What You Are Missing in Your Goal Setting Practice


The beginning of the year has a lot of us thinking about goals.  Some will call them resolutions, some will call them intentions.  We set goals, make vision boards, choose a word to represent our new start.  We face the new year as if it is a shiny opportunity to be “better” so that in 365 days, we are a different version of ourselves.


To be honest.  I love it.  Well, I love the idea at least.


I am a fresh start kind of gal. I used to tell my students, amid plenty of eye rolls, that Monday was my favorite day of the week because it is a new opportunity have the week you hope for.   I actually think that it comes from my time as a classroom teacher.  Each year, you got a fresh group of students and got to start over with creating the class, classroom environment and overall experience that you dream of.  Most often, it does not go the way that you want it to, but then another year passes and you get the opportunity all over again.  Only this time, you have all of the lessons you learned the year before about what worked, what didn’t and what you want to change to up your game this year.


So, it is a great idea.  We sit down, we reflect on the year that has passed and decide what we want to do different and how we want to go about doing that different thing.  It sounds magical, right?  If you are still with me, that might mean that you  agree.  So, here is where I hit you with a truth that I have discovered over the years.  Setting goals is beautiful, but we are doing it wrong. 


Jessica, how can you set a goal wrong?  You say you want to do a thing and then you try to do that thing, how can that be wrong?


Because, we are only focusing on the goal.  The number of miles we want to run, the number on the scale (my least favorite goal, but one that many set, so it is a good example), the grade we are getting in that class, etc.  Even when it is not something that has a natural measurement, we say things like “I want to be more present with my family” or “I want to spend more time slowing down.”  We focus completely on the end result.  The version of us in which the goal we have set has been “achieved.”


Okay, perhaps it is not that we are doing it wrong, it is just that we are missing the final, and most important step.  The how.  How are you going to run more miles?  How are you going to change the number on the scale (which, for the record, you absolutely do not need to do, but that is a different conversation)?  How are you going to get that grade?  How are you being more present with family? How are you slowing down?


The how is the secret sauce that we need to get from point A to point B to achieve your goals.  When you stop at setting the goal, you are nearly always setting yourself up to miss the mark that you are shooting for. 

What is interesting to me, is that I think that organized sports actually gets this really right.  Obviously, the goal is a win.  Obviously, they want to make playoffs.  Obviously, they want that championship ring that is worth five times what my house is worth.  That is the goal.  And I think that part of the issue is that the goal is the part we see.  The champagne popped on the field and sprayed everywhere and those pre-printed Superbowl Champions t-shirts shimmied over the shoulder pads (does anyone know what they do with the shirts that are pre-printed for the team that actually lost?).  We see the end result and we see the joy in the celebration of meeting that goal.


But we miss the how.  We miss the structured practice, we miss the watching of game film., we miss the studying of the playbook and the rehearsal of every scenario you can think of.  All we see is the joy.


When I was a high school teacher, I used coach cheer.  This was a group of incredibly talented athletes who constantly blew me away with their ethic, their performance and their heart.  They were dang good, and it showed.  And they worked their tails off.  If you don’t know anything about high school cheer, here is the jist.  They spend most of their performance time supporting other athletes in games, assemblies and pep rallies.  Behind the scenes, however, they are also preparing for their own athletic contests.  They spend hours and hours and hours perfecting a routine that they have ONE shot to perform.  Two minutes and thirty seconds on a big blue mat to show the world what they have.  It is high stress, to say the least (for the record, they handled it like champs.  I think I was more nervous than they were).  But the goal was never to win.


Okay, obviously, we wanted to win.  There was one school that we kept in our sights.  They shall remain nameless here, but we definitely wanted to win.


But that is not where the focused lied.  What we were actually working for was a routing with no mistakes.  A routine in which every count was on, every hand placement was correct, every tumbling pass hit and our final pyramid sequence was so badass that the judges were left speechless.  We wanted to win, but we had to focus on the HOW.  And when our how came together to create the result wanted-there was joy.  So much of it, in fact, that it still brings tears to my eyes.  But that is neither here nor there.


If we only focused on the end goal, our energy would not be in the right place.  If we focused on the how, the byproduct was a score that made us a contender.


You guys, it really is that simple.  There is an end result in mind, but we have to spend out time focusing on the how.  And here is the best news about all of this.  The how….is TANGIBLE.  It is within your control.  You can control your metaphorical hand placement in that stunt.  Or, at the very least, you can adjust it if it is not creating the result you want. 


So that brings me back to this idea of goals.  Remember that I love them?  So, of course I have got to bring you back.  Begin with the end in mind.  Having an identified end result is a powerful place to start.  But we can’t stop there.  How are you going to get there?


Here are some thoughts of mine.  And a little glimpse into my 2023 goals.

I have a running goal for 2023.  I want to finish a half-marathon in 3 hours.  That is the end result, right?  To get there, I need to identify how many days a week  I should train for.  How many of those days are about tempo and how many are about just running.  How many of those days are about cross-training.  If my intention is to fully participate in a training plan, then perhaps I will get the end result I am looking for.


I have a blog and podcast goal for 2023.  I want to post and produce at least monthly.  That is the end result, right?  To get there, I need to determine when I am going to set aside time to write, record and edit.  Perhaps I am working towards a daily word count for blogs (or weekly) or a Sunday morning routine where I turn on the mic and just start talking.  The end result is a weekly post, but I have to figure out how I am going to do that or, let’s be honest, it will never happen.


I have a goal to be more mindful this year.  That is the end result, right?  I need to identify, first of all, what that actually means for my life.  What is getting in the way and how to content with those barriers.  I also might need to practice contending with those barriers.



Goals are a beautiful thing.  Feeling joyous about popping champagne and sliding into a pre-printed t-shirt that anticipated your win sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday evening.  I think that I am valuable in this exact version of myself, AND I also am on board to continue progressing into each next iteration by focusing on how I want to grow.  Don’t stop at the what.  Goal setting is powerful.  How setting (did I just make up a term?) is even more powerful.  Get after it and let me know it goes! 


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