Goal Setting #1 – Lose the Ego

“You can’t Motivate to yourself to do something you don’t want to do. You need to set your own goals, not somebody else’s” Pat Divilly

Success, failure and the fine line that separates them both is something that I blame for too many sleepless nights over the years. Instead of sweet dreams, it was bitter thoughts of “if only”. “If only the referee blew the whistle 30 seconds earlier”, “if only that guy didn’t enter the race”, “if only they missed that last long range shot”. For years, these “if only” moments, had been determining my season and my goals. Moving them from success to failure in the blink of an eye. And for years I wrecked my brain, trying to think of a way to finally reach success. Unfortunately, I was doing it all wrong.  I was setting goals, like so many of us do, beyond my control. I could not control how fast the other guy ran, or how good a season the other team had. I could only control one thing. Me.

Goals can be broken into hundreds of types depending on what theory or article you last read. For the sake of this blog I want to talk about 2 types. ‘Task goals‘ and ‘ego goals‘, which are effectively good and bad goals respectively.

The Ego Has Landed

Taking the latter first. The bad goal to set, an ‘ego goal’. I suppose the hint is in the name. We are all raised knowing that having an ego is generally a bad thing and it is the very same for goals. Ego goals are ones in which your success is based on how you do compared to others. “I want to win the championship”: ego goal. “I want to win the race”: ego goal. “I want to come in the top 100″: despite being more achievable, it is still an ego goal.

Imagine Jim as an example. Last year while running in the Boyne 10k, Jim punched a time of 48 minutes to come in 101st place. Very naturally, when Jim set his goals for this year’s race, he set it to come in the top 100.

So Jim does all the training he did last year with a small bit extra to ensure that he’d move up a number of places. However, unknown to Jim at the time, a group of 50 elite athletes from a club in Cork decided that they would come up take part in the race this year.

Imagine Jim runs this years race in 47 minutes, but instead of moving up into the top 100, Jim is pushed back to 140th, and effectively, he’s 40 positions behind his goal and thus he has failed miserably.

So instead of celebrating a hugely successful race where Jim took 60 seconds off his time. He is left pondering where he went wrong, and hopefully he realises that he went wrong on the very first step. The goal setting step.

I know that Jim’s story will hit a chord with most people. It certainly does with me. Every single year I sat up in the clubhouse with my GAA club St. Oliver Plunketts. The team and I would set the same goal each time, to win the championship. And every single year, every other club in the division set the same goal. Meaning 90% of us were going to fail. 90% of us would finish the season in regret, sadness, anger and a host of other negative thoughts and emotions.

Drop the Ego, focus on the Task

Some people might see this as more ‘competition bashing’ coming from the sports psychology corner. It is not. Dropping an ego goal and picking up a task goal is actually telling you to be more competitive. Be more competitive with the only true competition. Yourself!!!

A task goal is one where you hold yourself accountable. One where you compare yourself to your own standards. The easiest way of doing this is by looking at your previous achievement and trying to improve on this. Trying to achieve your personal best.

My favourite examples of task goals in action are when watching athletics on TV. You could see someone cross the line in 2nd in bitter disappointment, while back in 7th the athlete crosses the line with hands in the air and a wide smile. It is because the athlete who came 7th did not care about placement. They were too busy celebrating the achievement of their task goal which was to set a personal best. They couldn’t control how quick everyone else ran so why would they let that get in the way of their goal?

Even in team sports, we can now hear progressive managers and players talking about the processes rather than the result. “We focussed on our own processes, and thankfully the result also went our way.” What this manager is saying is that their goal was not to win the game. Their goal was to control what they could control, and hope that this was enough to win the game.

Whether it’s in sport, lifestyle, business or any other walk of life, we should take heed of the goals we set. Are they setting us up for failure? Or do they promote us to be the best we can be? My challenge to you is to consider this when setting your next goal. Set a goal that will bring out the best in you. One that will cut free from external excuses and hand its faith over to the master who controls it. You!



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