The Power of a Clear Goal

(A featured post from my side-project blog, The Half-Marathon Project – following my experiences in training for a half-marathon this October)

Why a half-marathon? 

Because goals unleash energy.   

The more clearly defined the goal is, the more energy I feel to pursue it. 

For instance, for a long time, it has been my goal to increase my health.  We all know the benefits of good health: increased energy, better mood, better sleep, lower medical costs, longevity, better enjoyment of life.  But “increase health” is a vague goal – I need something more concrete.

For a long time, I tried using health measures to clarify my health goal: get cholesterol below 200, get my weight down to 180, maintain a healthy blood pressure.  These are good things to shoot for, but there is a problem with goals like this.   They will only motivate for a brief time.  Why?

They are uninspiring and drab.  They don’t reflect anything about me or who I am.   For longer term motivation, I need something that speaks to my heart.

The more personal a goal is, the more energy I feel to pursue it.  

Try this – transform your health goals by making them a unique expression of who you are.  Find an activity that you love: yoga, basketball, swimming, tennis, golf, etc.  Learn how that activity can be best used to promote your health, and then use that activity as the lynchpin for your health goals.  

I happen to love running.  I ran cross country in high school.  Running has been my default exercise.  I like being outdoors, I like the feel of running.  I like the excitement of a road race.  I enjoy that running is, for the most part, a singular sport, but it can be enjoyed in a very social atmosphere.  By using running as a way to ground my health goals, I not only have goals that are good for me, but goals that bring me joy and delight. 

It’s important to remember the larger purpose, though.  The purpose behind a goal affects the process by which you pursue that goal.  We can participate in a sport or activity for any number of reasons: it makes us more attractive, its a social outlet, it passes the time.  If your purpose is simply to make yourself better looking, then you may find yourself pursuing the goal in a way that undermines some other purpose, like health.  You may be tempted to take shortcuts such as crash diets or shady pharmaceuticals.  You might completely neglect nutrition altogether.  

When I remember the purpose, though, the goal unleashes greater energy to achieve the purpose.  Running brings me joy.  As I train for the half marathon, the delight in running that I experience makes me more likely to act on everything else I know about health: good nutrition, adequate sleep, stress management, etc.  

The more a goal is both challenging yet attainable, the more energy I feel to pursue it.  

A goal that I can accomplish today isn’t a goal, it’s a present reality.   Goals, by their very nature require effort.  They need to challenge us to change the present reality.  They also need to be attainable.  I could set my goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  That might be attainable someday; it might even be a really good long term goal.  But for me to make progress, I need something a little more achievable.  For me, the half marathon is a great distance – it stretches me beyond the 5k and 10k races I’ve done in the past.  It can be a stepping stone to bigger challenges later, but it is in the realm of possibility.

Put another way, you have to believe “yeah, I could do that.”   If you don’t really believe you can accomplish your goal then you’ll never summon the strength to endure the difficult times.  There will come a time when you just want to quit.  If you never really believed you could attain the goal, you will.

So my pursuit of a half marathon is in support of my overall hopes of improving my health, it is something I personally enjoy, and it is something I really believe I can attain.

What’s your goal?  How have your goals unleashed energy in your life?

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