By Dr. Randy Borum
Goals provide a road map for personal excellence. In fact, goal-setting is one of the most valuable performance-enhancing skill sets you can acquire as a martial artist or competitor in any activity where your objective is to excel.
Goal setting creates a path to personal improvement. Every day – or every class– you should have a plan for what you are going to do to bring yourself closer to your goal.
Goals serve to vital functions that help you get the most from your training: they give you focus and they give purpose. Research into how and why goal-setters achieve more and perform better than non-goal setters shows that one of the main mechanisms is that goals help the athlete know where to focus her or his attention.
Your goals also give purpose to your training. Many times when martial artists and fighters train, they will almost mindlessly go through a kata or series of drills. They do not actively think – during every instance – about the reason for those drills and how performing them well will bring them closer to their goals. You should aim to have a purpose-driven training mindset oriented toward continuous improvement. Aspire to improve in small ways every day, and use your goals to motivate you.
This is sometimes referred to as the “Kaizen Principle.” Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning improvement – but it connotes a particular method of progress that occurs gradually over in time, often as a result of small, incremental changes. That can be a useful guiding philosophy for your training. Use your goals to (1) prompt you to think about a particular goal or focus for a given training session, and (2) reflect on what you learned and how to use it in future sessions.
Goals are not the same as wishes or dreams. They only work if you have plan to reach them and commit yourself fully to the task. Effective goal-setting is a skill. You should write out your goals, not just park them in your head. Write them down, then read and review them every day. Here are few tips for creating goals that really work:
1. Be Specific: Specific goals are better than vague or general goals. A vague goal might be something like: “I will have a good training session.” A specific goal might be something like: “I will do circuit training for 30 minutes with my heart rate at XXX BPM.” Write it so that someone else could watch you on screen and clearly determine whether or not you did it.
2. Be Positive: Your goal should state what you WILL do, not what you WON’T do. Telling yourself what not to do almost never works. Your brain is not wired that way. So, instead of writing your goal this way: “I will not (insert common mistake here)”, you could say “I will focus on executing proper technique when doing (insert technique you need to work on here).”
3. Make It Challenging, but Attainable: Accomplishing your goals feels great! It boosts your motivation and accelerates your confidence. So you want to set yourself up to succeed, but you want the goal to be challenging enough that you feel like you really worked for it. Lots of research shows that people who set more challenging goals for themselves improve more and accomplish more than those who set easy goals or no goals at all.
4. Emphasize Performance Over Outcome: Goals works best when they focus on your performance (which you control) rather than outcomes (which you do not fully control). A performance-focused training goal might be stated as follows: "I will focus on stand-up attacks and execute good defense to my opponent's takedown attempts."
5. Track, Measure, and Get Feedback: This may seem obvious, but it is very often forgotten. After setting a goal, you should get feedback about whether or not you met it. You should have some way to measure your results, and a timeframe in which you will assess whether you met your target goals. Research on behavior change shows consistently that "feedback" is a key factor for modifying and improving performance.
Here is how you can translate your written list of goals into a plan of action.
First, prioritize your goals. If you are a competitor, you may want to do this collaboratively with your coach. Determine what you will tackle first.
Second, commit to your goal. Determine what you need to do to make it happen, decide you will do it, then share your goal commitment with someone else who can help keep you accountable.
Third, read your goals every day and have a plan to do something – every day - to bring them closer.
Fourth, keep a record. Don’t just write down your goals, but also record your progress and what you learned and accomplished that day, and how you might apply it in the future. Don’t forget to acknowledge your success and reward yourself for accomplishing your goals.