What do the Olympics Teach us about Goal Settting?

Goals – what do they mean?  How many years have we had formulas for setting goals?  What was the message?  How can we understand goals when we view the Olympics?

The underlying message with setting goals was this:  set the goals according to a set formula, work the goals and you’ll achieve them – all of them – you’ll have the success you desire!

Personally, I questioned the goal setting exercises and formulas?  Why?  Because what I saw in the world was this:

  • people who never set goals and achieved a great deal
  • people who set goals and achieved some
  • people who didn’t know what a goal or goal system was and yet achieved a satisfying life

I worked with seniors for five years and had some good chats with many of them.  I learned from some of them, the dreams they had when they were young and learned that most of them never really got to live their dreams.  Why?  Social norms, wars, parental pressures, illness, death in the family, lack of money, luck, etc.  Others achieved way beyond what they could ever dream.  Why?  Met the right people for all the wrong reaons, luck, family ties and connections, monetary resources readily available, good health, etc. 

Did you ever notice that when someone achieves success, interviewers ask them if they had a goal.  Sometimes the answer was yes and sometimes they said they achieved more than they could ever imagine. 

I wondered why interviewers  never talked to people who had failed and asked them if their goal was to fail.  Doesn’t make sense, does it?  No one sets out to fail.

Watching the Olympics and interviews with the athletes, all the athletes said they had a goal to get GOLD!  Every single one!  So, then why is it they didn’t? 

Did they fail to set a goal?  Did they fail to work hard to achieve that goal?  Did they not have a plan?  Did they have all the advice and training they required?  Did they make sacrifices?  Did they visualize?  Did they receive psychological training? Did they have the equipment they needed?  Were there facilities for them to practice?  Were there other competitions to win or lose?  Was there money available for them to prepare properly, have the right nutrition, get the right exercises to strengthen their bodies, etc?  The list is endless.

And this exemplifies for us the fallacy that goal setting is a definitive model for achieving what we want in lifethere are no guarantees that with or without goals, a person will achieve what they want out of life.  Everyone has a dream to achieve something.  For some, it materializes.  For others, the majority of the people, it doesn’t. The majority of the athletes will go home without a medal.  One athlete left the Olympics in casket – was that his dream?

At the Olympics, it’s very clear that, despite everyone dreaming, training, working hard, competing, sacrificing, spending money, planning, etc., not everyone gets a gold medal.  As it is for every other goal in life, there are many vying to achieve the same goal – only some will get there.  If everyone could achieve a particular goal, why would anyone dream of achieving it in the first place?  It would just happen.

Life is like that –  not everyone achieves the goals they set or live their dreams.  Why?  Because, as in sports, there are a multitude of factors including unforeseen obstacles to derail your dreams, people who have better luck than you, people who intentionally or unintentionally knock you out of contention, or events which impact your ability to reach your objective.

Should we set goals?  We all do.  Whether we formalize them on paper or not, we all have dreams.  Some of us will achieve all of our dreams, others something else entirely and for the majority, some goals some of the time.  

Is it still a good idea to go through goal processes and exercises?  I think it is if only to clarify what you really want and set realistic expectations of what is and is not possible.  Perhaps the goal of settings goals should be:  setting realistic expectations based on our strenghts and on the factors which will help or hinder us from getting what we want.   

Can the impossible be achieved?  Of course but a multitude of factors have to come together at just the right time, in the right circumstances, with the right people and mesh like no other – is that a goal?  Of course not. We can only control what we can control – everything else is unpredictable.  Calculating the odds of attaining what we want is probably a better plan!  

The Olympics can teach us a great deal about goals, about our attitudes towards not achieving the ultimate goal and about what’s really important – to live the best life we can – it won’t be for many as we had imagined – it could be better – it could be worse – it is what it is!  

How will we live the best life we can with what is available to us?

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