It’s Okay to Take Your Eye Off the Prize

Goal setting is perhaps one of the greatest things you can do if you want to improve your health. I often extol the benefits of setting fitness goals as a worthwhile means to an end. You need to know where you are going in order to plot a route to get there. Otherwise you just wander aimlessly, and as a result progress is usually just as random as that roaming.

Is there benefit to this aimless wandering though? Can taking your eyes off the goal from time to time actual be helpful? For those individuals prone to obsession their focus can reach an almost unhealthy intensity that makes the pursuit of that goal far less enjoyable, and a little break from that pursuit may be just what the doctor ordered. Others, who have been at it for a very long time, may also gets some much needed relief by shifting their focus some. It may just be perfectly okay to take your eye off the prize from time to time.

Focus is generally a good thing, and a necessary thing if you want to achieve anything. It is possible to become too focused though, where you are so hung up on that final goal that you fail to see the progress you are making. There are still steps that you need to take along the way to get there, and staring out at that far off goal shifts the focus off your feet and where you’re stepping.

Achieving a goal isn’t instant, at least not most of the time. If it is then you may need to pick a new goal. A worthwhile goal requires a plan, and relentless execution of said plan. Often time that execution is a lengthy process that requires your full attention. There’s certain steps to take and details to follow daily in order to get there. A daily battle plan so to speak.

The focus needs to be on that plan, not the overwhelmingly audacious goal. Big goals are intimidating. And they should be. Once we realize how much hard work and effort they are going to take we have to make things manageable or the gap to that goal becomes painful. We need something shift our focus to manageable steps, and that’s where the plan comes into play.

What are you doing today to get you one step closer to that goal? Shortcomings yesterday, and tomorrow’s possibilities are irrelevant. Only today’s execution and action matter. It’s the same as that answer to the age old question of how do you eat an elephant? One bite at at time. Each day, each action is that bite.

Short term fitness goals operate within this framework nicely. Whether it’s dropping a certain amount of weight or setting a new one rep max for a certain lift, these sorts of goals follow the same path. You have an end goal, and a workout and diet plan to follow to get you there. You know what you need to do each day. You eat the right foods and do the right activities on a daily basis. Focus on these daily tasks to carry you to the end. If you put the work in day in and day out, the end result will come. If you don’t put in the requisite work you will likely be no closer to the goal than you were at the start of the journey.

Long term goals do not fit into as nice of a package. When I say long term I mean goals that are at least a year out. Consistent work is still key, but multiple routes or plans will still get you to the end point, and more often than not those plans will need to change and adapt to extenuating circumstances that are sure to arise during that time frame.

A year or years is a long time and a lot can happen, good or bad. Think about where you were at from a health and fitness standpoint one year or two years ago. Have you had any big achievements since then? Are you stronger, faster, leaner, or more skilled than you were before, or did things go in the wrong direction?

Staying focused for that amount of time is truly difficult even for the most dedicated. You have to take it day by day, and even then the gap to goal can be overwhelming. This is where a strategic sprinkling of some of that aimless wandering can come into play. It can act as a brief diversion to take your mind off the stress of such dedicated hard work.

Some may argue that this sort of diversion will only take away from your pursuit, and could even derail you permanently, but I contend that it can help you recharge and come back stronger and more focused if done in small concentrated bursts. I’m not saying you should stop working out and lay on the couch for a few weeks eating popcorn and binging on Netflix. Much like a deload week (link) you should stay active and pursue activities that you enjoy. Focusing on these pursuits can ease the stress of hunting down that overwhelming long term goal.

Pick the right activities and you may even make progress toward that goal without even realizing it. I have a 5 year goal of taming the beast. The beast is an RKC challenge that involves doing a press, weighted pullup, and pistol squat with a 48kg kettlebell. I am nowhere near those numbers, and I think of that every time I barely press the 32kg kettlebell. After my last press focused training block I had to take a step back to heal up a cranky shoulder. Instead of directly working on the press, pullup or squat I finally decided to dedicate daily time toward mobility work.

The last six weeks have been pretty amazing. Rather than dwelling on the long term goal, and my perceived distance from it, I really started to enjoy my mobility practice. So much so that I haven’t missed a day since starting, and I find myself practicing the flow movements randomly throughout the day.

Of course there were some ancillary benefits from this new practice. Overall mobility and flexibility have seen noticeable improvement for the first time since I’ve started training. My shoulder is feeling much better, and my squat mechanics and depth are vastly better than they were six weeks ago.  All of this will have carry over when I start pursuing the beast goal once again. My pressing strength may be down, but that should catch up easily in a few with a healthy shoulder to work with.

The biggest benefit though? Well, that has to be the renewed vigor toward the pursuit of the goal flooding me right now. There’s nothing quite like a break to recharge a bit. These long term goals can be a bit like boiling a pot of water. You can watch it – intently – and nothing seems to happen. Frustration builds until you are cursing that damn pot and it’s no closer to boiling over. Sometimes it’s best to take your eye off the prize (the pot) and distract yourself elsewhere. As long as there is heat still being applied that water will come to a boil, without your sanity boiling over in the process.

Turns out, it’s okay, it will still be there when you come back to it.

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