I’ve never been able to keep up a sport or activity without having a driving, maybe obsessive, reason for doing it. I often refer to these reasons as “goals,” but every now and then I have a conversation with someone who, while similarly motivated, doesn’t think of their training as goal-oriented at all. And I realised something. I’m not actually driven by goals, but by curiosity.
Goals are, in the classic S.M.A.R.T. framing, very specific things. They are:
So a S.M.A.R.T. goal might be something like: “I want to be able to squat 225 pounds by my next powerlifting meet.” That’s specific, you can measure it, and there’s a date on the calendar.
But training doesn’t always work that way. You can do your best to choose a goal that is “achievable,” but the only way to know whether it is actually achievable is to try. Maybe you can only accomplish 210 with the amount of time you have and the training program you’re on. Or maybe you’re capable of 250, and shouldn’t underestimate yourself.
It took a while before I realized what I’d actually been doing. I’m not setting “goals” at all. I’m asking a question. For example:
How much can I add to my squat before the meet?
How many months of training will it take to beat my previous 5K time?
How long can I keep adding ten pounds to my deadlift every workout?
What’s the most I can bench today?
Can I do two workouts every weekday without feeling exhausted or beat-up?
How many miles can I run before the end of the month?
Each of these questions is a goal with one parameter removed. Take away the time-bound, and see how long it will take you to achieve the measurable, specific number. Or don’t set a number, but see what you can achieve by the deadline.
That means you aren’t setting yourself up for a yes or no—did you meet the goal or not?—but instead you’re asking an open-ended question. There’s no wrong answer, no way to fail, just a new thing to learn about yourself.