Hard Goals and Soft Goals
There are a few ways of thinking about goals I’d like to add on to the SMART characteristics. Another way to think of setting goals is in terms of what I call hard goals and soft goals; I am all about the harder goals. Soft goals are the smaller ones that will get you there or the more general ones. Like I said before, they’re the ones that are more about how you feel.
The hard goals are your specifics. They’re the ones that leave nothing to the imagination and they are not easy. It’s a specific, measurable number or outcome that has an exact time and it has an exact set of accountabilities, a hard set of accountabilities, for how you need to go in achieving it.
If you stick to the plan, then you will come close to achieving that goal, if not surpass it entirely. But if you fall off that plan then the hard goal doesn’t leave any room for error. It tells you that you failed and holds you accountable as to exactly why. And if it’s something you can try again or are willing to try again, exactly what you need to do to make it better.
Hard goals and soft goals break up almost like training cycles and that is how I break them up for my athletes. For example, when you have a long-term plan for an athlete, somebody who you know is going to be working with you through the year or most of the year and it’s based on things such as their season, their practice times, maybe other sports that they play as well, every one of those factors need to come into consideration.
It tells you that you failed and holds you accountable as to exactly why. And if it’s something you can try again or are willing to try again, exactly what you need to do to make it better.
How Goals Translate into Training
To start you have your overall training plan. In strength and conditioning terms, that would be called your macrocycle. These are your biggest overall goals. That’s how you would set it up. The macrocycle should match the biggest overall goals, which is going to be typically a long-term result such as placing in the top three or winning a big competition, or a conference or nationals.
That overarching or ultimate goal then breaks down into smaller, shorter-term goals. In strength and conditioning training terms, this would be considered your mesocycle; more specific training blocks with a very specific measurable goal, which is considered to be an important piece of the overall training cycle, the macrocycle. Now, this is a very specific goal. It’s still a big goal but it’s a very specific one and fits into the larger roadmap that you’ve planned out for accomplishing that bigger goal.
Then you have your smallest goals. Again, without these smaller goals being achieved, you have no hope of achieving those intermediate and biggest goals. In training, this would be called a microcycle. Sometimes, it’s even a single day or a single workout. That is how small and specific your microcycles can be.
And these smallest goals need to be as specific as the larger ones but every single one needs to be a stepping stone to that bigger goal. If it’s not, if you have a goal but you look at it and you can’t see how it’s actually leading you to your biggest goal, then you need to have an honest assessment about it and really ask yourself why you’re doing this. Or ask your coach. I have athletes ask me every once in a while, and I am more than happy to explain to them why they’re doing it.
If a coach just tells you “Just because” or doesn’t want to explain it, or that’s what your training is saying, or they just thought it would be something to have you do and it’s not going to matter, any one of those is a red flag. If you’re serious about your goals, every little piece of work that you’re doing – your training, your nutrition, your commitment – needs to lead you towards achieving them.
So, every piece, no matter how small, every incremental step needs to make sense and be leading you towards that bigger plan. If it’s random, if it’s all over the place, ask yourself why. And if “why” is not something you’re happy about, then you need to change the plan.
Shoot for the Moon
Aim high. Your bigger goals are going to require more. Your bigger goals, even if you fall short, can almost ensure that you will find yourself improved if you’ve been doing the work. The harder you work to achieve a certain goal, the better your chances of success and the more improvement you will have on the way there. You have a higher chance of achieving it but you’re almost guaranteed improvement on the way there, even if something happens and you don’t achieve it in the end.
This goes back to the original question. Would you rather have very small goals and achieve them easily and just be average, just continue to live in your status quo, or would you rather have those big goals, aim as high as you possibly can to be the best version of yourself you can possibly be, and have a chance of reaching it? Know that if you don’t, you will be a better and stronger person because you reach high. That’s what it takes.
Commitment Beyond the Weight Room
Don’t forget your goals the minute you walk out of the weight room or off the field. Keep them in mind wherever you are. Recover well. Eat well. When you’re with your family or your friends, or when you go out to eat, stick to your plan and eat in a way that will support your goals. Have you been invited to parties? Go if it doesn’t interfere with your training schedule, eat healthy, but make sure you’ve still found a way to get enough rest.
If you’re a student athlete, you have to recognize that your grades are going to be a very big part that could possibly hold you back from your goals. Make sure that you’re working in study time, that you’re making sure to keep your grades up while focusing on your training. However, make sure you’re doing it in a way that lets you sleep properly at night so you can get that recovery. Make sure you’re doing it while hydrating, that you’re doing it while eating. Obsession is one of the key components to high achievers. And they’re obsessed with being the best version that they can be.
Top-Down and Bottom-Up
Lastly, this is a big one for us, that I want people to be able to understand- reverse engineer the plan. Look at it from multiple directions. Don’t just think “I’m starting here, I’m going to build up.” Because if you’ve never done this before, if it is a new goal, you can’t really be sure if you’re going in the right direction. It might make sense to you but a lot of times what makes sense is not actually going to be the plan that gets you there.
Set what is your biggest goal, and define it using the steps we’ve talked about earlier. Then break it down. What are the goals leading up to it? How could you break it down? What are those measurable steps? What are realistic timeframes to achieve each one you can hold yourself accountable to? Things you measure. What are the action steps you can take to get up to each of those steps? Keep working your way backwards until you’re at the point where you are now.
But then look at it from the front; does it make sense building up? Reverse engineering will give you the surest path to get to that goal. Because by knowing what you want at the end, you can break it down and deconstruct it and understand the parts. And then you can make sure that you’re actually working to get each one of those parts. If you start at the beginning, you’re never sure where you’re going to end up.
But if you know where you want to go, then all you have to do is figure your path out, commit it, and start taking one step at a time and then just keep going forward. Always forward.