Particularly in the current climate, stability is important. Whilst so much is uncertain, we need to have some goalposts that don’t move. This article is all about holding our goals lightly, yet taking them seriously.

The vital challenge

As coaches and athletes, setting goals is vital to achieving. Without something concrete to work towards and surpass, how can we experience success?

Not only that, but without a progressive goal, we will be tempted to stagnate. To stay comfortable. Unless we set a bar to attain, we will sit contentedly below it, not even attempting to reach upwards. To push ourselves to progress, we require challenge.

Pressing towards a goal in this way will inevitably reap rewards, even if they don’t fall within the precise success criteria we have set. Whether we attain the desired goal or not, our progression is a certainty.

But what if…?

Despite this seeming win-win situation of goal-setting described above, we often find ourselves tempted to change the goalposts. Especially if some great change in circumstances occurs. Something beyond our control. Some vast, life-altering thing that makes us want to go easy on ourselves.

In such times the temptation is to make concessions for ourselves. “Well,” we say, “without X, how can I possibly attain Y?” We move the goalposts, bringing our goals nearer, making them more readily attainable. And it is an entirely human response. We all do it – myself included – but that is precisely why I wanted to write this. It’s as much a challenge to me as to anyone!

Of course these changes in circumstance can make life harder, but cushioning the blow for ourselves is not necessarily a helpful approach.

After all, there is a world of difference between “taking it easy” on ourselves and having grace for ourselves. In the first instance, we shield ourselves from failure and rob ourselves of true success. Conversely, in the second, we fail, but we are gentle with ourselves about it. In fact, in order to have grace for yourself at all, you must first have failed.

Do not rob your failure of its potency. Instead, learn to grow in grace for yourself when you have failed.

Holding lightly, not gripping tightly

Allowing circumstance to dictate our goals or change the (ultimately self-imposed) parameters by which we attain them only shields us from failure. But holding so fixatedly to our goals that our self-worth or identity becomes tied to our success or failure is equally unhealthy. How can we strike the balance?

The crucial thing is to hold our goals and challenges lightly. Or, more accurately, to hold our potential success or failure lightly. It deserves to be taken seriously – after all, if we don’t take the goal seriously, we won’t take our training seriously either. On the other hand, it doesn’t need to rule us. The only person to have set the challenge is us, so, irrespective of success or failure, we stand to gain from the experience.

As an illustration: at the end of December, I made the decision to train hard and attempt to make GB Freestyle Selections in April 2021. A matter of days later, the latest national lockdown locked off the only viable training spot from me. Obviously, this was frustrating. In fact, it was very tempting to abandon that goal entirely.

But I stand to lose nothing, and gain a great deal, by maintaining the goal. Having a fixed deadline and a certain standard to attain will push me to be fitter, more technically precise, better at self-analysis. And if I fail, I will be equipped to set new goals.

Without the goal of GB Selections, complex tricks like the Phonics Monkey would be very tempting to avoid.

What do you think? Do you have new goals for 2021 and if so, what are they?