Post By: Jeff Ruser, M.A. | Monday, May 4, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS GOAL SETTING

Picture this. A new year resolution comes, a summer beach season approaches, a new sport season is upcoming, or your path to a promotion at work finally seems to be in reach. Realizations of goals come in these moments that motivate us to push ourselves to achieve. Achieve the physique we want, gain the endurance we have longed to have, get the start spot we have invested so much to obtain, or secure the pay increase that we have earned. In these initial moments of realization, motivation skyrockets and might lead to us having a great day of training, practice, or work. But, without fail, you wake up a few days later feeling back to baseline. Motivation comes and goes, and you more or less stick to your same habits and training. You see, motivation is fleeting. Motivation isn't always dependable in our day to day lives. Nonetheless, we have to set new goals for ourselves to achieve and get the most out of our time and efforts in the pursuit of excellence. Some goals are big, and some are small. With each goal, we hope to achieve something for ourselves, to hone our craft, to better our body, to enhance our well-being, or positively impact those around us. But how do we achieve these goals when motivation is so fleeting? Goals.

Goal setting is a skill that takes time to learn, practice, and master. Usually, in the world of mental skills training, we will immediately jump to SMART goal setting, using the acronym to remind us to make Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. SMART goals work and need not be abandoned as a tool to help us set and achieve our most ambitious goals. And, in using SMART goals, using a technique that author Stephen Guise has coined “Too Small To Fail,” I believe, we can get even more out of our goal setting.

Too Small To Fail is goal setting that does, well, exactly what it says – helps us set goals, usually behavioral in nature, that are so ridiculously small and seemingly “easy” that we can't fail. In my personal and professional experience, one of the first places where we tend to fall off the train when we set out to achieve a goal is being consistent and being overwhelmed by the magnitude of a big, ambitious goal that we put in front of ourselves. To get over these first hurdles, instead of thinking bigger, trying to grit our way through it, or simplistically telling ourselves to work harder – what if we went smaller?

As Guise describes throughout his book Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, we can start by setting extremely small and simple behavioral goals to get ourselves off the ground. For example, I worked with an athlete who was asked to gain 30 lbs in muscle over the course of an off-season by his coaches who asked him to change positions. This seemed daunting to the athlete who wasn't in love with the idea of living in the gym and drastically upping his caloric intake. The athlete first started by setting goals to spend 2 hours in the gym every day doing the most comprehensive workouts known to man and eating enough calories to make Michael Phelps Olympic training diet look small. It was too daunting. His plan crumbled after a week and a half. Instead, we enacted Too Small To Fail. His overarching goals of gaining lean and explosive muscle mass remained, but the daily goal was different. What did the daily goal shift to? Only one hour in the gym? No. Even smaller. 30 minutes in the gym? Nope. Smaller. The goal became: step foot in the gym. That's it. Walk through the doors of the gym. Every. Single. Day. Show up.

You may be thinking, “That's ridiculous. It's too simple.” You're not wrong. It is pretty ridiculous and very simple. But what we observed in this case, and what Guise suggests can happen with anyone, is the idea that once we set an extremely achievable goal and start doing it every day, we can reward ourselves and build on the small, daily wins of just showing up. Checking-off even the easiest of goals, if we choose, can help us build momentum on the days we feel at our best and even on the days when motivation is totally absent. For our example athlete, as momentum built he found that once he showed up to the gym, he felt compelled to lift. Workouts grew, mass was gained, and the athlete successfully reached his goal 3 months later. Just by showing up.

A couple things to be aware of when setting Too Small to Fail Goals: 1) You're going to be tempted to up the ante and make the goal more challenging. Don't. 2) Track your progress of completing the small goal. In this pursuit, it's likely that you will have highly motivated days where you start to think, “I'm past that tiny little goal. Let's bite off more than the simple baseline goal.” But, why? Keep the small goal, like just showing up, to ensure that you get there. And let the momentum increase the intensity, duration, or quality of the pursuit from there. Keeping the threshold low and simple ensures that we are accomplishing something each and every day. Secondly, using a visual tracker of sorts can be helpful in maintaining consistency. Hang a calendar on your wall and check days off. Seeing the streak of days on which you “show up” for yourself will only help to engrain this habit even more.

As you start small, you will likely find that you can and do go above and beyond the small goal that you have set. That's the point, after all. Nonetheless, stay attached to that small goal. Keep doing one push-up. Simply open the document that you plan to write your novel in. Log one food item in your calorie tracker. Just put your running shoes on. Place your hands on the pull-up bar. Success will come from there. You can do that, if nothing else, to keep the momentum going. As you dream and imagine what can be when you set your goals and achieve, indulge in the grandiosity of what it will be like to reach the mountain top and see yourself grow. And from there, shrink your vision down to the smallest goal possible that is Too Small to Fail. Good luck!