Do you have a goal or a mission? Because there is a difference. I've written about it before and it basically comes down to missions being more important than goals in all the ways that matter.
Goals come and go, but missions are far less transient in nature. When goals fail, they can easily be replaced by new goals; when missions fail, it is difficult, if not impossible, to salvage the situation. Achieving a goal leaves an indelible impression upon who you are, but achieving a mission leaves an impression on your life.
Goals have desired outcomes that may or may not be reached. Missions have consequences, win or lose.
And that's part of why so few take on missions, but everybody has goals. It's that consequence element; it causes pause. We all recognize when something is far more difficult or even dangerous than your standard issue goal and, with that realization, there needs to be a shift in how we approach it. So how should we approach it?
Let's find out.
When you have a goal, it helps to have a framework to achieve said goal. One of the most popular and versatile means of goal-setting is the SMART template. It looks like this:
You have to name your goal. "I want to lose weight" or "I want to get faster" just doesn't cut it.
It has to have some math. How many pounds do you want to lose or how many minutes are you trying to beat your PR by?
Maybe pounds or minutes aren't quite what you should be focusing on–perhaps grams and seconds would be better choices to start.
Is what you're trying to achieve even possible? If you're trying to lose 100 pounds but only weigh 150, that's probably not going to happen. Nobody else has completed a two hour marathon, so it's probably not going to be you. Keep your goal based in reality.
Deadlines help with the process. Giving yourself enough time to achieve your goal but not so much time that it becomes a life quest is key. We're not searching for the grail here.
That's as scant an overview as you can find on SMART goal-setting, but that's all the energy I'm willing to put into explaining it.
If you really want more information, use your favorite search engine and have at it. The last thing the internet needs is another overly elaborate or pompous article on how to use this particular template. Those abound.
However, the internet totally needs an article on my template for mission planning. Goals and missions differ in their consequences, as I've said; there's an element of risk to missions, I find, whether existential or not, and part of planning a mission is having a robust template to address all the disparate factors that increase or decrease that risk.
For that, I created the POWER template. Once you have named your desired outcome, this is what you do next.
Ben Franklin laid it out as succinctly as anyone. "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail." This is the phase where you review your needs in the broadest of possible terms. And when I say broad, I mean broad; make a note of everything you can think of in this phase. You don't have to do anything with it quite yet, but it has to be documented (and I recommend Evernote or a similar program for this type of documentation). In this phase, you must take a holistic view of what your desired outcome is and address every possible barrier to that outcome. If it helps, think of this as brainstorming.
Planning needs three key components. The first is identifying where you are now followed by identifying where you want to be, then you need to reasonably outline how you get from the former to the latter in the most linear manner possible. Do not overcomplicate this. This stage will naturally lead you into clarifying needs versus wants, which is important as you move forward into defining objectives.
Planning is the base of your pyramid; time to move up a level.
On the way to any desired outcome, there has to be objectives. Clearly outlining objectives helps with planning–if anything here doesn't have a corrolary in your planning stage, that's a gap and gaps are problems. Close every gap.
Define your objectives in the starkest of terms and plan accordingly. You can have multiple objectives along the way to an outcome; that's why we plan first, then set objectives. This is also a good place to consider regressive outcomes as part of your overarching plan and what you're willing to accept as a minimum desirable outcome.
You could look at objectives as "mini" goals, but I prefer not to. For me, objectives are things that provide evidence as I move along my chosen path, but don't distract from the outcome I want. I've seen it happen where people get sidetracked by success when it gets too much attention too early in the process and things come apart.
For instance, I went from 233 pounds to a race weight of 165 pounds over a two year span. Along the way, so many people complimented or commented on my weightloss without ever really acknowledging how much work I was putting into my running, riding, and cross training. For me, the weight loss was part of the planning and an identified objective, but it was never a goal; it was a byproduct of relentless focus on my outcome.
Was the weight loss good for me? Sure. Was it a goal? No, not in the sense that I was focused on it in any overt manner. It was an objective that made my mission more likely to succeed, so it received the consideration it was due, but it was never the mission itself. Objectives are necessary to planning, goals are distractions from the mission, and outcome is singular to succeeding. If something like losing a few pounds is going to help you succeed, then it should definitely be considered as a mission critical objective; just don't let the success distract you.
Speaking of "succeeding," it helps to define that in the sense of its importance to you. Success has to be anchored in your personal schema for those moments–the Dark Times–when you need something more to drive you forward.
Planning and setting Objectives is intellectually taxing. This is the part where you explain the emotional purpose behind all of that infrastructure. Why are you doing this? Why is it important to you? Why should anyone care or support you? Why is the most powerful question you can ask yourself and the answer before you start might be the only thing that keeps you going in the middle and let's you reach the end. Be sure of your why because without it, success doesn't have much meaning. At best, it rings a hollow; at it's worst, it's a Pyrrhic Victory and you have less than what you started with to show for your efforts.
This is the shortest explanation in the template, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's the least important. Why you do things will often get short shrift compared to how you do things, but that's a mistake. Nothing will matter more when something goes wrong and, inevitably, something will go wrong. Once you take all your planning, objectives and motivation out into the light of day, life has a funny way of interjecting itself.
Helmuth Von Moltke might not be as well-known as Ben Franklin, but he is no less succinct in his observations. “No operation extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main body of the enemy.” If 19th century German field marshals aren't your thing, another version of this sentiment comes from Iron Mike Tyson, elegantly stated as, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
Both versions are equally true. Trust me.
The point is that execution is the most least important factor in your success. If you planned properly, stated your objectives clearly, and honestly defined your why, then execution usually falls into place nicely. "Usually," I said. Any number of factors can derail your execution, but most, if not all, are things you should have anticipated; nothing short of an act of god should be a surprise.
And if a surprise does occur and threaten to end your mission?
This is where you course correct.
Yes, things go wrong. I would be the first to agree with that. But I would be the first to disagree that things that go wrong couldn't be planned for and methods of remedying specific problems couldn't be built into your planning.
Actually, you won't be able to convince me otherwise; I've been through too much over my sporting life with too many setbacks to accept that remediation isn't possible in all but the most catastrophic of circumstances. Even then, it will all be okay in the end; and if it isn't okay, it probably isn't the end.
What that means for you, though, is that you have to look at the barrier to success confronting you and decide if it is a resource problem or a function problem.
Resource problems are the type of problems you can throw money at to make them go away. Yes, that's reductive, but it's necessarily reductive; if you falter because of resource allocation, then you didn't plan accordingly. Things go wrong and sometimes money is the easiest solution–beg, borrow or steal to remove the issue and get back to achieving your objective. If money fixes it now, even if you are going to have to deal with that unforeseen expenditure later, do it in service of the outcome that set you on this path in the first place and move forward.
You've likely spent money you didn't have on things that were less important to you and dealt with the consequences.
Function problems are more complicated. Injuries, lack of training, poor training, a change in training, illness–these are all things that can't be fixed with money (well, not directly, at least). These are difficult circumstances, but not impossible to manage. Trust me. I have won fights where I came into the bout with a fracture in my arm, rode mountain bike races with a broken foot that required a friend to meet me in the transition area with crunches after each lap, and I ran two of my last races on a calcaneal fracture and plantar fasciitis tearing at my arch with every step.
Function problems can be overcome in all but the most grievous of situations. Remember, it's not how you feel; it's how you feel about how you feel; and how you feel is a lie.
SMART versus POWER.
Goals versus missions.
Objectives versus outcomes.
Is this all just semantics? Not to me.
I have seen goals fall time and time again, achieved less and less, but everyone seems to have one or more. I have never seen missions fail in such great numbers, quite possibly because the people I see chasing goals seem to do it for the esteem it gains them within their social circle.
The people I see complete missions appreciate the acknowledgment, but appreciate support more; they get fewer kudos, but need fewer too.
The outcome is the reward, even if it doesn't come with an award.
It doesn't make them better people or even competitors, but it does make them more threatening when you're competing against them. If someone's goal is to beat me, I don't lose sleep over that. If it's their mission to beat me?
That just seems more personal.