Goals are meaningless. Sure, I wrote that so you’d keep reading, but I really do mean it. Goals, when they stand alone, are almost always useless and rarely motivate the person to reach the goal they originally set. Sometimes, they can even be destructive to the ultimate journey. Think about it, how many times have you set a “New Year’s Resolution”? How many times have you actually made it past the first week of the New Year? In fact, in a study completed by the University of Scranton, the research shows only 8% of people who make those resolutions actually reach their end goal. That is about as bad as my shooting percentage during our daily “PIG” game at TTT HQ - and trust me, it’s not pretty. So why do so many people fail? Far too often people make goals without CREATING intention, they like the idea of success without DEFINING a purpose, and find contentment in progress without COMMITTING to the true end goal. So, no, I don’t really mean goals are meaningless, but if they are not treated carefully, they may never become a reality. Ultimately, whether they ever become a reality or not, the journey is far greater than ever reaching the goal, but these short thoughts on properly creating goals may help.
The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei are some of the most amazing human beings I have ever studied. Over the course of seven years these monks, on a spiritual journey, complete 1,000 marathons. To give you an idea of exactly how far that actually is, the Marathon Monks walk/run further than the overall circumference of the earth, some 46,572 KM or 28,938.5 miles (the Earth’s circumference is 40,075 km). Beyond the inconceivable distance that they cover in the span of 7 years, these Monks also follow extremely strict guidelines as to how they participate in this event. Most Monks only sleep 3-4 hours a night while eating less than 1500 calories a day through a mostly vegetable diet (don’t get any ideas, vegans). The monks also commit to completing the first 100 days of the journey or they must take their own life with a suicide sword they carry with them.
While studying the marathon monks and their incredible feats, the things that caught my attention most was one of the practices that they held each day. In the Japanese culture, symbolism plays a major role. The culture dictates that one put his/her sandals on outside the house, symbolizing that they will return home that day. Meanwhile, the Marathon Monks put their sandals INSIDE the home, which means they have no intention of returning to their home. It is this word - intention - that resonated so deeply inside of me. So many times in my life I have set goals but never had any intention of actually following through with them. The goal sounds nice. The concept of winning this, or achieving that, always seems so wonderful, but when it comes down to it, I often never create true intention of doing those things. It is exactly the same working with athletes. One of the first things I ask new clients is what their goals are. Most of the time they do list goals that are “S.M.A.R.T.” (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time oriented). However, when I ask them what they are doing to attain those goals, most of them have no direct path. They have no intention in their day to day life to reach the goals they have set forth.
Here’s a quick example of what I mean: Joe Athlete comes to me and states that his goal is to qualify for CrossFit Regionals in 2017. In 2016, Joe Athlete finished 250th during the Open competition in his region (he needs to be in the top 20 to qualify for Regionals). After a thorough assessment, we discuss what Joe needs to do over the course of the next year to qualify for Regionals. With a clear plan in place, developed by his coach, Joe states that he is on board and is willing to do whatever it takes to reach his ultimate goal of making it in 2017 - Joe wants to make regionals. Soon after our initial assessment it becomes clear that Joe is only doing the things that he likes to do, he has no true Intention, or desire to truly reach his goal. Joe is naturally gifted at strength movement’s so on heavy lower body strength days he is coming into his training focused, with a cause and passion for what he is doing. His results are fantastic. However, when it comes time to focus on gymnastics work, Joe falls behind. He skips parts of his sessions because they don’t interest him or he is not “feeling well” that day. Before long, Joe is scaling/modifying almost half of his gymnastics sessions to do “other things” that interest him more. Ultimately, Joe is not willing to do what it takes to become the best, he just likes the idea of being the best. Therefore, come the following year open, Joe scores outstandingly well in the one open workout that has s strength bias. Unfortunately for Joe, he suffers in the other four open tests because of his lack of preparation throughout the year with gymnastic based movements.
While the above is a drastic example, this is exactly what I mean when it comes to having intention - or, in this case, lack thereof. Franklin Roosevelt once said, “It isn’t sufficient just to want. You’ve got to ask yourself what you are going to do to get the things you want.” If you set forth goals you must be willing to do what it takes to reach them. As an athlete, you must be willing to stay focused each and every training session. There must be intention, passion, and desire in each session so that you are getting the most out of your body every time you go into the gym, or onto the field, or into the pool. The Marathon Monks succeed because they have a vision and they have intention. From the very beginning of their journey they make their intentions clear. By putting the sandals inside the home, they are symbolically indicating they will not be back for 7 years. Create Intention in your life. Wake up each day choosing to do the things necessary to reach your goals.
I have been fortunate to have many clients who create intention within each training session. In one particular case, after initial testing, I had a client who was about as well rounded as I could have asked for, but struggled with two skills - muscle ups and double unders (pretty common skills to struggle with in the CrossFit community). After hashing out what the program design would look like, I challenged my client to take responsibility for their weaknesses and focus on becoming better in those areas. They did just that. My client spent hours watching technique videos, hired a gymnastics coach, went to a jump rope seminar and spent countless hours in the gym perfecting those skills. They went above and beyond because they had a goal to be the best. Each day they woke up with a clear intention to get one step better at their weaknesses and not just enjoy their strengths. What one year ago held them back from qualifying, now became strengths in their arsenal to easily make Regionals, all because they created intention each day to become the person they chose to be.
DEFINE YOUR PURPOSE
Why do you do what you do? What drives you? What gets you out of bed each morning? Defining your “WHY”, or what I like to call your “PURPOSE” is the most important part of the process for achieving any goal. Dr. Viktor Frankl, famous psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, often rephrased one of Nietzsche's quotes to this: “He who has a WHY can bear any how”. If you know your purpose, you can suffer terribly but will never doubt the reason why you are doing it.
There are two Marathon Monks who have completed the 7-year, 1000 Marathon journey twice. One of these men, Sakai, is one of the most respected and well known of all Marathon Monks. One Day, during the climb of Mount Hiei, Sakai was attacked and severely injured by a wild boar. Ignoring the pain and continuing on the journey, Sakai later developed a sever infection in his foot, which caused two of his toes to swell up to twice their normal size.
Remembering the promise Sakai made to complete the journey, Sakai took out his suicide knife and lanced the wound on his foot. Aware that he might pass out, Sakai placed his sword in a way that would allow him to fall on it if he did lose consciousness. He did. Fortunately for Sakai, he awoke. Sakai had fallen to the side of his sword instead of on it, as he intended. Sakai was able to complete his 7-year journey and went on to complete another 7-year journey, to boot. Years later, in an interview, Sakai said, “Human life is like a candle, If it burns out halfway, it does no one any good. I want the flame of my practice to consume my candle completely, letting the light illuminate thousands of places. My practice is to live wholeheartedly, with gratitude and without regret.” Sakai had a defined purpose that lead him to continue to push amidst the greatest of circumstances. Even in a time of life or death, he was able to do what was necessary to continue on his journey, or die trying. What made Sakai’s purpose so powerful is that it was created through a cause that was greater than himself. Sakai was not looking for fame, or fortune, or to fulfill his own ego; instead, Sakai wanted to “live wholeheartedly, with gratitude and without regret” to make an impact on others’ lives. Creating a purpose that transcends your own life is a powerful tool to reach your ultimate goals. Taking a quick trip through history you can see the impact that those who have lived for a cause greater than their self have made: Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, William Wallace, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Mother Teresa, and the list could go on and on with those that have defined their purpose as a cause greater than their own self interest.
While your purpose will certainly not take you to extreme lengths of life or death, defining your purpose will help push you to become the person you want to be. It will motivate you to continue to push when your body doesn’t want to go anymore. It will remind you during the middle of a tough workout why you are suffering in that moment. Having a purpose in life will remind you that the momentary pains and sufferings you are experiencing are achieving for you a priceless satisfaction that far outweighs the tough training sessions, hard workouts, and diet restrictions you have had to endure. And the greatest thing of all, when you define your purpose as something greater than yourself, you have an opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life. One of my favorite poems, often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, reminds us:
"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."
This is true success. In the wake of extreme success or terrible failure, your purpose, your CAUSE, helps inspire someone else to live a better life. To also reach for their goals, because they saw how you reached for yours, and even despite the failures that may have come, you continued to push on, you continued to fight, you gave all you had to the purpose that drove you forward.
COMMIT TO THE GOAL
In a world of 15 seconds videos and 140 character status updates it is no wonder that our culture has shifted away from anything resembling commitment lasting longer than the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth. And let’s be honest, you probably don’t actually brush your teeth for the full 2-minute Dentist recommended time, do you? This type of mentality has bled over into the world of fitness. Far too often the goals athletes set are thrown on the back burner because they don’t see the success they want to see right away. Athletes jump from coach to coach, or training blog to training blog, because they are not getting what they want. Instead of staying the course and trusting the process, they quickly change their minds because they assume the grass is greener on the other side - which is true in the case of TTT (insert promotional video here of Max doing bicep curls). In my own experience I have had athletes who are agitated by the small details and movement work that I often force them to refine first before moving on to the fun things like snatches, cleans, and “metcons” in the case of my many Crossfit athletes. But for those who commit to the long term goal, they always see success in one way or the other. After months of ‘boring’ movement/mobility work they can finally train hard without all the aches and pains of their past. They come to realize that by simply committing for the long haul, while sometimes not fun, pays off in the end beyond their wildest dreams.
Seven years is a long time. Seven years becomes even longer when each day you run a marathon around a mountain. And yet, the Marathon Monks woke up every morning completely committed to finishing the race they had started. For seven years they would wake up, run the marathon, pray, only eat 1500 calories, sleep less than 4 hours a night and then get up and do it again the next day. These men are committed to the purpose which drives them to create intention with everything they do each and every day. We all should be a little more like these men. Set your goals with a true purpose in mind, one that is greater than yourself. Allow it to drive you and give you the passion you need to stay the course through the tough training cycles, life stresses, failures and successes. Instead of just setting goals, start creating a purpose for why you are doing what you are doing. Allow your purpose to drive you forward and motivate you each day to become a better person, athlete, coach and role-model. Allow your purpose to remind you daily to create deep intention with all you do - make every set, rep, tempo, and movement count. Go into each training session with the intention of taking one more step towards your ultimate goal(s). Stay committed and you will reap the benefits of your hard work. While that doesn’t necessarily mean you will ever reach your ultimate goals, you will still have accomplished far more than most. You will have given it all you had in pursuit of a purpose that was worth living for. I will leave you with the words of Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”