Marnie McBean is one of Canada’s most decorated Olympians, and an expert in turning potential into performance. Drawing on years of experience as a top competitor, she leaves audiences with a recipe for success—one that transcends sport and that can be applied to any endeavour. As a Specialist in Olympic Athlete Preparation and Mentoring for the Canadian Olympic Committee, McBean prepares athletes emotionally and psychologically to ensure that they perform at the highest level in everything they do. Marnie is also the author of The Power of More: How Small Steps Help Us Achieve Big Goals and she shares her thoughts on goal setting an two excerpts from the book, below:
One week into 2014 and, if you’ve set a (or some) resolution(s) you should be eight days into them now. Just curious…How’s that going for you?! Statistics on sticking to New Years resolutions are terrible! Depending on what source you look at, the success rate can be only 5-15%. Come on! We can do better than that!
Actually starting a task can be the hardest part–I get it–but personally, I don’t understand why people wait until January 1. to begin any goal. Goal-achieving can be hard enough without letting the start of the Gregorian Calendar be what pushes your start button. I believe that using the calendar to inspire action is like using a false friend for a buddy; in a pinch–will they go out of their way to back you up when you need it? You want to start something? Start it! You want to change something? Change it!
I’m not saying having New Year’s resolutions is wrong. I suppose if having a deadline to finish a goal works so well for me, then having a deadline to start a goal can work for others. In either case, I believe the key to success is in the ownership of the goal itself. No goal will be easy to achieve, but if you believe the goal is yours, something you-want-for-you, then the easier it is to stay committed to.
The more involvement you have in the initial planning, instigation, and performance of a goal, the more motivation, commitment, and accountability you’ll have as you progress along your goal-achieving path. When that is the case, as you progress it should feel as if you are making choices that will help achieve your goal–not that you are making sacrifices that will ‘ruin your day.’ This isn’t exclusive to adults. Too often I hear stories where parents have, with best intentions, taken care of all of the planning, the start date and even a lot of the ‘tricky’ or more challenging elements of a goal/task that belongs to their child and then they wonder why their child has no commitment to it.
A lot of what I do as a speaker and mentor is about helping people stay connected to their goals and to embrace the natural ups and downs that come with applying their ambition. My book, The Power of More is designed to help everyone stick to and achieve their goals, regardless of the goal’s size.
Goal Setting – It All Starts Here
If you’ve set yourself a big goal, or a long-term one, sooner or later it’s going to get difficult. There will be mental, physical, and emotional challenges every step of the way. If the goal is a passion goal, something you need to do, then it doesn’t matter what the challenge is: you will remain hungry to try. Your ambition and drive will continue to push you to learn and do more. Your passion won’t allow you to be content with your current status.
Some goals need a lot of energy and ambition, others just a little. A passion goal can sometimes fade into something you just want, or maybe you realize it’s more someone else’s goal than your own. Either way, the natural evolution for many goals is that at some point you will run out of the ambition needed to keep you spinning for more. When your goal becomes something you barely even want to do, it is easy to notice everything you are missing out on—the sacrifices. It’s more likely to feel like a burden.
This is another reason why it is so important, when setting goals, that you be clear why you are (re)setting, and accepting, a goal. Is it really your goal? Are you prepared to embrace it as your goal? Even easy goals require some ambition and effort, and that’s going to have to be applied by you. It’s not likely that you’ll know all of the details at the outset, but it’s important to have some idea of what you are getting yourself into. If you willingly choose to go forward, then the challenges that will follow will be easier to embrace. In the absence of choice, when challenges pile up, you can become bitter about all that you aren’t doing—your sacrifices—instead of being engaged by the effort and rewards of what you have chosen to do.
If the goal is simply something you want, then your level of confidence plays a bigger role. Because confidence naturally waxes and wanes, when you are setting your goal, you need to develop a specific vision about what is important to you. When your level of confidence is low, you tend to lose some of your ambition. You then question how hard a bit more might be rather than paying attention to how much you want to achieve your goal. The thought of the effort blocks the connection to the goal. Are you willing to risk disappointment or failure? If you know how much you want to achieve the goal, and even why you want it, you may be willing to give a bit more.
People often use past failures to put limits on themselves. But failing once does not mean failing forever. Anything worthwhile is likely going to be hard. Your previous expe- riences should be used as a tool to help you understand the challenges you now face, not as a weapon to discourage you from trying.
Developing a Plan
The first step to achieving your goal is developing a plan that outlines the path you will follow to achieve your dream. That path is your task. The second thing you need to convert those dreams into goals and achieve them is ambition. It is the magic that actually starts you moving; everything is still just an idea until you apply ambition and actually try.
Ambition drives us and unsettles us. We watch, learn, listen, and respond based on our ambition. It compels us to try harder or try more. Having dreams and creating goals for ourselves is fun, but it’s not until we start applying our ambition to them that they become real and we start moving toward achievement.
Some people are very ambitious; others, not so much. That’s just part of what makes us who we are. The amount of ambition applied to a goal determines how driven and hungry to improve and achieve we are—or aren’t. Big goals require big doses of ambition, but ambition can also be applied to goals in small, conservative doses. Imagine that we have our own pot of ambition and that we can choose how we want to spread it around. Do we put it all toward just one or two goals? Or do we multi-task and spread it among many? Again, that is up to each individual and makes each of us who we are. When it comes to ambition, there is no right or wrong.
So why is setting a path to achieve your goals important? As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” And I’ll add—or nowhere at all. It’s easier to apply your ambition to the goal-setting path, which is something you can actually work on, instead of the final goal. I’ve seen too many people who are frustrated because they want to do or be something—but they haven’t taken the time to figure out what or how.
If I had mapped out my initial plan to get to the Olympics, it might have been as straightforward as this:
1 Find sport and learn it
2 Make club team
3 Make senior national team
4 Perform better and faster than everyone else
5.Win at Worlds and Olympics
I had a path; I knew my task. The first day I took a learn- to-row class, my dream became my goal.
It amazes me to think back and realize that this was how simple I thought my path was—I was so naive! But it had to start somewhere, and sometimes starting is the hardest part. The inertia of doing nothing can be very difficult to overcome. As I progressed and learned more about what was required, I understood that I needed to add many (many!) more images to this path in order to achieve my goal—but I had started. And, as the law of inertia says, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. The more I learned, the more I learned that there was still more to learn. (And just as a body at rest tends to [contentedly] stay at rest, the less you know, the less you are aware what there is to know—which is why some auditions on tv talent shows are so hilarious! Some people really have no idea how much they don’t know or how bad or off key they are!)
The number of actual steps required to achieve each of my initial steps grew exponentially as I went along my path. There were levels of club teams, levels of national teams, and levels of performance on the world and Olympic stage to master. The complexity of technique, improved fitness, advanced strategy, team selection and politics, life balance, health maintenance, and stress management was unimaginable to me as I began. Which is just as well, because had I known the size of the task, it could very well have discouraged me from ever starting.
When creating a path to achieve any goal, it is not immediately necessary to know the details of the last steps. Chances are, by the time you get close to achieving the goal, you will have had to adjust and update your path numerous times. What you do need when creating the path is to be very clear about your first step, the task that you need to work on today. As you progress, you will learn the details for the steps required in the future.