“Long-term goals arguably are at least as important as short-term goals in their ultimate consequences for individuals, organizations, and societies.”
– Thomas Bateman
Now we are all set with our process oriented goals and we are well on our way to setting routines to kick start our motivation. It is now time to consider what happens when we hit a snag in the road or our motivation starts to fizzle out as we are working towards our long-term goals. Imagine this scenario: for a little over a month, you’ve been consistently hitting the gym, working hard, and making good choices with your nutrition. Your behavior hasn’t become routine quite yet, but momentum is building. Feeling healthy, strong, and determined, you decide it’s time for a quick check in with your weight loss and you step on a scale. You’re down .4 pounds! Devastating. Feeling discouraged, you spend longer than you should questioning everything you have been doing and wondering why the scale isn’t budging. Maybe this was all a waste of time?! You are at a crossroads in your journey to better health, and not sure which way you should go from here. All that motivation you were feeling just moments ago is a distant memory.
But here’s the thing. As Kelly Phu would tell you, “the scale is a liar,” and not a good indication of your body composition. It could very easily be that you actually GAINED muscle, which caused a change in your appearance but won’t change the number on the scale. Or maybe it is just taking longer than you had expected to get results. There could be multiple things in play here. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that real, lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. A better life and improved fitness have long term positive implications, and there really are no shortcuts. I also think most of us realize that we need to think long term when it comes to our goals for health and wellness. But, most of us continue to struggle with that on a day-to-day basis. How do people keep going, even if the results aren’t evident…YET?
To put this into perspective, think about people doing long-term work in fields like cancer research, those trying to find a cure for terminal illnesses like ALS, or even the group behind SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. This unique collection of world-class doctors, scientists, and astrophysicists have spent the entirety of their careers searching for signals and breakthroughs that haven’t come. They are truly at the extreme when it comes to long-term motivation. How do they still find their work fulfilling – and stay motivated to continue – when it is quite possible they won’t ever feel the gratification of results in their lifetimes? A University of Virginia commerce professor, Thomas Bateman, did a study on this exact topic, and his findings can be generalized to anyone needing to stay motivated when results could take months or even years to achieve. Bateman eventually defined the following strategies that he deemed key to the success and continued motivation of these professionals over the course of months, years, and for some, entire careers.
CLEARLY OUTLINE GOALS
Just like how in the gym you need a strong foundation of strength before moving on to more complicated skill work, you must have a very clear idea of what your goals are before you begin working towards them. They need to be written down and shared with those closest to you so they can support you through the process. When writing your goals, make sure to include short term milestones that you will reach throughout the process.
One of my current goals is a set of 10 unbroken strict pull-ups. I am still a little ways away from this goal, but I have set a shorter term goal of doing 3 sets of 5 unbroken pull-ups. Breaking my goal down into smaller pieces makes it seem much more manageable – more within reach – and gives me milestones to celebrate along the way. According to Bateman, some good questions to consider when planning your goals are:
What would the future hold if I achieve this goal?
What would it mean for me personally?
How can I build in short-term gratifications?
How can I build in and appreciate the most interesting and fulfilling parts of what I am doing?
Think critically about these questions and again, make sure they are written down somewhere for you to reference regularly. This will help you maintain focus and stay the track when inevitably, things start to fizzle out.
EVALUATE YOUR PROGRESS
Remember those short term goals we just set? We need to recognize and appreciate when we reach them as means to evaluate whether we are doing the right things to work towards our larger, overarching goal. It is even better if you are working with a coach who can give you an outside perspective and feedback on how things are progressing. At our gym we have regular athlete check-ins with each member to analyze and celebrate milestones, as well as potentially adjust the action steps being taken in the event real progress is not being made. This meeting is an important aspect of working towards long-term goals and maintaining focus in achieving them.
Shaun wrote a great article a few months ago about keys to progressing strength. You can find the full article HERE, but this is a great excerpt that clearly articulates this point:
“Social media may be the best and worst thing to happen to athletes. On one hand, it allows open communication and insight into some of the best coaches in sports and strength and conditioning who are usually willing to share their ideas. On the other, it robs time, creates problems that don’t exist, and often an unnecessary feeling of being behind. Comparison can feed the feeling of the need for the quick fix.”
While working towards your goals, you must stay in your lane. Maintain focus on how your actions will impact what you are striving to achieve and do not get distracted by what other people are doing. Easier said than done, I know, especially in this age of addiction to social media. But this is a key factor in not getting discouraged and off track when working towards what is most important to you. By now you have a plan and you have steps you must take to get you to where you want to be. Instead of getting distracted by what is going on around you, stay motivated by thinking about how good it will FEEL to reach your goal. Consider how these risks and work will pay off in the long run, and then focus on what is most interesting and exciting about the important work YOU are doing. What are you most proud of achieving each month, each week, each day? Celebrate small victories and ignore the rest of the noise.
BE OK WITH FAILURE (TEMPORARILY)
Eventually, you will fail. Everyone does. It’s what happens immediately following that failure that is most important. Instead of letting the devastation of this failure go to your head and derail your progress indefinitely, use it a basis for improvement and opportunity to reflect on how far you have come. If necessary, meet with your coach to go over your short term goals and only if absolutely required, re-adjust them accordingly. If you have done serious planning and are sticking to your process goals, more likely than not your “failure” was due to nothing more than having an off day. We all have those too, it’s part of being human. Dust yourself off and get back to work.
It is no easy feat to work towards goals that will take considerable time to reach, and it is hard to keep up with that motivation through the entire process. Using these strategies can help make your goals more attainable and progress towards reaching them that much more fun. I promise, the reward of finally achieving your goals makes the all the ups and downs of the journey worth it.
At Telos, goal setting and celebrating victories- both big and small- in reaching those goals is part of every member’s experience. We are a built in support system and we love to see people do things they never thought possible. Click below to join us.
Bateman, T. “Masters of the Long Haul: Pursuing Long-Term Work Goals,” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2012 (with B. Barry).