Goal Setting: Hold On Tightly, Let Go Lightly

5:54 AM

I like checking in with Judy Freeman’s “Life as a Bike Jockey” posts over at singletracks.com – I mean, who doesn’t love a woman who can write about losing her tooth with candor and humor.  (Myself in that situation?  I imagine, there would be lots of “poor me” crying…)

She wrote something in her most recent post (Going, Going, Went For It) that really stuck with me:

Goals are tricky.  They require laser-like focus and optimism, but at the same time, a detachment to the outcome.  If you don’t let go, the ego can get overly involved and a whole slew of trouble can arise – like self-worth that fluctuates with results or a serious case of jerky-it is when things don’t go your way.  The list is endless.

Goal setting can be scary.  When you set a goal, even if it is not something you are going to share with others, you are putting a part of yourself out there.  A well-composed goal can help you define both what you want and how you can get there.  They force you to identify and acknowledge your perceived limits.  They help organize your training.  They become the little voice in the back of your head every time you are presented with all those minor choices (veggie or chips?  another rep or head in for a cool down?) that go into your season.  In short: they work because they force you to take that risk and put a bit of yourself on the line.

But Judy is right – goals also require a bit of detachment and distance.  This isn’t an escape hatch (“That’s ok, I didn’t really want to finish that race anyway…”), it’s more a recognition of the fact that there are so many things that we do not have control of in this world.  An injury.  A mechanical.  An illness.  Work.  Family.  Weather.  A tricky descent where you lose your tooth.

I learned the process of goal setting as a runner, where it was easy to create clear, measurable goals for every race – the clock was always there as a gauge.  One of the first lessons we learned about goal setting was to avoid performance-based goals (I want to win Almonzo), because you can never control the race of another.  What if you had the race of your life, but the woman next to you had the race of her life and it happened to be 4 seconds faster than the race of your life? 

Which brings me to one of the challenges in setting goals for cycling: it is particularly difficult to avoid performance-based goals.  The clock as a measure is meaningless, so it becomes easy to set finishing goals in relation to other competitors.  I’ve become more comfortable with this compromise as I gain experience and come to know the strengths and weaknesses of the women I race against (we Minnesotan mountain bikers and crossers are a small, but friendly bunch).  Yet for any specific race I have to be prepared to let that performance-based goal go as circumstances arise.  Judy had a goal to make the 2012 Olympic team, but her season took several chaotic turns beyond just the missing tooth.  Without that sense of detachment we would all be puddles at the end of each race and our self-esteem would be nonexistent. 

And that brings me to Clive Owen (shouldn’t every conversation about any subject end with Clive Owen?) – I’m remembering that great line from Croupier that sums it up: Hold on tightly, let go lightly.

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