Provision #120: Have Goals Within Goals

LifeTrek Provision

Last week we wrote about Bob’s experience of running the Cleveland Marathon in 3 hours, 46 minutes. Our focus was on the importance of having a partner. Along the way, we mentioned that Bob’s goal had been to run the Cleveland Marathon in 3 hours, 40 minutes or less. In other words, he didn’t reach his goal. Was he a failure? Is it time to quit running? Should he kick himself about training poorly or not having what it takes? Should he feel bad? Not hardly.

Consider the following paragraph from the book Running Within by Jerry Lynch and Warren Scott (Human Kinetics • Champaign, IL, 1999). “A 60-year-old athlete we know had set a goal of running under 3 hours in a marathon. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, a friend asked why he persisted in what seemed to be a futile journey into the forest of frustration. The athlete quickly responded that the attainment of the goal was not his ultimate objective. The goal was his excuse to experience a full life of training at high levels, getting into great shape, eating healthy foods, and feeling terrific. The goal simply became the beacon that illuminated his journey toward fitness and wellness.”

This paragraph contains many coaching nuggets. It certainly speaks of persistence. To quote President Calvin Coolidge, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan •press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

But what makes persistence possible? It’s not just a strong will, although President Coolidge’s quote suggests as much. It’s also a broad imagination that can set goals within goals within goals. Having concentric goal circles enables failure at one level to be offset by success at other levels. No one can persist forever in the face of total and utter failure. But no one ever really fails totally and utterly unless they limit their focus to one single (and often impossible) goal.

Such limited focus is a curse for many runners. They develop tunnel vision around THE RACE and THE TIME. So too with many people about many other things. Accomplishing THE GOAL becomes all-important. In the process, they lose their peripheral vision, their ability to see and enjoy the many other goals that are being successfully reached day by day. They lose touch with the present moment and all the treasures it holds.

This danger has particular relevance for coaches and their clients. It’s been said that coaching is goal or performance driven while counseling is issue or problem driven. People go to counselors when they have a problem. The more serious the problem the deeper the counseling. People go to coaches when they have a goal. It may be to run a 3:20 marathon. It may be to find a new job. It may be to finish a big project. It may be to get a particular promotion. It may be to develop a leadership skill. Whatever it may be, coaches assist people to get real specific about their goals, to develop plans for reaching their goals, and to stay on track with those plans until success is achieved.

It’s easy for coaches and their clients, with all the focus on goals, to press too much in the future and to relax too little in the present. Setting concentric goal circles is the way out of this conundrum. Yes, we need long-range distal goals • goals that are so large they fill life with transcendent meaning and purpose. But we also need short-range proximal goals • goals that are so immediate they fill life with passion and joy.

The quote from the 60-year-old athlete captures this mystery and expresses it well. The ultimate goal was an excuse for achieving other goals; it was a beacon that lit the way to a better life. What’s your ultimate goal or goals? Have you set goals within goals within goals? If you haven’t done that, persistence may not be sustainable, failure may leave you devastated, and joy may elude you in the present moment. If you have done that, you may have stumbled upon the secret for “having the life you want and wanting the life you have.”

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of

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