We all have goals. Let me rephrase that. We all need goals. Goals are what get us out of bed in the morning on the days we just want to sleep in. They give us hope, they keep us going—they provide us with purpose. Be it in CrossFit, your career or your personal life, clearly established goals serve as building blocks that help you progress within your respective field. But it’s not all roses. Sometimes, our own ambition can get in the way of our development as athletes and individuals. By continually assigning yourself multiple goals, you may be unknowingly sending yourself on a path towards failure. Here are 3 reasons why you should stop setting so many goals.

1. Multiple goals damage your focus
I’m sure you have plenty of goals within CrossFit. Getting a muscle-up, nailing double-unders, a bodyweight snatch, a sub 3-minute Fran—the list is endless. In fact, it’s impossible not to have multiple goals within CrossFit, because as an athlete you are constantly developing and setting the bar higher. The challenges will never stop coming.

Therefore, the trick is not to spread yourself thin by attempting to give each goal a small portion of your focus. How will you ever grow as an athlete if you’re only able to spend 20 minutes a week working on one of your five separate goals? Doesn’t it make more sense to devote one to two hours a week to becoming competent in a single task before moving on to the next one? When you have a sole objective in your head, you can focus your attention on it like a laser. When you achieve said goal, you can move on to the next one with a stress-free mind. This method of specifically working your way through a set of goals, one after the other, touches upon the concept of periodization in training. The term ‘periodization’, in a brief nutshell, is the segmentation of training into blocks of time that allow some degree of emphasis on certain traits over others (block periodization). Periodization revolves around the athlete’s competitive calendar so that he or she is at a competitive peak for competition. Athletes and coaches who use periodization within their training are able to structure the program around a primary goal, while filling in the ‘gaps’ with more randomized (but smart!) training that takes the secondary goal(s) into consideration. So if your primary goal was to get stronger, you would implement a structured strength program into your training. This would then be accompanied by metabolic workouts that will continually vary, but not be so random as to interfere with your strength training. So secondary goal programming should look to highlight exercises or elements that are a particular weakness for you within actual CrossFit WODs. Once these weaknesses are improved sufficiently, you can then move on to the next element that needs work.

2. When you have a long list of goals, you tend to pick the easiest option—not the most important one
Another problem with having multiple goals is that an athlete will usually focus on the one that is the most easily attainable. But what if the objective that requires the most effort is also the most important to the athlete? Lets say an athlete wanted to work on their Olympic lifts, with three specific goals of developing their strength, flexibility and speed. For arguments sake, this particular athlete has a solid base of strength that just needs a little extra boost. In other words, not a lot of work needs to be done in this department. But because he or she knows that they have three goals, all of which require some level of work, the easiest choice is to stick with the goal that they can achieve quickly. Unfortunately for this athlete, they are lacking in speed and flexibility—two crucial pillars of Olympic Weightlifting. By deciding to stick with the ‘easy’ option and work on strength, the athlete has ignored the areas they should have been working on, and their performance will suffer as a result.

An easy way to remedy such a predicament is to take a step back and honestly analyze yourself—or have someone do it for you. Where do you need the most work? Where is the biggest hole in your fitness? How can its development benefit your athletic capabilities? With the assistance of your coach, you can narrow down a long list of goals to one or two crucial ones that can have the biggest impact on your progress as a CrossFitter.

3. Achieving goals requires breaking old habits
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks—or so the saying goes. Let’s be honest: breaking habits is hard. If you are used to going to bed and waking up at a certain hour, it can be an almighty struggle to suddenly switch up your routine and wake up an hour earlier—worse so if you then have to go and work out. And we all know how tough it is to correct the tiniest of irregularities when it comes to working on our Olympic lifts or flexibility. Years of doing something and moving in a certain way have formed habits, and they often need to be broken to achieve the milestones we set for ourselves. But to reiterate: breaking habits is hard. So if you are attempting to achieve multiple goals at once, then you are likely also trying to break multiple habits at once. This is a recipe for disaster. There’s another famous saying that is appropriate in such a situation: “Work smarter, not harder.”

It takes time to break out of a pattern and develop a new routine—but it’s worth it. Don’t complicate the process by trying to break 3 different patterns at once! To tie things up rather nicely, combining the previous two points can lead to success in this one. If you’re pulling too early in the snatch, work on being patient with the lift and keeping your arms straight until the last possible moment. Spend time before and after class working to correct the faulty habit. DO NOT focus on it for a day then come back to it the following month. Devote consecutive days, perhaps even a week to working on this part of your lift and you’ll be thankful for the extra effort you decided to put in.

Perfection in CrossFit is impossible. Even the elite spend countless hours working to refine and hone their craft. Don’t expect to be able to achieve all of your goals at once—or maybe even after a year! You’ll be surprised how narrowing your objectives down to one or two can be far more fruitful. I had struggled with muscle-ups for a solid year, but it was only till recently that I actually dedicated my time to work on the necessary progressions to become more efficient in the movement. A month or so of pre and post-WOD muscle-up work and voila! The muscle-up was achieved. As CrossFitters, we’re always trying to be efficient with our movements—we should apply this philosophy to our goals as well.

William Imbo
William Imbo is an Associate Editor at BoxLife magazine, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer and holds an MPS in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown University. He is an avid CrossFitter and loves film, music and travel, thanks to having grown up across Europe. A fan of the New Orleans Saints and Newcastle United, Will's favorite CrossFit girl is Helen-least favorite being Isabel.

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