We all know athletes who can just show up and perform well. A runner/cyclist friend of mine is one of them. He's skilled enough to compete in basically anything he does.
However, he took the next step in competitions when he committed to stop making deals with himself and started setting goals.
During a race, he used to say to himself, "Keep up with [that guy] until this point, and then let him go." Now, during a race or practice, he sets goals by saying, "Catch that guy."
How often do we make deals instead of goals?
With our children, "Honey, if you pick up your toys, you can get a snack." With God, "Lord, if you get me through this, I will never . . . " With ourselves, "After this workout, I'll treat myself to ice cream."
Making deals is like a coach who uses sprints as the only means of discipline. It works, but only for a short while. Soon, the athletes stop learning from it. Making deals is effective, but only for the short term. It gets the job done, but it is not sustainable and it can cause really bad habits.
When we make deals, we are limiting how good we can become. Our motivation and focus changes. We are doing something to gain an immediate result, not long-term success. Making deals also gives us an "out," a reason not to push further when it gets really tough.
Setting goals means having a plan of action without a fallback. It's stating, "I will do this," instead of "do this so you can . . ." It means keeping the focus on the immediate task at hand instead of on the outcome.
Athletes don't train for the trophy; they train for the feeling of holding the trophy. The only way to do that is to make goals, not deals.
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