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There was once a point in my coaching and personal life that I didn’t have time to work on setting goals. I didn’t do it with the athletes I coached simply because I wasn’t doing it myself. I mean, with all the things that are happening in a typical training day, who has time to sit down and write out their goals on paper? It was a shame that I had lost so much time because I didn’t learn how goal setting taps into two ancient but powerful laws.
Now, I consider myself a smart and educated man but I was completely ignorant about how success happens. Success happens for those people who understand that success leaves clues from the people that came before us and all we have to do is to be smart enough to look for them. Who ever said that ignorance is bliss is fundamentally wrong. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is pain. Ignorance is tragedy. You have to know or you’re going to get hurt. You have to know not to walk out of a 10 story window. If you don’t know, boom, there you are dead at the bottom and all someone can say, “That poor man didn’t know.” After all you don’t have to like what you learned but you have to know it. Life is positive and negative. The negative is pain, misery, and unhappiness. The positive side of life is happiness, success, and prosperity. If you learn what I’m going to share with you, you’ll get on the positive side of the way life and success works.
Here is the first of the two ancient laws: The law of use. You’ve might of heard the saying if you don’t use it, you lose it. Or the way I like to say it, that the lack of use causes loss. If you take your arm and tie it to your body and leave it there long enough, you’ll never use it again. It’s over for the arm. The only way to keep the use of the arm is to use it.
You lose automatically when you quit. They aren’t going to ask you for your opinion or talk about how you feel about it. You lose automatically when you quit. Now the same principle that applies to the body holds true for our brain, mentality and all other of our virtues.
Ambition unused, decreases. Strength unused, decreases. Speed unused, decreases. It’s all part of the law. Energy unused decreases.
We hear it all the time from athletes, “Coach, I’m saving up my energy.” No, you can’t do that. It’s like trying to say today and put it on the end of the year. You just can’t do that. If you don’t use today, what happens? It’s lost. A talent unused is lost. An ability unused is lost. An arm unused is lost. You may not like this law, but I didn’t ask you to like it. I asked you to understand it.
The second law that you need to understand is the law of sowing and reaping. The university I’m at has a very long and distinguished agriculture program so maybe that is how I learned this law using farming terms. How I learned this law isn’t as important as what I learned about it. For a long time in my life I was confused on how this applies. I wasn’t reaping that well and I was blaming other things for my problems.
Here is my partial list of reasons why I wasn’t reaping better. Bad facilities. Unathletic athletes. Lack of coaches. People didn’t care. The list goes on and on. I had this entire list of reasons why I thought I wasn’t doing as well as I should, and then inspiration hit me. I was talking to one of our old agriculture science faculty members about the problems I was having and in his old farmer wisdom, he looked over his eye glasses and rephrased this law for me.
“Coach Pata, whatever you reap is what you’ve sown. Now you’ve seen what the problem is, you can get to work on it right away.”
That one hit me like a slap in the face. I’ll sum up the rest of the conversation for you. If you don’t like your crop, who do you talk to? Whomever planted it. Where do you find that person? Looking back at you in the mirror. In the fall, if you pull out some skinny and sickly carrots from the ground, who’s fault is that? Yours. In the spring, did you read the right books? Did you take care of your equipment so it didn’t break? Where you using old seed? Did you fertilize the ground? It took some time, and my ego was really beat up, but eventually with the help of my old farmer faculty member, I figured out the fine points of this law.
Understanding the ideas behind these two ancient laws, brings us back to the reason why goal setting is important. It’s important not just for sports, but it’s also important to life after sports. We often talk about all the benefits of being involved in athletics, and goal setting is no different. So you have to practice the ability to set and achieve goals every day in order to keep that ability in your life. In order to set goals you have to have faith.
'Faith to me, is the ability to see things as they could be. Now there is a fine line between having faith and being a fool. Faith requires you to work, being a fool requires you to hope. You hope things will change. You hope things will work out. You hope that success will just happen. Life doesn’t work like that. You have to understand that the only way life will change for you, is when you change. The way things change for you is when you have a clear image in your mind of what you could be like in the future. The path to that future you, is determined on the goals you set for yourself.
You have to make sure that the greatest pull on your life is the pull of the future. You have to review the past, but you cannot live in the past. It's fine to look at the past and learn the lessons from it, but it can be like gravity, always pulling you back. You see goals can be like magnets, pulling you towards them. When your goals are well thought out and developed in your mind and on paper, they become stronger, pulling you towards them constantly. That pull gets you through the good days, and through the bad days. All the ups and downs.
Goals are the reason we can believe things will be better than what they already are. When we allow our goals to pull us into the future, it unleashes a creative force that lets up overcome anything in our way.
When you have a well thought out goal, it starts a chain of events that lets us accomplish that goal. When you don’t have a well thought out goal, or without any goal, it starts that same chain of events. You see a year from now, five years from now, or ten years from now you are going to arrive. You are going to arrive at either a designed or un-designed destination. Here is how the trip is going to unfold.
Within all of us is unlimited potential. Think about it for a second. We are living in the most wondrous time in human existence. Food and water is abundant. Medicine is helping people live longer than they ever has before. All the knowledge in the world is at our fingertips on the computer or waiting for us in our local library. We are surrounded by abundance. All of the abundance is found within the freedom given to us. This freedom is not what most people think of, but the freedom I’m talking about is time. We are given the freedom to decide how much of our potential and our time we are going to spend on any specific task.
Making the choice on how much of your potential you are going to spend, might be the most important part of the upcoming chain of events. I say it's the most important part because when we make this choice it dictates the amount of action we decide to take.
When we decide to take action, this is where the laws of use and sowing and reaping comes into play. When people don’t put action behind their goals, those goals are lost.
Like the farmer who only plants a handful of pepper seeds in the ground will only produce a handful of pepper plants to grow. The farmer that plants a field of pepper seeds gets a field of pepper plants in return. Both those farmers had access to the same amount of seeds, but the amount of action they took is the main difference in their results. Remember, these farmers are not just getting what they sowed; they are getting more than what they sowed. Each plant produces more than the one seed it took to grow the plant.
It is the amount of action that we take that controls our results. If the first farmer says, “Well, I only got a handful of pepper plants to grow. There must be something wrong with the seed and soil.” That thinking is wrong. That farmer received small results because they took small action. If someone puts a little action into reaching their goal, then they receive a little success in reaching their goal. But when someone puts massive action into reaching their goal, then they receive a massive success in reaching their goal.
In the example of the two farmers planting pepper seeds, both these people have defined their goals which is pulling them into their designed future: they want to harvest peppers to sell or feed their family. They took action on that goal and depending on the level of action they took, then they received the level of results based off the amount of action they took. One farmer received a handful of plants and the other received a field of plants. This level of results feeds into the final part in the goal setting chain: creating a level of certainty. Everything that I’ve been talking about is part of one big cycle. You chose how much of your potential energy and effort you are going to put in to doing a task. That amount of potential dictates the level of action you are going to take.
Remember that minuscule action yields minuscule results and massive action yields massive results. Here is where certainty comes into play. If you were skeptical from the start and didn’t know if it was going to work, how much of your potential are you going to use? Just a little, right? So if you decide to use a little potential and take minimal action with it, how are you results going to be? Unless by chance you completely get lucky and fall into success, the results are going to be terrible. Now when you have to do this same task again, how certain are you about having success? If you are certain that it’s not going to work, that just feeds into your choice to apply your potential and action. Now that person is caught in a negative feedback loop.
On the other hand, the outcome could be completely different even though the steps stay the same. If you chose to put all your potential energy and effort into doing a task, that also means you are going to take massive action. When you take massive action, you get massive results. If you were absolutely certain that this plan was going to work and you took massive action and received great results. What is that going to do to your certainty? That is going to make you even more certain that this was going to be successful next time you have to do this task. The more certain you are about the outcome, the more of your potential you are going to use, which means the more action you take, which means you will get better results, which makes you even certain you are doing the right thing.
This is why goal setting is so important. In athletics, goals can be easier to accomplish because they are so dependent on improving physical traits. In the weight room, it’s easy to set a realistic goals to improve your body fat percentage, have a new personal best in a squat, running a specific 5-10-5 time, or any other trait we can test. Improving all of these things is relatively easy task for the athlete. Change your diet, change up the training, or change up your effort. Results will come in a somewhat fast timeline.
Deep down we are programed to understand the direct link between physical work and the changes in our body that happens when we are training. If you need even more proof, look at all the Rocky movies. The story lines are basically the same. There is some big, bad guy who Rocky cannot beat. Rocky goes to train. Then Rocky wins after getting the hell beat out of him. We all know that story, and we know what to expect but the movie has to keep with the same plan. We have to see Rocky suffering through all the training scenes. We have to see those scenes because the directors know that we the audience can only relate to the transformation that Rocky is going through, as long as we see part of the work that is happening. Watching that is much more satisfying to the audience than watching Einstein poor over his equations again and again, working the math until he finally has his Theory of Relativity. Both of those examples has everything to do with goal setting, but reaching the physical goals is something more exciting to watch and easier for us to understand.
That is how we start learning how to set up and use goals. We have a mental picture of what we want to do, and then we put in the work to make it happen. Once athletes can start managing how to set realistic goals with their training, they are building their body and physical skills but they are also working on their mental muscles. Goal setting is a mental talent and, if you remember from the beginning of this article, when talent isn’t used then we lose it. But when we do use it, over time it grows stronger and stronger. The more we use our talents; we become more confident and certain in our ability.
Imagine what it would be like to have a team of people that walk around with a swagger because they just know that they will accomplish anything that they set their mind on. How great would that be? That is why we have to be able to teach athletes how to set goals. It is possible to get people started on the path of absolute certainty in their life, just by planting the seed of confidence. That seed does not get planted in the ground, but in their mind.
Once the seed of confidence gets planted in their minds, then they simply don’t just reap what they planted. The athletes reap much more that what they planted. That level of unshakable confidence in their own ability to set and achieve goals is, in my mind, the most important thing that we can ever teach an athlete.
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