To start with, I want to immediately address the elephant in the room. No, I’m not wearing pants… I’m ok with that. Also, I’m ok with discussing your goals now. New Years resolutions aren’t just for January 1st, you’ve got a whole year (or even longer) to reach them. And you’re only going to do so if they’re done properly. A rushed goal is only going to result in failure. Then there are those who will have abandoned the idea of setting goals because they didn’t have anything concrete by the time the clock hit midnight. If you understand how ridiculous that is, you’ll understand that now is the perfect time to get started in the process of a New Year’s resolution.
You may notice a lot of the “fitness” people mock New Years Resolutioners. In fact, you probably mock New Years resolutions yourself. And fair enough, you hear people tell you their resolutions that just sound ridiculous. So ridiculous that only 50% of people actually believe they’ll be able to succeed.
Full discolsure: I’m fully fledged member of team NYR (New Years resolution). I think goal setting is key to achieving anything ambitious. And at the start of a new year is a fantastic time to start. In fact one study found setting a resolution gives you more than 11x more chance of achieving success!
The only reason to not set a goal is because you feel like you don’t need to improve in any way. That’s cool, don’t read any further, don’t waste your time on this website.
If you haven’t set a NYR yet, it’s probably because you know that, of course, the vast majority of NYR’s aren’t met (9% in one study felt like they’d succeeded). But this isn’t due to NYR themselves, nor is it due to the intentions of those setting them, it’s not even due to a lack of discipline.
It’s because the vast majority of NYR’s are pretty poor. They violate pretty much every rule of goal setting.
These rules exist for a reason – goal setting can be incredibly effective, powerful and actually “life-changing” when done right. But when done wrong, they are just another one of the countless number of New Years failures that unfortunately reenforce the idea that you shouldn’t even bother.
Well, you should bother.
I’m going to show you how to set goals/resolutions that you’ll actually stick to. If you’ve already set something, it will fit somewhere within this framework, but it’ll be broken down, expanded upon and tweaked to make it something that inspires you, motivates you, but feels easy to keep up with.
So, strap yourself in.
The North Star – The Superordinate Goal
Ok, I told you to strap in for a reason. We’re blasting off to 100,000 ft so that we can take a super-zoomed out look at what it really is you want to achieve. Essentially, you’re going to picture the life you want to live in the long-term. It is a sort of goal-vision. It’s going to shape what you’ll be doing, and how.
The idea of this goal is that you’re going to find a meaning to all the little goals you’ll be setting yourself along the way. That meaning will provide you with some vital motivation and guidance, keeping you from failing.
A few key notes on this North Star Goal:
- It doesn’t necessarily need a timeline, but 1-3 years out is a nice starting point. This gives you enough time to make a drastic change, but requires you to actually get going now to achieve it.
- If it’s just a way you want to “feel” – that’s ok. In fact, it might be better to make it a subjective feeling, because that’s what you’re chasing… a feeling of success.
For example you might want to win the league, but it’s not the trophy, the medal or the number 1 ranking that you’re chasing, it’s the feeling that you’ll get having put in the hard work to accomplish that victory that matters.
You might want to lose 20lbs, but it’s the feeling of fitness, confidence and all the other good stuff that you’re chasing. Not the number on the scale.
- Feel free to be very ambitious, but make sure it’s focussed. Use this goal to figure out what it is you really want, and what it is you don’t. When looking at your long term vision, your options are either “Fuck yea” or “No”. Don’t worry about stuff that you kinda think maybe you want to achieve. This is how the goal provides guidance, keeping you away from pointless 30 day challenges that don’t align with what’s important to you.
- This is where all the “big picture” ideals of yourself go. They are the compass for all your other goals to follow.
Side Note on SMART Goals – you might already be going into this knowing about the SMART (Specific, Measured, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) acronym for goal setting. If not, skip this part. Whilst this can usually give a good framework (which I’ve used many times myself), they fall short in a few areas. First and foremost, “Attainable” and “Realistic” are basically the same thing! If you disagree with that point, it’s probably because you know this acronym to stand for different words (Acceptable? Action-oriented? Result-based? Rewarding? Recorded?). Well, that makes for my second problem here – what good is an acronym if we can’t agree on the words that it stands for? Finally, goals are context-specific. For example, you can see with this North Star goal, it’s not actually important to measure, because we’re chasing a feeling. In summary, this framework will use the SMART principles (whichever words you choose to use), but will structure them in a way that makes more sense, and more importantly, is scientifically proven to work better.
Some people will already have a crystal clear idea of what their North Star is without actually thinking about it as a goal, they just know exactly what they want from life. Others, might have a vague idea that they want to improve, but never have framed it in a way to make it meaningful.
A simple (but maybe not easy) way to go deep and create meaning is to ask the 5 “why”s when creating this goal. For example:
“I want to get fitter”
“Because then I can train and play rugby better”
“Because then I can contribute more and give my team more chance of winning”
“Because then I will continue to enjoy the game of rugby so much”
“Because the enjoyment I get from playing good rugby is like no other”
“Because it is one of the few opportunities I get to express myself physically as a man, as an athlete, and if I get fitter than I will be able to inspire myself and others”
Being specific isn’t necessary, but it really does help. The more specific you can be with this, the clearer you will be with what you need to achieve and the more likely you are to succeed. Even if the details eventually change, you still have a compass guiding you in the right direction.
I cannot express enough how important this goal is to set. It’s your identity, which has been shown in the research as make-or-break when it comes to accomplishing goals.
Final point here. This can be difficult, but it’s for a reason. Eliminate the noise of what other people think you should do, and figure out what you want your identity to truly be as a result of this process. Remember “fuck yea” or “No”.
Ok this is the first step. Once that’s done we can set more traditional goals
The Long-Term Goals
So you’ve establish a “Who” you want to be and a “Why” you want to be there. Now focus on a “What” you should be doing to get there. Rather than the feeling that you’re chasing for your North Star, these goals should be pretty concrete.
What do you want to achieve in the next 3-12 months?
Success or Fail
For each goal here, you want to start to be more specific with your time period and your gauge of measurement. You need to be able to clearly state whether you achieved this goal or not.
This is so important. In fact, this is more important than actually achieving the goal itself. If you don’t know whether you achieved the goal or not, you can spend the next few years in limbo, procrastinating and just letting life pass you by. It’s uncomfortable to do, because we hate the idea of failure so much that we’d rather bullshit ourselves into procrastinating forever to hide from that judgement. But judge you must. It’s ok to fail. Even if you fail horrifically and come up miles short, identifying where you went wrong allows you to not make the same mistakes in the future.
I failed so many times it’s actually ridiculous. But without knowing and acknowledging my failures I wouldn’t have learned a valuable lesson, which coincidentally is the next point – only set 1-3 of these medium term goals at a time. The less goals, the better. Each goal requires a large chunk of your attention, if you try to spread that attention to thin, (as I did when I set myself 100 goals to achieve back in 2014) you’ll fail at the vast majority of them.
And it’s not just the failure that’s the problem, it’s the distraction from the things that are important. It’s back to the “fuck yea” or “No”. Avoid the overwhelm that might cause you to give up entirely and forget all of your goals. Pick 1-3 important things that lead into you North Star vision and strive your best to achieve them.
In an ideal world, you have 100% control of whether you achieve this goal or not. Setting goals that are outside of your control can result in failure (or success) that is not a reflection of your actions. This might best be explained with examples:
“Win the league” is common, and maybe as a team it might be acceptable. But any one individual cannot control whether you win the league or not, the game of rugby is a team game and if your team is going to win then you’re gonna need help from at least 14 other willing participants that you cannot control.
“Make the 1st XV starting line up” is also a common goal, but again, I don’t like it because you’re not in control of this outcome. There simply might be outstanding players ahead of you.
With both of these goals it’s much better to look at them as part of your North Star – You want to be a player that is regularly in the 1st XV of a team that is league contention. Now you can break it down into goals actions that you need to take to get there.
Finally, another common one of “remain injury-free” is also not completely in your control. Freak accidents will happen to the best of athletes. Instead here you want to focus on the actions that will give you the best chance to remain injury-free. These are the next layer of goals to focus on.
1-3 goals that all feed into your North Star over the next 3-12 months is what you want to aim for here.
These goals aren’t too different from in structure from the goals above except from the fact that they are more urgent. 1-3 month sprints are the bricks that you use to bring your North Star blueprints into reality. We’ve dealt with the “Who”, the “Why” and the “What”, this is the “How”.
Real, tangible, action steps that need to take now.
People who don’t set sprint goals will almost always fail at to ever reach their long-term vision. This is because their vision remains abstract, like blueprints on a piece of paper, you need to actually start laying bricks to believe in the reality that you are creating.
Using your North Star as a compass think of 1-3 things that you can achieve in the 12 Weeks or so that will feed into your Long-Term Goals. I like 12 weeks because it’s short enough that you’re able to keep consistent and focused for the entire duration, but long enough that you will be able to experience a pretty profound change. Again, you want to keep it completely in your control and you want something that after 12 weeks you can definitively say whether you accomplished it or not.
Once again, that last part is huge. It is so important that you assess whether you’ve succeeded or failed. It will give you feedback on your goals themselves – whether you’re stretching yourself too thin, or not pushing yourself enough – as well as your processes to achieve them. This means that over time, as long as you stick with this self-correcting process, you WILL eventually get to your North Star. Or, at the very worst, enjoy success in the process of chasing it.
Other important points about the Sprint Goals
- Whilst it’s tempting to be incredibly rigid in your sprint goals, you should be allow yourself some wiggle room. Instead of saying you’ll never deviate from the plan, make a goal that you’ll be able to succeed with even when things don’t go perfectly (spoiler alert – they won’t). The ability to navigate through potential road blocks is a fundamental part of long-term success.
- Instead of looking directly at the outcome, your sprint goal should look at the process that goes into achieving that outcome. In a similar vain to the “control” details listed above, a focus on the “process” has been shown to not just give you a higher chance of success, but allow you to enjoy and feel positive about doing so.
- You’ll also increase your chances of success if you make your sprint goal a “positive” one. For example, instead of saying “no missed training sessions” you could say “hit all 4 gym sessions each week”. If your goal is only looking at what you’re trying to avoid, there’s nothing you can actively do to achieve success, all you can focus on is how to not fail. It’s a very negative way of thinking, and you won’t respond to it as well. Frame your goal as something to approach and you’ll have a higher chance of success.
- Be realistic but ambitious, or ambitious but realistic. It’s a balance that will take a while to find. Your first run through will probably be too ambitious, or too easy, it’s difficult to tell. One thing that is worth your consideration is some sort of emergency reserve within the goal. For example you could make a 5th training day “optional”, or give yourself a weekly extra “bonus budget” of 700 calories. This would lower your risk of total failure (and subsequent giving up completely) whilst allowing you to progress at a faster rate if you don’t feel like the emergency reserve is needed.
2-5 Sprint Goals every 1-3 months will keep you on the path to the bigger picture, whilst keeping your motivated enough week-to-week.
Finally, we look at the daily/weekly specific actions will you be taking.
These could be processes pulled right out of your Sprint Goals, or may be things that you can put in place the make sure that you stay on track.
You simple are looking for things you can do to make it easier for future you. There is an endless list of things you could do, and it’s your job here to find the few things that you will do.
If you’re inconsistent with logging your food, create a system where you track all your food for the day at breakfast, or the night before.
If it’s junk food that always ends up being your downfall, you could put systems in place such as not keeping tempting snacks in the house. Or if that isn’t an option (because y’know, kids must eat junk) then have a system in place that states that you can eat what you want, but only out of plates/bowls, or at certain meal times. Only go shopping when you’re not hungry is another good one.
If you have to go to the gym after work, pack your bag and leave it in the car the night before. Don’t go home and give yourself the opportunity to flake out.
Even things like switching your phone off 1-2 hours before going to bed can have a profound impact on your gym consistency. If your best time to go to the gym is first thing in the morning, but every time you wake up you hit snooze because you sleep terribly. Then this habit might go a long way to helping that. You’ll make it easier to wake up and hit the gym.
One system you definitely put in place is time for a weekly review. You should give yourself time to assess how you did over the previous week, see where you’re on track and where you can improve. Then look ahead and prepare for the upcoming week, setting things up to give yourself the best chance of success.
Those in Rugby Muscle Elite will do this already with their weekly check-in, of course they have the added benefit of a coach looking over and helping them with their assessment and guidance.
Looking at both ends of the spectrum and timeline is your route to absolute success. As important as it is to find your identity with your North Star, creating systems to shape your environment is just as crucial.
Look, you’ve read everything up until this point because you want to be better. In order to do that you’re going to have to create meaningful change. Relying on willpower, discipline and motivation isn’t going to get the job done. “Hustle” will only get you so far. Creating meaningful change is absolutely possible, and probably inevitable, if you follow the directions given above.
For those of you in the Rugby Muscle Academy, you can access a download to walk you through this framework HERE. Feel free to send me any and all goals you come up with in the members area and we’ll work on attacking them together.
If you’re not a part of the Academy you can sign up via Team Rugby Muscle here or you can follow this article to set up your own goals/systems and genuinely change your life!