Tiny Goals Bring Big Progress
Written by: Coach Evan
Have you ever gone into a workout with a goal to accomplish and everything else seems to disappear? You can still hear the clang and bang of other barbells, you can hear the loud music but when the workout is over you can’t remember what song was playing. You can hear the breathing of the other athletes but they shift like ghosts around the gym because your sole purpose is to achieve the goal you’ve given yourself. Think about how good you felt after that workout when you achieved your goal. Now think about how amazing your days would be if you felt that good after EVERY workout. Let’s discuss how to do that.
Most of the time folks think about goals in terms of a specific weight to hit on a lift or a time in which to complete a workout. These are good examples of macro goals. Unfortunately, there’s too much margin for error, too much to go wrong to guarantee those outcomes, too much resting on the outcome to deliver happiness. To send your progress soaring to the skies and for you to be very pleased with every workout you need to set certainly attainable micro goals. Are there a bunch of chest-to-bars in the workout tomorrow? What repeatable number of unbroken reps can you set for yourself to achieve? What pushes you just enough that it doesn’t kill you but allows you to do something that surprises yourself?
Recently in a workout with 21 American kettlebell swings per round I pondered doing the prescribed number of reps and breaking them up or doing less reps to remain unbroken for all the rounds. I was convinced by Coach Slater to stay with the higher reps and do them unbroken for as long as I could, even if it was only one round. He believed I could do them, which helped, but it also gave me something to shoot for which is incredibly motivating for me. I knew I could complete at least one round of the swings unbroken, which would give me a chance to shoot for 2, which would already be breaking my goal. After smashing my goal and completing two rounds unbroken I had the confidence to hold on to the kettlebell for all the reps every round except the very last.
Going into the workout I had no goal but to just go for it; to see how many rounds I could complete. That mindset is useful at times but it doesn’t set me up for success, it doesn’t inherently help me push myself, and it doesn’t set me up to be happy with the results no matter what happens. It doesn’t make me want to keep coming back for more, and is only a single thread in the web of strategic training.
Slater gave me one simple goal, thus completing all the criteria above: complete the first round unbroken and see how many more rounds I could complete unbroken after that, no matter how many rounds I got. I surprised myself and learned how this strategy could affect me in another workout. I was happy with how hard I pushed because one easily attainable goal gave me the confidence to smash it and see where my limits were set.
What happens when we set a goal for a certain number of rounds to complete in a workout and we don’t complete them? We are disappointed.
We set up that disappointment by giving ourselves a goal that we aren’t completely sure we can attain. We think we can get a certain number of rounds and if we don’t we say it’s because we aren’t good enough, that we suck, and that we’ll never be good enough. If we change the goal to something that is achievable based on prior experience you’ll feel much better about yourself, the workout, and you’ll be really excited to come back the next day and see what you can accomplish. I’m not saying your goal should be easy or that you should reach for low hanging fruit. Say you want to maintain sets of 5 unbroken chest to bars throughout the workout. This is a great micro goal because that number is below your max unbroken reps, it’s still enough to push you, and will become difficult to maintain.
It might change the outcome of the number of rounds you accomplish. If it was more, hell yea! If it was less, now you have data to use for the next workout. Now you know how doing that many chest to bars will affect other movements. You’ll be elated with achieving your micro goal and you’ll have strategy for next time. It’s always win/win. Set yourself up to never lose.
Now when I go into any training piece I always set micro goals for myself. I recommend starting with one but once you fall into the habit you’ll see you can add complementary micro goals that further connect your training web. Being the fastest every time or lifting the heaviest in every workout isn’t the only way to grow and it’s arguably the least effective way to become skillful. In fact, many times it’s better to slow down, focus on technique, and set a goal for yourself to stick to in a workout like maintaining a certain pace or a certain number of reps despite how you’re fatiguing. Watch those who always try to go the heaviest or try to be the fastest in a workout and eventually they won’t be lifting the heaviest or completing the most rounds. Those who choose to set micro goals, see the value in both wins and losses, and learn no matter what are the ones who will become the most successful.