How To Set Goals Like an Olympic Champion
Stephen Kraus, Ph.D.
Virtually every Olympic athlete shares the same goal: winning
the gold medal. (Although a few seem to be there just for
the parties - we're talkin' about you, Bode).
Seriously, though, the interesting finding from research by
sports psychologists is that successful athletes set goals
in a very specific way that is far more precise and detailed
than just setting one big goal.
The best news: we can all use the goal-setting strategies
of elite athletes to achieve more in our everyday lives.
Here's the most crucial principle: supplement the big, long-term
goal with specific, challenging, near-term goals. Then focus
more of your effort and attention on those near-term goals.
An athlete who wakes up each day to focus only the gold medal
(or the Super Bowl, or the World Series, etc.) will quickly
become overwhelmed. He or she will start to wonder: How can
I get from here to there? As two experts on sports psychology,
May and Veach, put it: "Repeated daily focusing on long-term
goals is often counter-productive. The focus is too far into
the future and prevents the athlete from completing the intermediate
steps essential to ultimate success."
What happens when you focus on near-term goals? According
to the scientific research, lots of good stuff, including…
- Heightened performance and success
- Greater likelihood of accomplishing goals and making life
- A stronger sense of confidence and self-efficacy
- More determination and persistence, particularly after setbacks
- More enjoyment and intrinsic interest in the topic
What happens when you don't set near-term goals, or focus
too heavily on long-term goals? I call it "goal-mismatch,"
and it's a perfect recipe for procrastination and rumination
- thinking about goals, but not taking action toward goals.
It's also a recipe for general unhappiness. People who focus
too much on their long-term goals view those goals as more
difficult, more pressure-filled, and less enjoyable, while
their near-term goals seem less relevant and satisfying.
Who avoids goal-mismatch, and successfully leverages the power
of near-term goals? The scientific research points to many
- Successful athletes, as we described above
- Successful students. Research conducted at Stanford University
found that students struggling in math significantly improved
their grades, and their psychological well-being, by focusing
on near-term goals
- Successful business and military leaders. Effective leaders
often "segment" or "compartmentalize" complex tasks or missions
into smaller, "bite-sized" sub-missions.
- Resolution-keepers. Less than 20% of New Year's resolution-makers
become resolution-keepers. One of their key success strategies:
focusing on near-term goals.
- Happy people. Those who are most satisfied with life are
those working toward enjoyable, moderately challenging goals
of high short-term importance.
It's easy to use the power of near-term goals to achieve more
success in your everyday life. Just don't go overboard by
making goals "too near-term." For example, students asked
to make general monthly plans and goals perform better than
those asked to make highly specific daily plans. They spend
more time studying, study more effectively, procrastinate
less, and get better grades. Monthly planners experience more
flexibility in crafting strategies for accomplishing their
goals. They more easily adjust "on the fly" and are less easily
"derailed" by changes in circumstance. A daily planner who
gets a mild case of the flu quickly finds his daily goals
unattainable, resulting in disappointment and a loss of momentum.
General planners enjoy the process of planning more, gaining
a sense of designing their lives, while highly specific planners
get the sense of their lives being controlled by their appointment
books and PDAs.
The bottom line: Set weekly or monthly goals, and work aggressively
toward them while giving yourself some flexibility about how
to achieve them. Do this, and you'll not only get the maximum
performance boost, but you'll also be setting goals like an
Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Stephen Kraus separates
the science of success from self-help snake oil. Get his free
7-day Real Science of Success e-course, and report on Becoming
More Resilient & Persistent at http://www.RealScienceofSuccess.com
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