If Your Goals Don’t Scare You, They Aren’t Big Enough

Setting goals and falling in love are similar…and frightening. What if what you want doesn’t happen? Isn’t it easier to avoid the heartbreak? Learn how to set scary, but achievable goals.

It is obvious that we can no more explain a passion to a person who has never experienced it than we can explain light to the blind.” – T.S. Eliot

Nothing is more frightening than truly being in love. A deeply romantic love is – by its very nature – a thief that steals from you your control over that which matters most: your happiness. Falling in love is the greatest and most important gamble one can take in their life. And it is the uncertainty of the potential outcomes of that gamble that strikes such fear into our hearts.

Have you ever tried to explain to someone who has never been in love why you are so willing to take such an enormous emotional risk on it? It is an impossible a task. The reason is that the first time you experience love, it is a singularity moment; that is, it’s impossible to know the feeling until you have already had the feeling.

Almost every song ever written is a love song of some kind or another: songs of longing, loss, joy, and passion – all for love. Love is unexplainable in rational terms. We have been forced to resort to music, poetry, and art to approximate as close as possible the emotions we feel, but can’t express. And yet – paradoxically – we are so compelled to try to express them as best as we can anyway.

The gut-wrenching pain, the fear you will never sleep again, the horror of a future without that person is a very real consequence of the loss of love. Not knowing – at all – where things may go, good or bad, is the worst part of it. If you at least KNEW the relationship was going to go to Hell, at least you could plan to have fun in the moment. But you can’t even be sure of that. It could go amazingly. What then?

Do What You Love, Love What You Do

Doing what you love, striving for a goal you are passionate about, is like engaging in a long romance that has a lot of emotional risk attached to it. If you don’t believe me, you should read my love letter to my snatch. You’ll have ups and downs, good and bad days. You’ll have long periods of estrangement and periods where everything clicks.

To avoid the worst outcomes, it helps to have a way of approaching your long-term hopes and goals that minimizes the risk of bad feelings, unnecessary anxiety, and misplaced fear – the very things that help to bring about the worst outcomes. You can’t break up with someone to avoid a broken heart if your goal is to marry him or her – in other words, quitting is not an option. You also can’t spend your life in an unhealthy relationship with the thing that you love and expect great results.

My goal is to help you have a healthier relationship with the activity you love so you can kick some serious ass at it.

Goal Setting Basics

I have always liked the old line, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” While it may sound trite, it is remarkably effective when taken seriously. I can state the process of applying this concept to your weightlifting love affair as follows:

  1. Set a large goal that is big enough to scare you.
  2. Set many smaller goals that you can reach so easily you’re almost embarrassed by them.

The first goal is your hope for the best. If everything goes right, and you work your tail off, and all the stars align, then you can reach that massive goal of yours. This goal MUST be big enough to seem almost impossible. It is your best-case scenario.

The second, smaller, goal is your plan for the worst. The more embarrassingly doable this little daily/weekly goal is, the better. This is your worst-case scenario.

goal setting, goals, targetting goals, setting goals

For example, my own long-term goal is to snatch 130 kilos (or so) to break the American Masters snatch record in the 35 to 39 age group, in either the 77kg or 85kg weight class (the records are roughly the same). I’m 34 now. I weigh 75kg and I can snatch 95kg. So I have five years to add 35kg to my snatch. If things go well, I think this is doable.

My short-term goal is to show up everyday to the gym and warm up. Seriously, that’s it. Because I truly love weightlifting, I will more often than not end up doing a real workout. But I never have to feel bad if all I did was got to the gym, I warmed up, and then spent four hours goofing off with my crew.

What About The Middle?

Stories have beginnings, they have endings, but most of them also have middles. Your goal setting should be the same. You have your over-the-top big goal. You have your daily/weekly embarrassingly small goals. But you also need to have medium-term goals. As you might expect, these goals should be set somewhere between the sky and the dirt.

Your midterm goals must be high, but not high enough to scare you.

For example, since I want to add 35 kilos to my snatch in five years, I can break that down to simpler midterm goals. I only need to add 7kg to my snatch per year. That’s less than 1kg per month. Given that progress is NOT linear, that means I should break that 7g kilos up into three-month phases and be happy with a 1kg to 3kg increase on the snatch every three months, on average.

At the low end, only 1kg per three months is not quite enough to reach the big goal, but it IS totally doable (remember that this is on average! I may not ACTUALLY gain 1kg per three months. But by the end of the year, 4kg is more than reasonable).

On the high end, 12kg to the snatch in one year is a lot. I’ve done this before – twice. But every year you do this sport, the slower the gains will come.

In other words, I’ve created two midterm goals for myself:

  1. A 1kg to 3kg increase every three months – on average.
  2. A 4kg to 12kg increase every year – on average.

Side note: It makes a lot of sense in fitness to stick to monthly, tri-monthly, and yearly midterm targets.

Your Goal Setting Protocol

Here’s your final goal-setting procedure:

  1. Set your big goal that scares you.
  2. Find out the bare minimum you can GUARANTEE on a daily/weekly basis and do that religiously.
  3. Backwards plan to create your medium term goals, which need to be both realistic but high enough to drive you toward that pie-in-the-sky.

Treat your baby right and you’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary heartache and pain. The WAY that you treat her right is to set wonderfully high goals together, but accept where she is today and love her regardless.

Hope for the best; plan for the worst; enjoy the process.