Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Long View and Goals

In the areas of finances, physical fitness and all around preparedness taking a long view is essential. These are not things you can accomplish in a day or a week or even months. These are truly multi year journeys. Looking at them as anything less and either you have low standards or unrealistic expectations.

The biggest single thing with long view type improvements or journeys is consistence. You will do far better to make consistent, even modest efforts, than to start and stop and take a break over the summer and hunting season and then fizzle out for the winter. Over time consistent efforts really pay off. Think crock pot not microwave or industrial fryer.

I find having goals to be essential to keep myself accountable and measure progress. If you are not defining and measuring progress how will you even know what you are trying to do, let alone if you are doing it? An aimless country drive is nice but that is no way to go through life, at least if you want to accomplish anything.

So we need goals.
Goals are sort of like budgets in that they get a bad rap unjustly. It is important to remember that you, your spouse and your family set your own goals, not me and the other talking heads or experts or famous people or whatever.

Sometimes you decide a path is important and it leads to goals. Example you want to become a better runner so you decide that x, y and z are your goals. Other times you start with a goal and work backwards. Whichever works for you is fine.

Different people set goals differently. Some folks make low goals and regularly exceed them; other folks shoot for the moon and often come short but still accomplish a lot. I am in the middle towards the ambitious goal side. I choose goals that are realistically attainable given hard work and things working out well. I often fall a little short. Part of the reason I do this is that in terms of personal goal setting I often lose motivation when I get real close, it is good enough for me due to my lazy nature. So if I set the goal to work out 3 times a week for 30 minutes it could easily turn into 2 30 minute workouts or 3 20 minute workouts. However if I set the goal to work out for 4 times for 30 minutes I will probably average 3.3 a week for 25-30 minutes each. This is about knowing yourself and whatever mental tricks work for you.

Goals need to be specific enough to be measurable. Being “strong and in shape” is a good goal if you have defined what you mean by strong and what you mean by in shape. Ditto for “become a good shot” or “have storage food” or whatever. You need to be able to easily know if a goal is being met.

As one of my favorite bloggers said “the difference between a goal and a wish is a timeline.” The time component of goals is important because it is always easier to start tomorrow and it helps hold you accountable for progress toward your goal.

Here are a few common issues people have with goal setting and long term planning in general:
Goals and your training or plan to meet them need to be aligned. This should be common sense but in some areas, particularly fitness it is a common mistake. If your goals are to gain strength and explosive speed then doing calisthenics and long distance running exclusively your goal and training are not aligned. If you want to become a good defensive shooter going to the range 3x a year with your buddies to screw around isn’t going to get it done.

For goals which build on or are affected by something else you need to know where you are. It could be amounts of given items, weight, strength, conditioning or whatever. Without a recent accurate benchmark you are just guessing in terms of starting points. This is significant because it will let you know what end point you can get to with realistic progress. Dead lifting 400 next year is probably realistic if you did 365 last month. However if you did 365 a year ago and had an injury and a significant lapse in training so you now would actually max out closer to 315 it would probably not be realistic. In those situations you should reestablish a good max or inventory and go from there.

Look at a goal from a big picture perspective considering your other goals and obligations. Often you want to accomplish A-H and could do any of them in isolation but can only do 3 of them together given the other demands on your time and energy. Total amounts of money and time matter as a measure of how much stuff you can realistically do. Of the common issues we are discussing this is the one that I have the biggest problem with.

Resetting or adjusting goals is also worth discussion. Sometimes on the way to a goal we decide it is not important or that something else is more important. Other times life in the form of work or injuries or financial woes or other obligations gets in the way. This is part of life and not a particularly bad thing.

I would caution people, particularly for mid and long (let us say between next month and 2 years from now) term goals, against constantly changing things. If a goal or two drop off your list over the course of a year that is fine, of your list rewrites itself 4 times in the first quarter of a year something is not working. Either you are not putting sufficient thought into goals to choose ones that are important and meaningful to you or are not being realistic about what you can and will really do. In terms of my personal and preparedness goals I am getting better over the years it seems.

Fitness is the biggest area where this is a problem. Folks jump from program to program with different methodologies and goals always having unrealistically high expectations (every muscle magazine has the ‘”Get a 6 pack this week with 3 easy moves” or “add 40 pounds to your bench press this month”) and thinking the program sucks when it falls short. By constantly switching gears and programs these folks aren’t really getting anywhere and will be in the same place in a year. They would be better off finding any reasonably sane program that meshes with their goals and just doing it than always looking for the perfect one. To counter this I recommend a brief trial period and then sticking with it for a predetermined amount of time. Trying something for a week or two to see if you hate it and sticking with it for 3-6 months to see if you get results is probably a good plan. Obviously if you have a significant life change or injury things change but you aren’t going to move on to the next big new workout until the end of the time frame.

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