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What side of the river are you on?
Creative Commons License photo credit: WTL photos

Setting goals is one of the most powerful things that you can do as an individual looking to reach a new level of performance, be that on a personal or physical level.  But setting goals isn’t always the only way. Leading bloggers like Leo at Zen Habits and Seth Godin on his regular blog have recently brought their cognitive powers to bear on “goals”, and I want to explore that concept from the perspective of endurance athletics and our focus on lifestyle design here at the ELD Blog. Student first, teacher second…so let’s see what we can learn!

So first, over on Zen Habits in his post entitled “the best goal is no goal,” Leo talks about about not setting goals.  Instead, he suggestes living more passionately and focusing on the now…exactly where you are…and making the most of that. I think that’s a very powerful message, and it strikes me as one that is also somewhat advanced.


Case in point, even though I train and race triathlons and marathons just like many of you, I haven’t followed a training plan in years.  Instead, I use my experience to sync my daily schedule with my goals. This allows me to dial in a workout that both builds my fitness and is fun for me to do.  So, I benefit from that because I’m a more experienced athlete and coach than the average bear.  But, I still have goals.

I think that the type of no goals that Leo is talking about is something that we can all do in various spaces of our life.  I think his primary motivation, and I could be wrong, is that too many people spend a lot of time creating and managing lists of goals and things to do, and that management time sucks the life out of the desire to do things and also sucks your ability as well.

I suffer from the problem myself, and am working towards a much simpler management system. Because the truth is clear: You simply cannot do all the things you need to do if you’re spending your time managing the things that you need to do. Release yourself from this vicious cycle and instead focus your energy on what you can do with what you’ve got!


On the flip side, Seth Goden in the “Problem with Unlimited” talked a little bit about setting goals and what that meant in terms of limits.  So for example, his point was if you said you can only — if <Garbled> maxes out at 1,000 pounds for a bench press, then the odds of someone hitting that limit are pretty high because it gives them a goal to aim for and they can work towards it.  So, from Seth’s perspective, goals are more easily attained when they are defined.

To extrapolate this then, for endurance sports, just setting a goal is powerful because the odds of you reaching it are much higher now that you’ve actually physically stated it. It is worth considering that in Seth’s case he’s talking about external goals being set and achieved as opposed to intrinsic or internal goals. If you can have a defined goal and one that is perhaps even public, the odds of you hitting that goal are much higher than if you had not.

I think that the truly tough conversation is to define whether or not you are setting the right goals? Are you setting challenging goals that are really going to push you to achieve your limits? Are you in charge of achieving these goals or is your success dependent upon others?

Whether or not you subscribe to the “no goals” or “goals as new limits” approach to managing your progress, we are all on that same path of trying to find new means of having a breakthrough performance — whether it’s on the playing field, in the workplace, or at home. At the end of the day, the approach that most resonates with you will ultimately be the most effective.


So which are you:  No Goals or Goals Are New Limits to be Reached? Tell me in teh comments below!

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