Friday, 31 July 2015

Now, By Then, and Long Term - Goal Setting

Bob Bowman is not a house-hold name, despite being three times a member of the US Olympic Team and five time ASCA coach of the year. But, on the off chance you do know who Bob Bowman is, you almost certainly know him by his most famous swimmer: Michael Phelps. Bowman trained Phelps from when he was ten years old, which means that he had no small part to do with the most decorated Olympian's success.

Bowman says that to succeed in swimming a person needs three things: goal setting, commitment and accountability. Goal setting gives direction - without it, anything is success for the optimist and everything is failure for the pessimist, and they are both right. Of course, the optimist is likely to set a goal too high and the pessimist a goal to low, so evidently there is a certain art to goal setting. Goals have to be achievable if and only if one pushes oneself hard. After that is where commitment comes in.

In anything, however, once one decides where one wants to get, one has to figure out the route. That involves two more goals: the way-point goals and the current goal. Once I have figured out what I want to do (hit the minute mark on the 100m breaststroke) I need to figure out what goals I need to reach in the years between now and achieving my goal. Say I hope to hit that target by early 2020. I need all the time I can get because with a time hitting the minute mark I would be beating Phelps' career best in breaststroke (although admittedly Phelps was not a breaststroker). That goal is formidable and yet also too distant to actually tackle. It might motivate me in the abstract - it might also daunt me in the abstract - but it is too large and distant for swimming tomorrow morning to make a difference.

So I need a few goals along the way. I have the Australian University Games in about eight weeks - what time do I need there to keep on track? I am recovering from an injury, so things are pretty nebulous, but I am aiming for 1:19. That's almost twenty seconds off my ultimate target but a manageable goal meanwhile. What about for the six months after that? And then? The aim of these way-point goals is to break down the dream goal into tough-yet-manageable pieces to keep motivated with eyes on the prize. As someone literally short-sighted, I can certainly appreciate having targets close enough to actually see them!

Obviously a big part of setting goals is to produce a plan to achieve them. If I wanted to swim for fitness I would have a different manner and intensity of training to if I wanted to swim for a triathlon, for instance. Since I want to swim a pretty elite time in breaststroke, I have to train at an elite level for breaststroke. You can see how producing goals gives a rough idea of the plan. The closer the goal, the more detailed the plan would be to achieve the goal; for instance, I could probably save a whole second if I improved my frankly shocking breaststroke turns. I might even be able to save another whole second if I worked on keeping my breaststroke kick strong under pressure for only a few training sessions. Hence, my next goal time at Uni Games dictates to some extent what I do for the next two months.

Planning is a moment to be perfect. With pen and paper or just pixels, the planner can detail a pretty convincing route to their dream goals with barely an effort. For many, planning is a fun experience - and why not? Planners do not yet have to deal with the grind involved in their plan; thus far they can sit in an idyllic world without even a sniff of chlorine. That ease of planning is reflected in how often plans start tomorrow or on Monday. But a good plan starts now.

You have your long term plan and your mid-term plan. What comes finally is the now plan. What am I doing now to reach my goals? Perhaps I should do some stretching, cooking of healthy meals and snacks, get through the work that might make me late for swimming training. Whatever it is, the third and perhaps most crucial part of the plan is the one that lies within your reach right now. It is the now plan which  transforms a future goal into a now achievement.

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