Goal Setting 101

Goal setting is an important, important thing.  It could be called a skill – right up there with cake-baking and staff fighting.  You see, goals are the steps we take to accomplish dreams.  Our choices are what make or break those goals.  When I first started swimming, I didn’t know how to really train for anything, but I had learned an important thing about myself – I am a three part person.  A body, a soul (my emotions and my mind), and a spirit (something more powerful than either my body or my soul).   When you are setting any kind of goal –whether for physical activity or not – it’s important to keep those three parts of you in mind.

As a body, you have certain physical attributes, limitations, strengths, weaknesses, and environmental and circumstantial restraints.  Time can be a physical limitation, right along with weather.  So can injury and illness.  When expecting things of your body, allow for a logical progression.  Build on the foundations that you place, don’t be overly demanding.  If you have only run 0.8 of a mile three times a week, don’t expect to suddenly jump up to running 5 miles twice a day.   Understand that you need rest and recovery as much as anything else.  Those are factors to be aware of when you set goals.

For me, personally, as a swimming body, I try to balance my long term goals with my short term goals.    When I first started swimming, my ‘goal’ was more like just wondering how far I could go.  For my first two events, my goal was to finish.  Now, I have added time limits to my goals, so I have to balance how far I go with how fast I go.  Right now, I am working a lot on speed.  A lot.  So my workouts are often shorter distances, but with more and more speed.  I try to do a long set once a week, because my primary focus is speed and maintaining speed over distance.  All the while, I have a weekly mileage that I like to keep and that I should maintain in order to be reasonably ready for my very busy summer.

As a soul, there are things that you enjoy, that delight you, that inspire and excite you!  Knowing how your soul will respond to certain things is important.   In cases of goal setting, it can be beneficial to treat your soul like an employee.  What language will you best use to communicate?  What style of management will get the most production out of your heart?   Sometimes, it is easy to mistake a feeling for a physical limitation.  For instance, “I’m tired”.  You may feel too tired to do something, but you may not actually physically be unable to accomplish it.  That becomes a matter of the soul, and how you deal with it can be the difference between succeeding or succumbing.

Typically I have my set of physical goals – my distances and my times – and then I have another set of emotional goals.  These are tremendously fun!   To help when I get into cold water, I promise myself a hot shower and cup of coffee after.  Since I am returning to Kingdom Swim this year, I have told myself that not only will I finish, I have set my goal at getting back in time to actually eat something.  (I always miss the food!)  I often sell my soul the truth that my discomfort, pain, and freezingness are only temporary.  I know that I am a romantic, also, and so I do make myself take time to just enjoy the water, to sing, to play, to splash and otherwise fall in love with what I am doing; over and over again.  I treat swimming as I would a relationship – and really try to find some new thing about it to enjoy, discover, and love every time I swim.  It can’t all be business, after all. Lastly, firstly – MOST IMPORTANTLY – I always, always, always tell myself that I can do this, whatever that physical goal is.  Because I need to hear myself believing in me.

As a spiritual being, there are things that you do that will astound your physical and emotional understanding.  It’s important to allow for those opportunities by, at times, challenging the physical and emotional boundaries that you might operate within.

To illustrate, I will tell you about this past Monday.  I told myself that I would swim 6 miles.  I normally allot myself a 5 hour time slot for this type of distance.  5 hour plus, because I include showering and changing and some driving time.  I needed to swim 6 miles in the worst possible way – I had not done a long swim in some time.  It was overdue; the goal was now burdensome in my mind.

Well, I woke up later than I expected, and so I was already operating in a physical limitation of being late.  At this point, I made a choice that the goal was most important and I would make everything else fit that goal, that day.  It had to be priority, so I made it that way.

By the time I got in the pool it was 8:45 am.  I wanted to be into my second mile by this time.  It’s amazing how even a simple thing like being late can wear on your soul.  Already I wanted to quit, to reschedule, to accommodate my time problem.  I was finding it hard to stay motivated and focused.  Nevertheless, I persevered.  I got in and did my warmup and proceeded from there to my intervals.  I had five “production” miles planned – meaning that I was going to do all 5 miles 4 or 8 laps at a time, keeping myself within a certain timeframe.  This can be tedious, especially when you’re already kind of irritated with yourself.

So somewhere in my intervals, and pretty early on, my shoulder started hurting.  It had been bothering me so much that I decided to see a doctor about it.  She recommended physical therapy, and I had scheduled my first appointment for the very next day.  It was really hurting, and it sounded like Rice Krispies in there – with all manner of strange snap, crackle, popping.  Again, I had to weigh my options.  Should I amend my goal to suit my physical limitation?  Is it a real physical limitation?  The doctor had said I could keep swimming and I knew that if I kept going, it would stop hurting – because it always did.  Again, I chose to maintain my goal and I added a new goal – I promised myself a cookie afterward.

I continued, but felt like I was not working hard enough.  I felt myself continue to lose focus.  I felt myself continue to slip in my time.  I knew that I would, because that is how this workout is built – I cannot quite yet get myself to go as fast as I need to for as long as I need to.  That’s why I’m in training.  So I allowed myself my 5 seconds of rest between sets and tried to go as fast as I could, over and over and over again.

My shoulder stopped hurting.  I took a quick break around mile 4 and when I got back into the pool and pushed off from the wall, the most awful cramp I’ve ever felt knotted up my foot and immobilized my entire leg.  It was so painful that I had to stop – which I try to never do.  I worked my leg around and stretched it out.  Again, I contemplated stopping.  I was tired and late and all of those things.  4 miles was close enough. Right?  I mean, it’s 4 miles!  Cramps and shoulder pain and lateness.

BUT!  I had a goal.  I knew that I could complete that goal.  I just knew it with the certainty that I know anything in my spirit.  I can do this.  Not only can I, but I should.  So I will.  That certainty in my spirit encouraged my body and my soul with the following reminders:  six miles is more than reasonable for my capabilities… and if I don’t swim six miles, then I can’t have a cookie.

So I kept going.  And I watched myself slow down and I felt myself fighting it.  I tried to get myself to focus.  To be fast.  To rest and then to restart.  My body didn’t seem to understand what I was asking it to do and kept wanting to just swim in constant concert with its comfortable cadence.  I finished my production miles and started my cool down.  ½ mile easy.  Just easy as she goes.  This part is my favorite.  Just the nice, long, easy, slow, wonderfully warm feeling of moving through the water… and we’re not too far from that cookie, either.

I stopped and I looked up at the clock.  And I stared at the clock.  12:15.

And I counted 3 and a half hours in mind, and I didn’t believe myself.  So then I counted on my fingers.  Then I showered, got changed, and got out to my car where I took out my calculator and did the math.  3 and a half hours.  6 miles.  No way.  And yet, it was possible.  The math wasn’t lying to me.  Really!

“Wow,” I exclaimed to myself.

Can you believe this; I checked the math two more times, because I didn’t believe that I had done that!  6 miles in 3 and a half hours had never been a remote possibility in my mind before!

But that’s why you stick with it!  That’s why you overcome those feelings, and you battle the physical limitations and you aspire to succeed 4 laps at a time for 6 miles.  The little goals have such huge results!  Listen to your body and listen to your soul, but allow your spirit to tell you when you can and when you can’t, when you should and when you shouldn’t.

Set yourself goals – goals that challenge your body and inspire your soul.  Watch yourself achieve them, and celebrate that!  Let your spirit overcome, let your choices flow out of a place of proper alignment within you.

For me, that time, those miles, that accomplishment; that was reward enough for all of me – body, soul, and spirit.

I never even did get that cookie.

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