Goal Setting - Redefined!

Updated: Jan 10

Goal setting has been talked about as this really big and important thing that we all need to do in our lives to attain success and to reach the dreams that we want. Often goal setting is done with the right intentions and passions at the start, but rarely is it ever really and truly followed through with. Personally, I have spent countless hours and tried varying different methods to goal set, and I keep coming back to the same result. I never really follow through with it or achieve my goal. The intentions and the willpower are there. I am excited about my big dream and goal to achieve. I follow the methods I have read about and researched. But time and again it slowly fades, and that big ambitious dream is put at the back of the cupboard somewhere gathering dust. Does this resonate and sound familiar with you also? This may sound bizarre, but it is because I focussed on my goal, I never achieved my goal. Read on to find out more.


Whether you end up reaching your goal or not, the following article is my way to try and present a method of goal setting that is sustainable and impactful. It is my personal system that I now use, and I have found that it is currently standing the test of time. So, to begin with, I am going to redefine goal setting and refer to it now as HABIT and BEHAVIOUR setting. This is the big fundamental shift of perspective for the whole process. You are not going to necessarily try and focus on achieving your goals anymore, but rather you are going to work hard at setting habits and behaviours that point towards your goal. The Navy Seals know and embrace this concept implicitly and live by the creed:


“When under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. Train well!”

Your training IS your habits and behaviours. You will begin to monitor and assess these habits and behaviours continually over time. You will become much more aware in the moment of your habits and behaviours you are or are not performing. You can now take your foot off the willpower accelerator by trying to achieve your goal, which ultimately is out of your control. And you will lean into things that you have full and ultimate control over i.e., your habits and behaviours. You will take control and ownership of your habits and your small decisions each day. Once you realise you have control over the millions of tiny little decisions, this is where the real power starts to build. We should strive to not be a spectator of decision making, but rather an active participant. There is never a 100% guarantee for success, but along the way, with incremental positive behavioural changes, you will become unstoppable in all you try and achieve. And you never know, the habits and behaviours you create along the way may just point you towards an even greater and different goal you had in your periphery.


“I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you, you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that your next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.” – Tim Minchin


Chuck Close


The contemporary artist Chuck Close is well known for his large portraits of faces that are composites made from multiple small geometric forms. The individual elements of the images are very visible when viewed close up, but merge when seen at a distance. He works in a non-traditional manner by combining many small geometric forms, usually squares or rectangles, to create a portrait. The individual elements he uses in making an image may be termed pixels. We can use this style that Chuck has perfected over the years as an analogy for goal setting. We need to break things down really small into individual pieces that, when looked at closely, may not be obvious to the end goal, but when combined and then zoomed out, make the picture perfectly clear. Anything can be achieved in life if broken down into small, manageable chunks. We need to begin to create our own real-life pixels and put them together to make a beautiful image.


“If you’re overwhelmed by the size of a problem, break it down into smaller pieces.” – Chuck Close


Marginal Gains


Sport is littered with world-class, record-breaking, hero-status, generation-defining athletes who simply mastered the art of marginal gains. You will be hard pushed to find an athlete interview from one of the greats where they attribute their success down to God-given natural talent and just effortlessly turn up and perform and win titles at the highest levels. What these athletes often talk about are their processes and habits. How they zoomed in and looked at the minutiae, the pixels, and started to employ these and use them on a daily and weekly basis over a long period of time. Can you begin to break down your big ambitious goals into smaller, more manageable decisions, the types of decisions that need to be made correctly along the way? This is what greatness is. Not the game winning shot or the last-ditch Hail-Mary play. Greatness is being able to set your habits and behaviours, and then to stick to them over the course of time no matter your mood or motivation levels. The greatest have mastered the art of showing up no matter the conditions.


During an athlete’s career, there are rarely huge improvements that occur that move the needle significantly forwards in big leaps and bounds. It’s what is done on a small scale on a regular basis that creates the big breakthroughs. You may have heard the expression, “It takes 10 -years to become an overnight success.”? This is a very true and accurate saying and something we all should remind ourselves about constantly. The breakthrough result of an athlete, the amazing performance on X-Factor, the inventor that bursts onto the scene. Overnight success just does not happen! I am afraid to tell you, there is no magic wand or silver bullet. It’s the compounding effect of habits and behaviours that allow success to appear as well as to be sustained and stand the test of time.


Sir Dave Brailsford, the director of British cycling, has become famous for his concept of the aggregation of marginal gains to make British Cycling and Team Sky one of the greatest cycling teams ever, winning multiple Tour De France titles as well as multiple Olympic and World Championship medals! Marginal gains asks the question, “What can be done, even to the smallest percentage, to make us better?” Once you add all these percentages up over the course of a race, an event, a season, and ultimately a career, the results are mind-blowing! Can you make a small change in your life? The answer is often a resounding YES. Ok, then, once you have identified the small changes you can make, then you need to become very good at delivering on those small changes. These marginal gains are not the cherry on the top of your process, they are the ultimate key to unlocking your full potential. These marginal gains compound massively over time, but only if you give them time to compound by sticking at them.


“Because of the continuous and compounding nature of millions of decisions we face on a regular basis, even a marginal improvement in our process can have a huge impact on our end results” – Stephen Duneier

There are some amazing statistics about Novak Djokovic and how he was able to reach the world no. 1 position in tennis and be talked about as one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. Maybe put aside some of his questionable personal life choices for a second and look at the below table and see how the data stacks up. It has been possible to quantify Novak’s rise to the top of the world rankings.



Novak Djokovic rise from 2004-2016

2004-2005

2006-2010

2011-2016

Rank

100+

3

1

Prize money

$0.3M

$5M

$14M

% Matches Won

49%

79%

90%

% Points Won

49%

52%

55%


What this table presents is the small improvements in his % of points won during matches. This is by no means easy of course. But when Novak was able to make slightly better decisions in a match and improve his points won by just 3%, he catapulted up to world no. 3. Then building on this further, with an additional 3% improvement on his decision making and points won, he was able to achieve and sustain the world no. 1 slot and was earning north of $14 million per year in prize money alone.


In summary, we need to take these big complex ideas, these dreams, these ultimate goals, and we need to break them down to much more manageable tasks. And then along the way make marginal improvements to the process. If done steadily and consistently it ups the odds of success in your favour. By making a marginal adjustment to your daily routine and to your process, when compounded over time, the results can become astounding. What are you waiting for? Get to work! See below for the process on how to do this and my own personal examples of habit and behaviour setting.


“Habits are not a finish line to be crossed, they are a lifestyle to be lived” – James Clear


The habit and behaviour setting process


Below are a list of steps and processes, that if followed and stuck to, will increase the surface area for success in your life, both on and off the squash court.


1. Buy yourself a dedicated and stand-alone notebook that will be used purely for your habit and behaviour setting. This notebook needs to be sacrosanct to the process. Use this notebook only for this one purpose.


2. Find an accountability partner. Tell people about the habits and behaviours you are performing. Ensure your environment is attuned to your habits and behaviours. You want to minimise friction to perform your habit and behaviour. You need to become an expert at cultivating your environment around you for these habits and behaviours to take place. This is not just your physical environment, but also the people in your life that have a positive or negative influence over you also. For example, if you want to meditate in the evenings, tell your spouse or loved ones you live with about your intention so they can respect this and help you achieve this habit and behaviour by giving you