This is a hot topic on the wonderful world wide web, with a lot of experts, both in sport circles and in business, leaping on the bandwagon to diss the age-old-habit of goal setting, and instead, preach the godly path of system righteousness.
I’d like to jump in with my own ideas, explore this in a little detail, and decide how we might choose between these two camps.
A goal is a user defined milestone, in our case as climbers, usually a route or boulder problem that we aspire to send.
A system is the process we use to improve and work towards that send, and for us it could be as elaborate as a formulated training plan, or as simple as our commitment to keep our regular session timetable.
So what exactly is wrong with those goals that we’ve been setting all our lives?
Self worth: Many of us get so entwined and fixated with our goals that our self esteem becomes linked to them too. We’d all be rich if we had a dollar/pound/euro/shekel every-time that we’ve heard a climber at the gym or the crag say “Once I climb X then I’ll be happy”? This heaps a pile of negative pressure onto oneself, implying that happiness, for that individual, is intrinsically linked to a goal which, for many reasons, might even be unobtainable.
Continuous failure: Some people thrive in a state of near continuous failure, striving for outlandish targets, but for many of us it creates constant despair. Don’t kick a man while he’s down they say, yet we do this to ourselves everyday by living our lives in a state of non-accomplishment. Unrealistic goals are a killer of passion, and passion is the essence that drives us forward.
Post goal motivation: We throw our fist is in the air and our lungs vocalise euphoria in a moment of perfection as we achieve that big goal, creaming our lifetime-so-far ambition. But as the warm glow fades to memory, motivation wanes with with the absence of the all consuming light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve topped our pedestal and now face setting ourselves another future goal, another long mountain to climb. But do we really want to start over and put ourselves through that process of pain and commitment again, or should we just go surfing instead?
Loss of control: Goal setting generally involves linking actions to time frames, often unrealistic time frames. We feel guilty if we do not achieve these, and more often than not, life will throw a curveball into the mix. We might get ill or injured, or a summer of weddings might rob our precious weekends at the crag. Through no fault of our own, we’ve lost control of our goal. We might be tempted to try and fast-track what we’ve lost and overtrain, or we might have to surrender and settle for less. Some of us might give up the dream entirely and that’s a chunk of our soul that will be lost forever!
Who needs a goal: If you forget that you ever set goals and concentrate on your system you will still get results!
That’s a lot of bad press for goal setting, and those negatives are flipped round into benefits of systems. By focusing on the practice and not the goal, the system is something we do on a regular basis and brings positives regardless of outcome. We can enjoy the moment without fear of long term failure, and lessen pressure to push into the redline and overtrain or risk injury. Every time we apply the system we know success because we have carried out our intention. And despite the lack of a triumphant goal finishing ejaculation, we receive small but constant and repeatable moments of happiness.
So back to the question and whether climbers should be goal setters or system followers?
My answer is both.
Climbers are not chasing a clock time or the under par glory of a linear based sport. We’ll never face off against a wall of All-Blacks and we’ll never be sat in a league table trying to one up our ‘noisy neighbours’. Speed climbing excepted, even our comps are mostly non linear. Stop and think about it, it’s actually a 3rd party, the route setter who challenges the participants, our magnificent gladiators pitting skills in the ring against each other is just a fancy show for the masses.
If we’re training for training’s sake or simply climbing for the pure joy of movement, then the system is all we need, it is the goal. But if we wish to push forward to betterment then having a shining light that guides us is imperative.
Routes and boulders inspire us, they drive our passion and entice us to improve our minds, our fitness and our skills to seduce their challenge.
Implement the best of both worlds - why ever settle for one when we can have two! We need those routes to serve as our goals but be wary of the unobtainable - keep an eye on the future but try not to nail yourself to the cross. Set frequent reasonable goals to push forward progress. Small increments are your motivational yardstick and these measurable achievements will keep you going where others falter. Cherish the process of betterment, and try to improve something everyday, no matter how small.