Posts Tagged goals

Where’s my name?

allstate

All-state, all-conference, all-district, all-American . . . as sports seasons draw to a close, recognition lists start to appear. The recognition is great for those who receive it, but what about those whose names don’t appear on the lists?

That happened to my son last year. He had a great football season – better than his sophomore season when he received honorable mention, but his name rose no higher during his junior season. Naturally, we looked at the list of honorees, and just as naturally, we felt he belonged. It was frustrating and heart-breaking, but just like all of the other frustrating and heart-breaking experiences of the past couple of years, it taught us a lot.

Most of all, it taught us how to deal positively with disappointment, which is important, because disappointment is part of life. This is especially true if you challenge yourself with risks. The higher you reach, the more you expose yourself to a gut punch like disappointment.

For athletes:

First, you have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. Voters often have limited data when they make their selections, and they rely on what others have said about your performance. That can be your coach, an opposing coach or the media, and they all have biases, even though most try really hard to suppress those biases. Furthermore, inclusion on many of the lists is dependent on your team’s success. The better a team does, the more players are included in post-season honors, but even that has a limit. Voters are reluctant to include too many from a single team or even a single region, so if you are in the shadows of super-stars, it’s hard to shine. This is even more challenging for underclassmen, as seniority seems to figure in the calculations. Sometimes, those factors work in your favor, and sometimes, they work against you.

Second, it probably doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. My son feared that a lack of all-state recognition during his junior season would hurt his college recruiting in the following year. It didn’t. We can’t recall a single instance where it was even mentioned. Recruiters don’t rely on others to do their evaluations, and things turned out just fine for my son when the recruiters had a chance to do their own evaluation of him. Plus, not everyone pays attention to sports news. Everyone who appreciated your performance still appreciates your performance.

You are not alone. Hundreds of athletes felt slighted when they saw the lists, and many were justified in that feeling. Not every deserving athlete will be included. In fact, there are probably better athletes than you who were left off the list.

For the rest of us:

Throughout life, you are going to be evaluated and compared to others. Sometimes, you’re going to get that promotion, and other times, it’s going to go to the guy down the hall. Often, you can’t control that. The one thing you can control is your reaction.

Don’t let rejection get you down. Your peers and key decision-makers are watching your reaction. Be gracious, and then be silent in your resolve to prove that you belong. Now, when the iron is hot, is the time to make your mark.

Do an honest self-evaluation, once the pity and frustration subside. You might not be able to be objective immediately after disappointing news. When you can be objective, look for areas for personal growth. No matter where you are in life, there is always room for growth. Become a master at evaluating yourself. It’s never a good idea to leave evaluation to those who don’t know your potential.

Set goals for yourself. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable and celebrate your successes in reaching them. Goals affirm your progress, and unlike outside evaluations, you have complete control of them.

The mood in our house was markedly better this year when the football post-season awards were announced, but we know that last year’s disappointment won’t be the last. Next time, though, we’ll be better prepared to turn it into a positive. That we can control.

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Visuals Are the Guideposts of Dreams

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After my sophomore year of college, I set a goal to graduate magna cum laude. I had done the math, and figured out that I could make it if I did everything right. To remind myself of that goal, I created a big sign saying “MAGNA CUM LAUDE” and hung it over my desk. When I was tempted to take a shortcut or not work as hard as I should, the sign reminded me of my goal.

I wish I could say that I achieved that goal, but an over-ambitious 21-credit-hour semester knocked me off track. I earned six A’s and one C+ that semester. Damned poetry class! I still remember the disheartening experience of calculating my maximum GPA after that semester and learning that magna cum laude was mathematically impossible, even if I earned A’s in my remaining classes. However, instead of giving up, I took the sign down and used a pair of scissors to create a sign that said “CUM LAUDE.”

* Magna cum laude was a GPA of 3.7-3.8. Cum laude was 3.6-3.7.

My daughter’s bulletin board, pictured above, reminded me of that sign and how visuals motivate the efforts necessary to achieve goals. Seeing our goals on paper flips a switch in our brains that paints a picture of the goal and a path to it. Through this mental exercise, we actually project ourselves to the place we want to be, and because we were there once in our minds, we know where we’re going. That’s why it’s easier to drive to familiar locations than it is to go some place new to us.

In an oft-cited study, Dr. Gail Matthews, a professor of psychology at Dominican University in California, found that goal-seekers are 42 percent more likely to achieve their goals when they write them down. You don’t have to create a sign, like my daughter and I did; you just need to put pen to paper.

Writing your goals makes them much more tangible than just thinking about them. While it’s still important to mentally visualize your goals; physically seeing them reinforces that visual. Goals kept in solitary mental confinement can get lost in everyday clutter, like worry and doubt. When goals are isolated in our thoughts, issues, both pressing and otherwise, can shove their way past the goal, until it is simply forgotten or conscientiously abandoned. That’s usually how many New Year’s resolutions die. We want to drop those extra 15 pounds, but paying the bills takes precedence over diet and exercise.

When a goal is in your head AND in front of your eyes, it’s much more difficult to neglect or ignore than when it’s kept secretly in your mind, but writing it down is just the first step. Place the written goal in a spot that can’t be ignored, like the corner of your computer monitor or on the mirror you stare into at the beginning and end of each day. The more times you see that goal, the stronger the image your mind creates around it.

You can also take it a step further by sharing your goals with other people, creating an accountability contingent that will ask you about your progress. Before long, you’ll become known as the guy who wants to run a marathon or the girl who wants to own a restaurant. It takes some guts to put yourself out there like that, but courage is an important part of successful goal pursuit, and it’s helpful to have others supporting you.

I did graduate cum laude, though it came down to the very end, and I barely made it. I was so close that I am convinced that, without that sign, as altered as it might have been, I wouldn’t have achieved my goal.

Try writing down a goal that is important to you. If it’s that important, it’s worth writing down. Even if you have to get out the scissors and modify it later, you’ll be closer than you would have been otherwise.

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You Don’t Have to be an Athlete to Recognize the Emotion

paradeofchampions

Imagine working for hundreds of hours over several years to realize a dream. Imagine needing just one more victory to achieve that goal. Now, imagine walking side-by-side with someone who has the same goal, but if he wins, you lose.

That’s exactly what will happen on Saturday afternoon at the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament during the “Parade of Champions,” one of the neatest annual traditions in Nebraska high school sports. In the final three hours of the three-day state wrestling tournament, 56 wrestlers will end their wrestling season with the referee raising their hand as a state champion. Another 56 will experience a level of dejection that they have probably never experienced and might not ever experience again. For two minutes though, they all experience the Parade of Champions.

I first saw the Parade of Champions in 1989, as a college freshman, when I attended the tournament with a classmate who had won championships the previous two years. I last saw the Parade of Champions last year, 26 years later, as the parent of a wrestler who came up one match short of participating in the Parade. The format has changed slightly over the years, as well as the venue, but the intensity remains extremely high, even for a spectator in the stands.

The wrestlers enter the 15,000-seat arena walking side-by-side with the opponents they will face in their championship matches. The public announce system will play Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” as they are led in a processional which will end with opponents facing each other on the very mat upon which they will decide the championship. The 15,000-plus fans will be on their feet cheering for wrestlers who typically wrestle in front of a few hundred – their successes often relegated to the box score section of the sports page. It’s an incredible affirmation of their journey.

(You can see video of the ceremony at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq0CiBDBbxA (skip ahead to the 2 minute mark) or at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2r_6n-BrLY for a version of the Parade that happened before most of these wrestlers were born.)

To get here, they each won three consecutive matches in a bracket containing the other 14 state-qualifying wrestlers in their weight class. Those guys are either in the stands, wishing they were on floor, or on the bus on their way home. For months, and most often years, the championship contenders have trained for this moment. They have endured some of the most intense practices a high school athlete can endure. They have made countless sacrifices to get here. Many haven’t tasted soda or fast food since November, as they transformed their bodies into lean wrestling machines.

Most of them have missed the championship match in previous years, so they understand the significance of the moment. In fact, they have likely dreamt about this moment, as they left practice, sore, tired and worried about their next match. To convince themselves to persist in their journey, they have probably pictured where they will display their championship medal.

Their coaches, teammates, friends and family will watch with bated breath, hoping their wrestlers will end the season with their hand held high. There will be celebrations for the winners and a long, restless night for the losers. The seniors know that this will be their last chance to make a dream come true. The underclassmen don’t know what the future holds, and as wrestlers, they know that they must seize their opportunity, because there is no entitlement in wrestling.

The entire scene is a microcosm of life. Long after the wrestlers unlace their wrestling shoes for the last time, they will experience adulthood’s shocking successes and crushing disappointments. It’s unlikely that their subsequent victories and defeats will be broadcast statewide and happen in front of an arena of expectant eyes, but they will take the lessons they learned on this stage and benefit from them.

Whether they land the big job or lose the major account, they will understand that both victory and defeat are temporary and that they must continue to apply themselves and the lessons they learned in order to reach their goals, like they did to be right here, in this moment.

We all have had pinnacles in our lives – moments when our dreams were realized or crushed – so it should be easy for us to empathize with the drama from our seat in the arena or from our sofa at home. That’s what makes sports so compelling. You don’t have to be an athlete to recognize the emotion.

Notes:

This is real reality TV, and it’s available on public television at 3 pm this Saturday, if you can’t be at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, you can see all of the final matches online at http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/sports/nsaa-high-school-championships.

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Beating the Elusiveness of Motivation

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A stranger at the gym approached me a couple of months ago, and asked a very simple question: how do I stay motivated? Al shared with me that he is 73, and had recently suffered a mild heart attack. His doctor said that, if he wanted to be around much longer, he needed to exercise. In his few gym visits, I was one of the constants, so he sought me out.

I was flattered, but also stunned that he was struggling with motivation, after an experience like a heart attack and hearing advice like that from his doctor. If I were in his shoes, and my life depended on it, they would have to lock me out of the gym, yet he was struggling with motivation. That’s how elusive motivation can be for some people; even the prospect of death can fail to motivate.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Motivation is actually easy to find by asking three questions:

  1. What do I want?
  2. What am I willing to do to get what I want?
  3. How can I habitualize doing what I need to do to get what I want?

What do you want? A want is something that you don’t currently have, and it can take many forms – both material and otherwise. When I was younger, the desire to add muscle and to bench press more than my friends were the wants that brought me to the gym. Now, my vanity has taken a backseat to practicality, and my motivation to exercise regularly has become driven by my want to be as physically active as possible.

I actually have an unfair advantage here. Because God blessed me with a fragile physical condition, I’m more keenly aware of my body than most, feeling the benefits of frequent exercise AND the repercussions of not exercising more profoundly than most. I know that my legs will be stronger and more flexible, if I exercise at least three times per week. I will also have more energy, and as I approach age 45, energy is at a premium.

I want that strength, flexibility and energy.

What are you willing to do to get what you want? For most, this is the more difficult question to answer, because it requires effort/movement. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

When we are at rest, we tend to stay at rest, i.e. in our comfort zone. Motivation is the force that moves us toward our goals, and without it, we don’t progress. If I stay at rest, my body will deteriorate much more quickly than an average person, and ultimately, life’s simple tasks will be much more difficult than the most strenuous of workouts. Because, I’ve done both, I know that it’s much more pleasant to spend five to six hours per week in the gym, pushing my body past its limits than it is to struggle to the breakfast table in the morning. I’ll choose exercise over that any day.

I am willing to spend an hour at least four days per week in strenuous exercise, because I want that strength, flexibility and energy.

How will you habitualize doing what you need to do to get what you want? Though the word habit often has a negative connotation, habits can be equally positive. Habits are behaviors that become assumed recurrences through repetition, and they are very powerful. Just like smoking is a bad habit that is hard to stop, exercise, eating well and reading are good habits that can be hard to stop too.

I tell people that I think of going to the gym like I think about brushing my teeth; it’s just something that I need to do, and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. That’s how powerful a positive habit can be. Like a smoker will light a cigarette without even thinking, I find myself in the gym without even thinking. A habit like that requires the kind of strict consistency and discipline I have practiced over the years, because it can be undone in a fraction of the time it took to develop it.

I protect my exercise habit by spending an hour at least four days per week in strenuous exercise, because I want that strength, flexibility and energy.

Several weeks passed before I saw Al in the gym again, and I had grown concerned that he had given up. As he saw me approach, a smile spread wide across his face, and he took a break from pedaling his stationary bike to tell me a story.

“I want to thank you for motivating me that day,” he began. “You want to know what really stood out?” he asked rhetorically. “You said, I want to live. I want to live, and that’s why I’m here.”

I honestly don’t remember being that profound, but I was happy with the outcome. Al and I are going to keep each other alive and active.

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New Year’s Resolution? Uh, Try Again!

Did you already blow your New Year’s resolution? Didn’t even bother to make one this year? You’re not alone, but it’s not too late.

According to a study by the University of Scranton, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2014:

  • 25% of people who make New Year’s resolutions maintain them less than one week
  • another 4% make it just one more week
  • by the end of the first month, 36% have given up
  • at six months, just 46% are still adhering to the promises they made to themselves at the beginning of the year
  • only 8 percent remain committed to their resolutions for the entire year.

Fewer than half of us even try.

If you have beaten the odds, and your resolution remains intact, congratulations! Don’t quit. If you haven’t made a resolution or it hasn’t worked out for you, hope is not lost, if you don’t let failure intimidate you into a resolution-free year.

While the beginning of the year is a good time to start a self-improvement mission, it’s not the only time, and just because you dropped the ball early, the game can continue, if you pick it back up. 300-plus days is too long to wait to try again.

First, we need to acknowledge that failure isn’t exclusive to us. The statistics above bear that out. When we try something that is new to us, like dieting or budgeting our money, we’re stepping away from the comfort of familiarity, we’re pushing our boundaries and we’re exposing ourselves to failure. These are good things, because they help us grow and enhance our experiences.

In strength-training parlance, this is called the last set (* explanation below), and I’ve been teaching my son about it. When you have pushed yourself hard in previous sets, it’s tempting to take it easy on the last set, which is exactly the wrong thing to do, because the last set is when the most development happens. The last set should have a success rate of less than 50%. This is when you add more weight than you know you can lift, and though you’ve never done it before, you convince yourself that you can lift it.

Patrick gets mad when he doesn’t get all the reps in his last set, but I assure him that he accomplished more by trying and failing than he would have by lifting a comfortable weight. Besides, he can try again during the next workout. When he does get all of the reps, the sense of accomplishment motivates future workouts. He experiences growth and success when he exposes himself to failure.

Second, we need to accept that failure isn’t synonymous with defeat. Famous inventor Thomas Edison was fond of saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If you didn’t exercise three times per week, like you said you would at the beginning of the year, don’t give up. Just figure out why you didn’t exercise as consistently as you would like. Do you need to do a better job of scheduling your time? Do you need to go to bed earlier? Do you need to work on your motivation? Repeat the cycle of planning, trying, evaluating and trying again, until you are successful.

Lastly, find some way of optimizing accountability. Many of us find it much easier to make excuses to ourselves than to make them to others. I’m guilty of this one, so I tell my wife what I have resolved to do, and you better believe that she holds me accountable. Not only will she quiz me about my progress toward my goals, she has trained our kids to do it too. I often write, even when I don’t feel like it, because I know that someone is going to ask me about it during dinner that night, and it’s a lot more pleasant to talk about progress than it is to make excuses.

If you are more comfortable keeping your resolutions private, it’s still important to optimize accountability. Writing down your goals and tracking your progress in writing is a very good way to do this, and my good friend Jeff Beals has some excellent advice to help with this, in his recent column, This Is Why You Don’t Accomplish All Your Goals.

New Year’s resolutions have helped many achieve goals that were previously out of their reach and to achieve them more quickly than they otherwise would have. The self-improvement opportunity that a resolution provides is much too powerful to limit to an annual event or to abandon because of an early mistake. Make this year as good as it can possibly be by resolving to do something that you know you need to do.

* Most strength-training sessions consist of sets of repetitions of a particular exercise, with short rests between. As an example, an athlete might do two sets of ten repetitions of a leg press, i.e. he does ten leg presses followed by a break, followed by ten more leg presses.

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Halfway There and Gaining Speed

I passed a milestone of sorts last month – theoretically, the halfway point of my professional career.

My career began 20 years ago, in May 1992, when I graduated college. I still remember that entire week very well. I was an honor graduate, which meant that my parents and I attended a couple of functions honoring high-achieving students, including a breakfast on that Friday morning of graduation. I was very good at school, and I already had a job locked up, so it was logical to expect great immediate career success.

Though I’ve had success in my career, I have a lot left to accomplish, and some quick math has amplified the urgency. If I want to at least semi-retire at age 62, I’m half-way there, but not half-way to my goals. Like a NASCAR team in the middle of a race, I’ll need to make adjustments for a strong finish.

Just like college students preparing for a career, NASCAR teams spend hundreds of hours preparing for each race, trying to set up the cars for optimal performance. They test tire combinations and modify the car’s suspension to help the car speed around the track as quickly as possible, minimizing tire wear. They look for any aerodynamic edge, and they prepare their driver with a strategy to be at the front when the checkered flag waves.

Many times, shortly after the green flag waves, all of that preparation goes for naught, as the track conditions change or the car doesn’t respond well to the planned set-up. In this situation, the driver and his crew try to diagnose the problem and correct it as quickly as possible to enable the driver to have a legitimate shot of being out front when the checkered flag waves.

The race to improve performance is a race within the main race, as teams in the pit and garage area try to make their adjustments before their competitors do. The sooner you can optimize your car, the sooner you can make your way to the front of the pack. If others make their adjustments before you or make better adjustments than you make, your race to the front is compromised. Those who don’t make needed adjustments or take too long to make adjustments take themselves out of the race.

I’ve been fine-tuning my career for several years now, making dramatic adjustments ten years ago with a move back to my home state and a change in professions. Now, I just need to make minor adjustments, as the laps seem to speed by even more quickly with each passing year. Though I might not be where I had hoped to be by this point, I like my chances of a strong finish, because I am now much better at making adjustments. That’s the power of age, wisdom and experience.

Napoleon Hill in his book, “Think and Grow Rich,” says that most people don’t experience great success until after the age of 40, because they spend much of their youth in pursuit of the wrong goals, most often, the attention and affection of the opposite sex. As we age, we become more confident in who we are, no longer needing the affirmation of the opposite sex. In addition, we’ve learned from past mistakes and failures. That experience, coupled with the confidence and focus to make adjustments, makes the second half of most careers far more successful than the first halves.

Comedian Jacob Cohen struggled mightily in the first few years of his career, joking that the location of one of his gigs was so far out that it was reviewed in Field and Stream. Discouraged and in debt, he quit stand-up comedy and made a living selling aluminum siding.

Not until he revised his routine to build off his personal struggle to get respect from others and reinvented himself as Rodney Dangerfield did he experience the success with which we identify him yet today. He was 42 years old, 25 years after his first paying stand-up comedy act.

Whether you are well past halfway in your career, or well short of it, be proud of what you’ve accomplished and don’t hesitate to reach for more. Your reach is stronger and better directed than it was at the beginning of your career. Resolve to take advantage of maturity and experience rather than lamenting lost youth. With the proper adjustments, your goals are still within reach.

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Are You Settling?

Bleachers are a pain in my rear, and not just because they are uncomfortable. Bleachers are a pain for me because they entail climbing. Often, especially in smaller and older venues, bleachers have no railings and steep steps. You almost have to be a mountain goat to climb some of the bleachers I’ve seen.

Because of that, I’m typically relegated to the bottom rows, where I sit among the senior citizens and struggle to see the action at ground level, as spectators swarm past me on their way to their seats or the concession stand. Recently, at one of my son’s wrestling meets, another parent sat with me just briefly before he asked, “How can you stand it down here?” We clearly had one of the worst vantage points in the entire gymnasium.

Over the years, I’ve conditioned myself not to expect things that are beyond my reach – like the view from the upper rows of the bleachers. We all do this.

We might want to drive an expensive new car, but we realize that the old clunker gets us around just fine, and more importantly, is within our budget. We complain about the weather and threaten to move, but never do, because where we live is about more than just the weather. We would love to find the ideal house of worship, but accept what is convenient enough for regular attendance.

Life is full of these sorts of compromises. Without them, happiness would be elusive, and we would be overwhelmed with frustration and envy. The key is finding the right level of compromise in the right areas of our lives at the right time.

My first job after college was teaching at a Catholic school. The job was great and fulfilling, but the compensation was not. My meager salary kept me from buying the kind of vehicle I dreamt of buying when I became a professional, and I was forced to live in a dilapidated house that wasn’t nearly as nice as the apartment I lived in while in college. Those financial sacrifices were prudent, and though I realized that the job would never provide the kind of lifestyle to which I aspired, I began to settle and ignore my goals. Only when the lady who would become my wife came along did I suddenly remember what I wanted and how I planned to get there.

Just as an athlete conditions himself to higher levels of performance, we can condition ourselves to lower levels of performance. We realize that we can get away with mediocre or below performance at our jobs, and that makes it easier to get through the day at a job we really don’t like anyway. Before long, the only thing motivating us is a paycheck that we really didn’t earn, but will gladly accept. If we’re lucky, that paycheck is sufficient for us to maintain a comfortable, but not extravagant lifestyle.

Early on, we might experience that nagging sense of personal dissatisfaction, but as time passes, we learn to suppress that and settle for far less than our capabilities. We forget about the world we once aspired to, and instead accept the world that is attainable with minimal effort. That’s where I was with my teaching job.

Ted Williams took that to the extreme. Williams, now the voice-over artist for Kraft Foods and others, was a homeless drug addict just two years ago. Gifted with a smooth, natural voice for radio, Williams had a successful career as a radio personality in Columbus, Ohio, before falling victim to drug and alcohol abuse, an affliction that turned him into a homeless criminal for the next 25 years, before he was discovered by a Columbus Dispatch reporter. Thanks to the power of the Internet, the reporter’s interview with the then homeless man quickly spread, as fascinated people forwarded it through their networks nationwide.

After interviews on nationally syndicated morning television programs validated his story, Williams began receiving job offers including a full-time job with Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team. Unfortunately, he wasn’t immediately able to kick his old habits, and he soon found himself in rehab twice.

He had conditioned himself to expect very little from himself, and it was difficult for him to cope with the increased expectations. Instead of accepting and embracing heightened expectations, he slipped back into a life of comfortable under-achievement, even though that plunged him into the hell that is addiction. That’s how powerful the temptation to settle is.

Currently, Williams is living sober and supporting himself as a voice-over artist. As with all addicts, his recovery is still tenuous. The temptation to accept less will always be there, as it is with all of us.

Are you accepting less from yourself than your potential allows? Are you sitting at the bottom of the bleachers when you could be at the top? Challenge yourself to reach toward your potential and commit yourself to consistent effort, resisting temptations to coast into comfort. The meter is running.

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