I sometimes feel it gets increasingly harder to get better at something once you’re somewhat “experienced or good at it”
…and even harder to progress even further.
I decided to write on this topic today based on many conversations and encounters I’ve had with athletes at my gym – athletes who seem frustrated that they aren’t “progressing as fast” as they thought they would, or who look to others who seem to be way ahead and wonder…why can’t I also be there?
Wait for it…here it comes…my whole spiel on “goal” talk. wahphwahphwahph
One of the best ways to start getting yourself places and progressing to whatever that may be (have some muscle definition, have more energy, finish a certain distance of race, be mobile enough to do an overhead squat with the bar with full range of motion, deadlift a certain amount of weight, etc.) is to…set goals.
Hard numbered, data-backed goals that are specific, measurable, and attainable (with some effort required, of course) in an realistically indicated amount of time…by you. SMART goals…basically.
*Note that these goals that I’m going to talk about are “inner” expectations that you set for yourself, not necessarily “outer” expectations that others would expect of you, or that you *think* others expect of you. These come from the heart…from deep down. You might want to do these because in the end it’s for someone else, but not because you feel that they expect you to.
But when we reach these goals…well is that the end? Whoop-dy-doo we’ve hit the target, now we can stop and cruise, right?
Nah, I’ve never found that to be the case.
In fact, meeting goals has pushed me to further set even higher goals…ones that I wouldn’t have even considered before even setting previous goals. Or, perhaps I would have envisioned one day miraculously being able to achieve these higher goals but they were just a “dream” and not necessarily a real goal.
A dream is just a big goal at the end of a line of several smaller goals and benchmarks that set you up along the way, making the dream actually seem achievable and possible.
Comparing Goals to the Alphabet: A Personal Interpretation
Because I like using metaphors, I’m going to use the alphabet as a way to explain my way of approaching goals. We all start somewhere (letter A) and we all want to end up somewhere (letter Z). Now, we can approach this way of comparing the alphabet to goals in two different ways:
There is a finite “Z”
Z is the ULTIMATE ending where we *dream* we want to be someday (such as weightlifting in the Olympics…dang that’s a HUGE goal!) and steps B through Y will be all the little steps to eventually get us to Z. Think of “Z” as a little kid’s fantasy of one day becoming an astronaut or a firefighter. We might actually get to Z if we try hard enough and decide to drop everything we’re doing and put all our efforts towards getting us towards that one goal. Perhaps, at the end of life, we just end up getting to “P” or “Q” and being satisfied with that.
For many of you, this “Z” is the ideal – Z is a distant dream that may or may not be achievable (but it is achievable because others HAVE done it), yet you know that you’re definitely no where close to that right now.
There is NOT a finite “Z”
In fact, Z is always changing, because A is always changing.
Once you actually hit “Z”, you reset yourself, start back at A again and now are on a journey towards a new “Z”.
If you follow this interpretation of the “goal alphabet”…then you’ll make sure Z is always within close reach (still taking steps B through Y to get there). Z is perhaps just making it to the end of a 30 day nutrition challenge, or the end of a 4 week training cycle without missing any days of training. “Z” in this case might also just be making it to the end of the day without “snacking on any holiday treats” (and B through Y is every hour you have to deal with when coworkers decide to bring in glutenous cookies)
Z is always changing…and because it’s always changing, you never know where you’re going to end up.
Which of these theories – when it comes to approaching your goals in life – do you think is correct?
Are they both correct?
Well, regardless of whichever way of thinking you decide to fall into, we can’t argue that in order to get from A to Z that you haven’t go through steps B through Y. Now, that progression of steps may not necessarily be linear (for example, when you get to step K you realize you have to jump back to step D), nor are all the steps equally the same (Step B might be just getting in 8 hours of sleep per night, whereas Step “M” might be making all of your squat sets without failure). Regardless, you need to make it through steps B through Y in order to achieve your end point.
So, why did I just go through all this effort to compare goals to the alphabet? Well, it makes it much easier to analyze and make sense of why we do what we do, and why we “fail” (or actually, miss or skip a step) in our journey to reach the “Z”.
So now, let’s talk about some of the stumbling blocks – why might someone not ever make it to “Z”?
What gets in the way of us achieving the “Z”?
Reason 1: We start at “A” and see the amazing endpoint of “Z” but try to jump to Z too fast without considering or ignoring steps B-Y, or try to skip letters (from “C” to “J”) thinking it will get us there faster.
That’s where we get into problems – trying to skip over letters in the alphabet (or even worse, ignoring letters!)…trying to take the “short cuts” because we think it’ll take us to Z faster.
- Perhaps “Step D” is eating 5-6 handful servings of greens and vegetables per day, as well as a palm size of protein at each meal. Forget to eat your veggies and protein? Well, you might be lacking in essential nutrients and vitamins that give you the energy you need day to day, and you won’t have enough protein “building blocks” to build that muscle you’re trying to make with your workouts.
- …Or perhaps “Step R” is doing adequate warm-ups before every workout to ensure you have best range of motion possible and that your muscles are prepped and warm to take on intense loads. Always try to skip over those pesky warm-ups? Those “10 minutes” or so of warm-up may not seem like much in the moment, but repeatedly doing them establishes a ritual and consistency for you at every workout that you can take with you to competition day, and they will overtime consistently establish (and maintain) adequate range of motion, better stability in the muscles and joints, and lesser chance of injury (we don’t wear a bike helmet just “occasionally” because we want to prevent injury – we do it ALL the time because we fear that *one time* when it will happen. Warm-ups are like bike helmets – they help to ensure – at least a little more confidently – less chance of injury.)
- …Perhaps another example of “skipping steps” is jumping up in weight intensity too fast in the programming without considering the end effects of going too heavy too fast in the cycle. If a program is done well with a lot of thought, science, and data to back it up, then follow the damn program so you can at least stay consistent! I’ve definitely started cycles where that “70-75%” on the first week felt extremely light, but I know I have to hold myself back from wanting to go heavier knowing that the cycle will pick up quickly in the next couple weeks and I’ll regret going too heavy too quick (because I’ll have to deal with that load later when it really matters but my body’s already too fatigued trying to recover from that last load…oops!)
- …Perhaps you’re trying to do a move that you’re not ready for (such as a complex yoga pose) because you haven’t built up the proper mobility to do it correctly and in good form without injury…or taking on a race or mileage you aren’t ready for because you haven’t build up the muscle endurance, stamina, or nutrition experience to withstand the volume. The experience of going through steps B through Y are just as viable and important as the end goal of step Z…and in fact, B through Y are “mini goals” themselves and not just steps along the way…they are benchmarks indeed.
- Perhaps it’s trying to find some type of “miracle pill” or performance enhancing supplement that will give you artificial gains without you experiencing the true natural gains yourself or considering other factors necessary such as good sleep or nutrition (anyone rely heavily on “pre-workout” to feel like you have any energy at all? Feel like you HAVE to have a FitAid following a workout so you don’t lose those gainz?)
The other side of trying to “skip ahead” too quickly is getting frustrated and overwhelmed when you don’t meet up to the standards of the letters you’re trying to skip to.
DUH its because the other letters set you up to succeed at further letters down the line!!
Reason 2: We see “Z” but have no idea where “A” is
Literally, in order to start achieving goals you have to understand where you are currently at. You also have to be honest with yourself – do you have as much mobility as you *think* you do? Is your nutrition really as good (heh “80/20”) as you tell other people it is…and does your current lifestyle set you up to continue that?
Or on the other end…do you actually have more drive, more energy, and more willpower than you think you do at the moment? (are you constantly telling yourself you are too tired to do something when really you’re just trying to find excuses not to start and can’t see the immediate benefit of completing the task of B right away? Are you waiting for the days to pass by thinking B will “eventually happen” without just doing it NOW?)
Assess where you are…and be honest with the assessment. If you really have no idea where your “point A” is…well just jump in and start with something!
Starting somewhere (whether it’s the appropriate step B for you or not) is better than not even starting at all, because then at least you’ll realize whether you started in the right spot and can actually make the move to start in the correct spot if that didn’t work.
The cool thing is once you have made it to your “Z” (and if you’re picking your very first “Z” pick one that’s super easy to do) that when you “reset yourself” and make your “Z” your new “A”, you’ll never have to worry too much about what “A” is because you’ve already established that with each “Z” you achieve.
Reason 3: We try to adapt someone else’s “A to Z” thinking that’s the right alphabet sequence for us.
Literally one of the worst things you can do for yourself is trying to take someone else’s goals and make them your own. Ok, if you’re an Obliger-type and need to achieve something because your boss or workplace expects that of you…that’s a different story (because that’s an outer expectation that someone else expects of you, not an inner expectation that you expect of yourself).
We’re talking about inner, personal expectations.
Um…personal goals are supposed to be individually dependent and reflective of personal needs and experiences. You might have the same “Z” as someone else (first muscle up? 100kg clean and jerk?), but your “A” and your “B through Y” will undoubtedly be different because you have different genetics, a different schedule, different social expectations, different types of support, different experiences, different opportunities, and different everything.
So, there’s no “one size fits all” diet, programming, or what not. One person’s Step “Q” might be really difficult for them, but might be really easy for you and vice versa. You all probably have to take similar types of steps to get there, but the intensity and impact of each step will vary widely based on who you are.
Yet, you can’t assume that because everyone has “different steps” that they never went through the same steps that you went through, or that it was necessarily “easier” or “harder” – they probably did something similar at one point but just with a different flavor or interpretation that fit their individual needs. Your “Z” might be their “Step P” or their “Step D.”
The effort that it’s taking them to reach their next “Z” is taking just as much effort as it’s taking you to reach your “Z”
Reason 4: We get caught up and frustrated trying to achieve our current goals because we forget how far we’ve come.
OK, the one DOWNSIDE of going with the theory that there is no finite “Z” is that: because A and Z are always evermore changing, we forget sometimes where the previous Z’s and A’s used to be.
We forget how far we’ve actually come and how much we’ve actually achieved because we’re always constantly setting newer, higher goals.
It’s tough to be thoroughly satisfied (for the long term) once we achieve the “Z” – Perhaps momentarily once you’ve finished the race, or snatched that long anticipated weight that you feel some sense of achievement and a “yes I did this!”…but does it ever stop there?
We keep striving for more and looking for more challenges to keep us motivated because we rarely ever find satisfaction in just staying in the same spot. But with every new Z comes a whole new set of B through Y that may not take the same level of effort or experience. It’s not like you can continuously repeat the same B through Y and keep progressing at the same rate if you’re always resetting back to A for a new Z.
The new Step “B” that you are facing now is way, way, way much further down the line than the original Step “B” you first faced back when you started your journey. It’s not like A to Z resets like an infinite circle…it’s like a new step on a set of stairs that lead to infinite goals and infinite dreams at the end. You’re just a few steps higher than where you started, and higher elevation means tougher breathing, colder weather, and thus adapting to tougher conditions to get to the end (if there is an end?)..
At least with the theory of a finite Z, you can always look back and see where you were at point A, point B, etc.
So…when do we start the journey to “Z”?
Why wait until the “opportune” moment, or until the 1st of the month to start something? You can start picking away at steps B and C now so when you get to that “first of the month” you’re already prepped and part of the way there.
Perhaps you’re in between training cycles though and you feel like you’re in this “transition” zone…well in that case, you’re in a different A-to-Z where the Z will be the first day “back at it” and your current steps are simply putting yourself in the best position at the end of your “transition” period to hit the ground running at your new “point A” when you’re ready.
The worst you can do is send yourself backwards into a previous alphabet set so you have to take even more steps to get where you want to be…more or less just stay in the same spot.
Why is it taking so long to get to “Z”?
Well, either you set your Z so far ahead that steps B through Y are much longer to pass through, or you’ve just stalled on one of those steps in between and can’t figure out how to progress or get around it without “cheating the system.”
- Perhaps one of those steps isn’t an obvious one that you can physically control and get results for NOW, but one that needs more information in order to solve – perhaps you need a bit more knowledge in order to pass a certain step that you don’t have at the moment, or a certain amount of muscle built up overtime (that can only happen as a result of growth over time) that you need in order to achieve a first pull-up or vice versa.
- Not all steps can be instantaneously passed through quickly and not all steps and benchmarks can be achieved with the current knowledge, skillset, mindset or way of thinking you currently have.
- Some steps involve some sort of risk…stepping into the unknown and into the unfamiliar, and some steps are just freakin annoying and you have to deal with it so you don’t end up stalling.
All I can really say here at the end is that…we all have our “Z’s” that we want to get to, or that we dream of getting to some day. But it’s about the experience of B through Y, and about the creation of new Z’s that come along that makes our lives exciting and what gives us constant drive to be better at something.
Don’t ever forget how far you’ve come, and how many A to Z’s you’ve been through to get to your current letter. Just know that it gets increasingly harder to create full complete sentences, paragraphs, statements, ideas, and thus “satisfaction” when you’re missing some key letters of the alphabet.
(gluten free slice for me, of course.)