It’s a very common mistake to spread your efforts too thin across a variety of interests or goals.
A goal focused approach to training is important for appropriate planning of your training program, and helps keep you on task for what you’ve identified as your priority.
- You want to get strong but still be able to run a half marathon in a couple of months.
- You want to build pounds of muscle but make sure you still have your washboard abs.
- You want to learn how to be an acrobat but still want to do powerlifting competitions.
Well those competing goals aren’t going to be achieved unless you have the opportunity, and capacity, to train every day for several hours at a time, and likely not even then.
Yet it’s also extremely important to have a playful attitude towards training, and cultivate a mindful and flexible approach that can account for “bad” days or days when you know you would be better off simply enjoying movement and performing activities outside of a rigid plan.
So how do we reconcile this?
As we’ve said before, when you’ve been training for a long time, and helping others through the process, you’ll realize it’s not an all or nothing thing. It’s never about the extreme. There are no absolutes! (He said stating an absolute…)
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
We design the GMB programs as short term focused efforts to a specific outcome.
- Our Rings program develops upper body pulling and pushing strength to achieve fundamental ring skills in a short routine.
- Our Parallettes courses emphasize pushing and trunk strength development for neat moving and balancing skills on the bars.
- The Floor programs aim for total body control and coordination.
These targeted programs are essential for achieving skills that are often quite new and daunting for people used to other forms of exercise.
Taking a willy-nilly approach often leads to spinning your wheels and wondering why it’s taking you so long to make progress. It’s also why people make faster progress with a good coach supervising the training.
The coaching may be as direct as advising the trainee to continue on the same course even if they may feel like they are on a plateau. Rather than flitting from one program to the next new thing, sometimes you have to keep your head down and keep plodding away.
This is especially true of very novel movements that don’t resemble anything you’ve done before.
Missing the Forest for the Trees
The trouble with being so goal focused, is that with the endpoint always in sight you may miss the lessons inherent in the journey along the way.
You shouldn’t be thinking of the training routine you’ll be doing 6 weeks from now when you’re performing the one today. It’s the daily process, each day after another, on and on, that gets you where you want to go.
Don’t skip that process, both physically and mentally.
Improved Learning from Less Focus
Mindfulness is a big buzzword that perhaps gets a bit overused, but it simply means that with each moment and action you keep your intent within it.
In golf if you think about making/missing the hole you’ll often get frazzled and duff the shot, but when you think of a smooth swing your ball falls where you want it to.
And the same with training, a clear presence of mind in every repetition of every exercise leads to improvement in your skill. In small increments, yes, but those, of course, add up over time to significant changes. You’ll be learning more and more as you go, and that’s the whole point.
It’s also much less frustrating than looking a few steps ahead with a sense of hurrying to the next level. The frustration occurs when you feel you aren’t moving on as fast as you should be, but that timetable you’ve set for yourself is often wrong.
Remove the stress of getting there “on time” and you’ll be able to set your frustrations aside and concentrate on the process. Skiing wouldn’t be as fun if all you had in your head was the top of the lift and the bottom of the mountain, with no sense of what would happen in between. If that was the case, you may as well keep riding the lift down.
What Happens When You Don’t Meet Your Goals
Another issue with being so objective oriented is the problem of burnout.
It’s an unfortunately common occurrence for those with physique oriented goals (weight loss or muscle gain) to quit from discouragement when the expectations aren’t being realized.
A target on the scale is a very poor measure to have in your everyday thoughts. Your mindset shifts away from understanding and learning from the process to an incessant focus on this out of reach desire. The very nature of it means it’s not going to happen soon, and it’s no wonder people are burning out when the goal is constantly so far away.
Zen and the Art of Nonbinding Focus
So what should you do? Have an intense focus on a goal, or separate yourself from that desire?
Well, you should do both of course!
At first glance they seem like incompatible attitudes, but when you look deeper you’ll see that they are intertwined.
A goal mindset is in the micro, a laser beam focus of what you want out of your training in the short term. What do you want right now? What is it that can’t happen soon enough? Whereas your long term, rest-of-your-life attitude should be one of continuous learning and play.
A goal in-and-of itself is not a bad thing, it’s the extreme focus on it to the detriment of everything else that will tear you down.
In the long run, goal oriented training should be looked at as a short term necessity for progress that helps direct your efforts, but not as the true motivation for yourself. Lifelong learning and self development for its own sake should be the overarching reason for training and leads to more consistency and enjoyment.
There’s a zen parable that goes:
One day the Master announced that a young monk had reached an advanced state of enlightenment. The news caused some stir. Some of the monks went to see the young monk. “We heard you are enlightened. Is that true?” they asked.
“It is,” he replied.
“And how do you feel?”
“As miserable as ever,” said the monk.
Perhaps the monk is miserable because he was so intent on attaining enlightenment that he neglected the learning that would have solved his misery.
Having Goals while Remaining Open to New Experiences
There are a couple of ways you can make sure to have a goal-directed orientation that guides your training, but doesn’t lose track of the spontaneous nature of learning on the fly.
You don’t want to lose out on eureka moments in your training because you were too rigid in your scheduling.
Schedule Play in Your Program
There are a couple of things you can do to see how things work out for you with adding in a bit of play and exploration in your training.
- First, in this next week, add on 5 minutes of free exploration to the end of your training sessions. Try some new moves or work on some that you’ve been neglecting for a while. Just be sure to do it at the end of your workouts. After this week, take stock of how you feel and how you performed, and see if this benefits you.
- Second, if you already know that you would like to do this, then set aside at least one day in your training week where you don’t worry about the sets and repetitions of an exercise and just perform that day’s exercises as well as you can for as much volume as you want. And change the exercises you do that day to be completely different from your other training days.
Give yourself free rein to move and explore various movements without aim or direction.
Autoregulate as Needed
With this option, you have to pay careful attention to your performance level in your training.
On the days when you have a significant drop in your ability level (as compared to previous days), use that time to drop the planned regimen and rather than just ending the session, work on playful movement.
As you experiment with the free play described above, do the following:
- Pay attention to your performance: How solid is your technique? How much of your power reserves go into each rep? Promise right now that if your performance is suffering, you’ll prioritize technique over amount of work.
- When in doubt do less. There’s always time to come back and do more when you make training a lifelong habit.
Take your time, rest fully between attempts and work on simply enjoying moving your body. Remove your expectations and get ready to go back into the planned routine on another day.
Balance Work and Play for Long-Term Progress
Charging from one finish line to another incessantly is the fastest way to burn out.
Yes we need a focused goal to shoot for in the short run, but the long run doesn’t need to be a never ending series of hard fought achievements. Allowing yourself to make mistakes and play and experiment, keeping a sense of play and wonderment in your training, that’s how to keep growing and improving for the rest of your life.