Having goals is great; they keep us motivated in our work. Stating them out loud and to others often increases our commitment to those goals. However, if we are looking for something from others in stating our goals publicly, something beyond our own increased personal commitment to those goals, we need to be prepared that the responses we get might not be what we’re looking for. Always there will be haters (we all know this), but sometimes even the responses of those who are our usual cheerleaders will surprise us.
One day this summer at Fivex3, a woman stated that this was her “summer of the 75 pound press”. Other trainees came back with encouragement and affirmation that she was strong, dedicated, hard-working and would surely reach this goal. Of all the responses a trainee gets, that of her coach usually ranks highest, and Emily’s response was “We’ll see.” That shut everyone up quickly. It was pretty clear that no one in the gym really liked that answer. They pushed for something more affirmative, encouraging, at least reassuring. Emily reworded her response slightly, but did not concede. “I hope so,” Emily said. “I hope you get 75# and more, but we’ll see.”
Coaches respond differently to different trainees; they learn what sort of responses encourage and motivate each of us. Emily likely had reasons for her response that were specific to that individual, but having recently discussed goal setting with Emily, I heard her response within the context of our conversation. I knew that Emily’s life experience and injury history made her keenly aware of the sometimes surprising limitations placed on our goals; she recognizes that there are always factors outside of our control that affect our ability to achieve goals and that we need to be able to reset and continue moving forward in alternate ways when the unexpected happens. Emily’s intention was definitely to be supportive, but also to be realistic; head in the clouds but feet firmly planted on the ground.
That’s an essential and often overlooked element of goal setting. It’s easy to get caught up in the dream, to become heavily and emotionally invested in a goal, but this is a stance that leaves us vulnerable when life takes an unforeseen turn. Goals must be kept in a fine balance between commitment and flexibility, held as both something that we strongly desire and are willing to work for and something that we can reframe and tweak when necessary. It’s tough to know when we have that balance right. It seems to me that a sign that we’re on the right track, though, is when we can react to realism in the comments of another, as the trainees at Fivex3 did. They asked questions, sought more information, worked to understand a response that they didn’t expect. Conversely, if we find that our responses to others’ opinions is full of ego and emotion, that seems a good indication that our reaction to obstacles in our paths will be similar and that our ability to seek out information and an understanding of how to move forward on an alternate way will likely be impaired. Our own reactions to the comments of others may be just as surprising as the responses themselves, and they are also a good test of “head in the clouds and feet on the ground.”