And then what? That, my friends, is the least answered question in fitness. This question is about what happens after we’ve reached the goal. It’s about what is behind our goal. Goals in their inherent nature are short term, whereas the question – “and then what?” – is a question that has everything to do with the long term, who we are, and what we’re seeking at a deeper level. Goals in and of themselves are commendable, but they’re only truly significant and relevant in our lives if we’ve done the work to establish why we’ve set them.
Of all of the dynamics we look at in fitness, the why behind our goal isn’t tops on our priority list. As a coach, trainer, and athlete I have seen and experienced this time and time again. That is, having to face the aftermath of reaching your goal. Setting a goal is the what. It’s the data. It’s thinking strategically. Whereas asking the deeper question of what is driving us to make a goal happen is the why. It’s the true motivator and the primal fire that fuels our drive. If we haven’t done the work of establishing this why, we won’t have an answer to what’s next.
We like goals in our culture. Goals make us feel better and rightly so, for establishing and achieving goals take guts and determination. The first thing I ask as a trainer and coach to a prospective or new client is, “What is your goal?” Our business world is also predicated on setting and reaching goals. Each quarter, companies state their earnings in the context of stated projections (goals). To be successful these goals are to be met and these goals are always supposed to go up. This is where goal setting becomes a bit of a trap. We fall into this same trap in our lives in fitness. Hit the goal, and then hit a higher one. Run a marathon, then run two, and then run a faster one. Still, the question looms. “And then what?” Name one thing on the planet that has infinite growth. I’m still waiting.
The laws of physics tell us that always setting a higher goal only works on a short-term basis. The focus on infinite growth in our culture is clearly flawed logic, utterly impossible, and problematic. However, we get caught up in goals because culturally hitting a goal to many equals being happy. This is also flawed logic. People set out to make a million dollars only to realize that they now need two million dollars. With such a mindset the rat race begins and happiness never actually enters in to the equation.
Perfectionism is pronounced in and around sport and fitness as well. It’s as if we feel we’ll get there if we can just win, get faster, or get fitter. Behind reaching the podium, achieving the sculpted physique, or completing the Ironman is a question that begs to be answered. The question is, “What am I searching for?”
With our work on our goals we feel happier because we are exhibiting our best traits. Doing a fitness competition takes incredible discipline and mental fortitude. Completing an endurance event takes hours of roadwork and training, as well as loads of physical and mental toughness. Preparing for a fight takes blood, sweat, and tears, literally and figuratively. Such qualities are to be celebrated and commended. And the loftier the goal the bigger emotional attachment it has to your psychological well being. Big goals matter to us and they matter immensely. We attach tremendous meaning and significance to setting and achieving a goal.
Still, reaching the goal is a temporary mark and a means to an end. Setting the goal and hitting the goal is actually the starting place, not the destination. Once we have had transformation our job is then to keep moving forward with a different perspective and continuing to establish the why. Another word for this why is purpose or meaning. Yup, the big question. In fact, the why is the only question. Why am I doing this is the question we all must answer if we are going to live at our goal instead of just reaching our goal.
As a coach I’ve actually seen people get depressed after achieving and reaching a goal. The drive that fueled them to their goal is replaced with a shadow of self doubt and negativity. This cycle can be broken by looking deeper at what Yung called our shadow self. As one of my spiritual advisors says, “You cannot out run your shadow.” This is literally true in sport and fitness. It is here where the crux of finding the truth behind our goals lies. The letdown that often accompanies the elation of reaching a goal is not inevitable, but it is if we haven’t looked truthfully at ourselves. I read once that everything we do is done out of fear or love. Why we are attempting our latest goal and why we are seeking to achieve perfection comes very much from fear or love.
After setting a goal you will fail to reach your objective or you will reach your objective. In doing so, you will either need to set a new objective or reevaluate. Either way, simply establishing a new goal will not solve what’s driving you to do so. In the end, living at our goal is all that matters and that means digging deep. The desire to be healthy is a sustainable goal while getting to and maintaining a shredded body forever is not.
Finally, we must come to terms with our goals and look at life as a circle versus a straight line. A goal is a straight line – start here and end there. I wrote several months ago about looking at our lives in sport and our bodies as seasons. Accepting this circle and having the self-awareness to know where we are can help us enjoy the races, goals, and challenges more. We can see them as moments on the journey and celebrations of life versus of what will bring us real and lasting joy.
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