The Art of Goal Re-creation
Many people struggle to find happiness in their journey because they set unrealistic goals. The new announcement from CrossFit HQ regarding the next year’s open/regional format has a lot of people in the sport panicking about what they’ve been working toward for years. I’ve had many consults and discussions with people who’s dreams have been completely altered as a result of the announcement; who wonder why they are putting in the work if their dream is no longer a reality. Making regionals was the ultimate goal for many "bubble athletes" and they have been working toward it for many years. This move from HQ highlights a much clearer distinction between what it means to be a regional/games athlete and what it means to be in the ‘everybody else’ category. I actually agree with and love this decision because it gives more legitimacy to the claim that in order to get to the top level in this sport you have to live, train, eat, sleep, and prepare like an athlete. The margin for error will be reduced dramatically, coaching and peaking will become more important, proper training will become more apparent, and genetics will ultimately reveal themselves as the greatest separators. That being said, there are very few genetically elite in the world, so how does one find happiness in their fitness quest without the external validation that it was ‘worth it?’
There are three main options. The first two options are giving up or moving forward. One of those is often only given negative connotations (giving up). And the other (moving forward) is usually associated with bravery. I disagree with this. Life is a much more reactive process. Goals are often impacted by external circumstances out of our control. When we initially sit down to set our goals, we have to make assumptions about what might happen to that external environment so that we can work toward the goal. For example, you might have previously said “I want to make regionals” when there were 48 spots allotted, but with the new parameters the likelihood of qualification is reduced and you must evaluate your old goal with a new set of circumstances. Critics of this way of thinking will say that you shouldn’t ‘make excuses’ and instead should push forward regardless of the obstacles. In this case though, training to be a high level CrossFit regional athlete is extremely difficult and comes with many downsides to life experience. This is especially true if you aren’t guaranteed a trip to the games. There is a limited amount of money in the sport, you will likely be sore and tired a majority of the time, you will have a limited social outlet other than the gym, and a variety of other things that would be considered "negative" for most people. When faced with a major crossroad, the best thing to do is evaluate if the juice is still worth the squeeze. If you know that there is a very low chance of you making it, are you still willing to put up with the suffering of attaining your physical potential? At the end of the day, if you are left with year after year of leaderboard disappointment, and the judgment of people who question your life choices, is it still important to you? If the answer to that question is yes, then nothing changes and you should move forward regardless of the changes. And while I support this choice, anyone making it should ensure they don’t blindly make it and then end up having emotional breakdowns every time the open rolls around and they don’t stack up to the competition. Blindly following goals without reflecting on your ‘why’ can be a much more devastating disappointment than just accepting that you aren’t good enough. So, if the value of the external goal doesn’t meet your expectations for the work required, there can always be the mindful option to remove yourself from the sport. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up on physical training, learning about your body, participating in your community, the improvement of your ability to suffer, learning to be disciplined, etc. It just means that you have a different mind set about WHY you are doing what you are doing.
The third and most important option in my opinion is to continue to push forward with your journey, but reformulate your goals to support your own internal desires. Reality checks (ie you’re not good enough to make regionals) can be blessings, which point us in the direction of ourselves. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s "Self Reliance" he wrote:
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.
When applied to the fitness realm this can indicate that everyone has a place on the bell curve. Some people start from a very ‘below average’ state and become the best in the world. However, more often than not, people can work hard and make tremendous personal strides, but will be disappointed to realize that they just don’t have the genetics required to be the ‘best.’ You can fight for years to try to prove to yourself and the world that you belong with the elite OR you could make peace with your reality and re-create your goals. Often there is liberation in realizing what you are capable of and embracing the quest to be the best version of yourself instead of seeking to be the best in the eyes of society.
The first step in this goal setting is creating a hierarchy of things that are important to you. In training, these could include things such as: leanness, social training environment, strength, mobility, joint health, hormonal health, endurance metrics, gymnastic strength capabilities, work balance, family life balance, competitive outlet, etc. Once you create a hierarchy for what is most important to you on that list, you should do some research and evaluate whether or not your top desires are being met with your current training structure. I’ve found often times that these don’t line up. For example, people who want to get lean are using the wrong protocols, people who desire to be top level athletes aren’t collecting any performance data to see if they’re improving, people who have a top priority of family are negatively impacting their home lives with their training/dietary habits, people who want to be the best version of themselves are following group training programs, people who want to be low body-fat are underfeeding and doing too much aerobic training, etc. As human beings, we have a tendency to get imprisoned by our habits thinking there is no other way to actually balance those goals. This comes from an attempt by the fitness world to create standard training ‘boxes’ and force all uniquely sized individuals inside. Often this ends up disappointing a large number of people while serving a much small number who adamantly attempt to sell other people on the methods that were successful in filling THEIR needs in life. If you are brave enough to ‘step out of the pack’ and express YOUR goals you must be prepared if they don’t line up with the goal of the training protocols you are following. Then you may have to seek a new outlet for your fitness. This could include finding a new community all together, hiring an individual coach and learning to train by yourself, realizing that ‘training’ is not the biggest impediment to your progress (ie often people who want to get lean need to sleep more and focus on diet MORE than intensity of training/performance), finding a new sport to compete in, or having an open and honest discussion with your current coach about the direction you want to take.
In my years as an athlete and coach, I’ve found that the most fulfilled people are often the ones who spend just as much time reflecting on how far they’ve come as they do on what they want to achieve. I’ve seen people win gold medals and feel completely empty and I’ve seen others who have extremely poor performance metrics but are thrilled with their progress and journey. I feel it is important for each individual to embrace exactly what is important to him or her in life. When you have this dialed in, set goals that are both internally structured to bring you fulfillment and externally structured to give you a target at which to aim. If you do this for your coach, and your coach is good, I believe you will find peace, contentment and happiness for yourself and all who love you.