of better food choices and better digestion), this approach helps turn an outcome (uncontrollable) into a behaviour (controllable).
Some more examples to make you understand the concept clearly:
1) Outcome – Sleep more. Behaviour – Create a calming pre-sleep routine and start it 60 minutes before bedtime.
2) Outcome – Squat more weight. Behaviour – Squat thrice a week with different intensity.
3) Outcome – Have better relationship with partner. Behaviour – Have a weekly date night.
Notice how both outcome and behavior goals are trackable. However, behaviour goals are usually more effective because they give you something to do (and track) each day. Bringing small habits in your life.
So how can you set powerful behaviour goals today?
- Write down one outcome you want. Don’t overthink it. Just name the desire you want the most right now.
- Write down some of the skills you think you’ll need to get that outcome. If you’re just starting out, focus on foundational skills. What are the basics that make everything else possible? (For instance, if you want to manage your time, you need to learn to use a calendar.)
- Related to each skill, write down a behaviour or two you can do today that’ll help build those skills. This can be really easy, like even packing your gym bag for the following morning.
- Do the behavior today, and tomorrow, and so on. And, keep in mind, if you don’t follow through on a given day, don’t let it derail you. Each day is a clean slate.
- Get a coach or subject matter expert who can help you with these small behaviour changes that will take you towards your outcome goal
Turn “avoid goals” into “approach goals”. Stop drinking soda. Stop eating junk food. Stop smoking. “Avoid” goals like these are nice and straightforward. What’s simpler or easier to understand than “don’t”? Yet “avoid” goals are psychologically counterproductive. Because telling yourself to stop doing something almost guarantees you’ll keep doing it. As you might imagine, nobody likes being told what to do or what not to do. This is called resistance, and it’s completely normal. Turn “avoid” goals into “approach” goals.
“Approach” goals pull you toward something desirable (and quietly pull you away from something you’re trying to avoid). Some examples:
1) Avoid: Stop snacking on “junk food”. Approach : Snack on cut fruits and veggies prepared in advance.
2) Avoid: Stop feeling so fatigued and sleep deprived all the time. Approach: Develop a relaxing sleep ritual and 9 pm bedtime.
So how can you set powerful “approach” goals today?
- Write down a “bad” habit you want to avoid. This is pretty easy.
- Write down a “good” habit or two you can use to replace the habit you want to quit. Try to make the “good” habits relevant to the context. If you usually take a smoke break at work, take a tea break instead, for example.
- Write down an “approach” goal you can do today to support the new “good” habit. Start as small as you want.
- Identify how this “approach” goal will benefit you.
- Find what works, and repeat. You can try a bunch of different “approach” goals to find out what feels easiest for you. When you find one that works for your life, practice it every day.
Turn “performance goals” into “mastery goals”. Performance goals are a lot like outcome goals. But they’re usually associated with external validation such as wanting to get good grades from a teacher, win a competition, or race against a standardized time.
Just like outcome goals, performance goals are often limited by factors outside your control: It could be rainy and windy on the day of a marathon. That’s out of your control, yet influences your time.
Of course, performance goals can be fun for a while. They can push you to achieve your best. But it’s incredibly demotivating if they don’t work out.
Mastery is different.
- Mastery emphasizes the process of getting a little bit better each day at a particular skill.
- Mastery focuses on the joy of learning and the value in intrinsic (inside-yourself) process. External validation becomes irrelevant when you’re focused on the pleasure of doing the activity itself.
- Mastery is gratifying because no matter what others think or do — whether you’re judged poorly or you outperform — you can still feel good about your own personal progression. Truly, mastery is motivating no matter what else is going on.
1) Performance Goal – Beat a personal record in the half marathon. Mastery – Work on running elegantly, efficiently, and smoothly. Watch video of self running and identify technique elements to improve, then incorporate these into training plan.
2) Performance Goal -Drop body fat to 8% for an upcoming competition. Mastery – Build your ability to consistently prepare and execute a well-designed meal plan.
So how can you set powerful “mastery goals” today?
- Write down a desired outcome that’s a performance goal.
- Write down some ideas for turning inward with that goal. If you take the external validation out of the equation, what does success look like?
- Write down an action you can take every day for the next two weeks to build those skills.
- Track your progression toward mastery. Make your practices a permanent part of your daily or weekly routine.
What to do next
1. Take an honest look at your goals. Most people have health and fitness goals. Think about yours. Write them down if you like.
2. Consider the skills you need to do what you want. New outcomes need new skills. If there’s something you want to do, and you haven’t done it, you probably haven’t developed the skills you need.
3. Turn outcomes into behaviours. Once you know which skills will help you reach your goals, break them down into behaviours/actions you can practice with purpose, every day.
4. Focus on what to do, rather than on what not to do. “Don’t do X” is not an action plan. But “Do more Y” is.
5. Enjoy the journey. Choose behaviors you’ll enjoy. Experience the daily zen of doing a thing for its own sake. Refine, improve, and become a master.
This article has been compiled from my lessons over the last two years with Precision Nutrition. I did my Level 1 coaching to start with and then went on to do certification on Sleep, Recover and Stress Management. Right now I am doing my Level 2 certification on Deep Health with them. If you are interested to know more about them, visit their website. They have great online courses which you can do for your knowledge or if you ever want to take coaching as profession.
November 27, 2022