How skiing goal setting is like building York Minster!
Skiing Dream Goals
There seems to be an amount of confusion over “goal-setting”.
This seems to be because almost everyone holds a tacit belief that they know what is meant when the phrase is used. But there is much misunderstanding, and for these reasons I offer the following metaphor and technical considerations.
Becoming the best skier you can be, is analogous to constructing a fine building; one that will impress, and last for a very long time. If you’re going to do this, you need to have a long term vision to sustain you in times of stress or setbacks. This is your long term goal, your dream, your vision of your most desired well formed outcome. In sports goal setting terminology, your Outcome Goal.
“Winning the Gold Medal” is an outcome goal. “Beating Manchester United on Saturday” is an outcome goal. “Skiing black bump runs” is an outcome goal.
When whoever it was decided that York Minster had to be built, this was his outcome goal. It was also a goal which he would never see achieved; the task was too big to be completed in one lifetime so he knew he could never bring it about. ( That's where it differs from your skiing goal – you can bring that about! )Nevertheless the journey was important enough that he knew a start had to be made, and the right people were recruited and set to work.
Skiing Performance Goals
For the next however many centuries, craftsmen worked on the project, arriving every day for the whole of their working lives, exercising their craft and often handing the work onto their sons as they became too old. It was a lifetime project for them, with no prospect of being there at the opening ceremony. Nevertheless they knew they were working on something of real value, and they maintained their focus on a daily basis.
What, apart from their pay, motivated them? Why did they not either just give up, or perhaps do the work, slipshod? They did it by having goals and taking pride in developing their skill. And two types of goal were available to them, the next of which were performance goals. Examples of these for them, could have been - “Carve the next stone with even more precision than its predecessor”; “Adze two more beams this week than last week”.
Performance goals are concerned with “outcomes”, as are “Dream” goals but their focus is more precise, and shorter term. You can think of them as the stepping stones toward your dream goals, without them your dream goal will remain just that - a dream. But how did those ancient masons, as they worked on the great cathedral bring about their performance goals?
Skiing Process Goals
They did it by working from minute to minute, hour to hour, using process goals. Both Dream goals, and Performance goals are desires, but they don’t get anything done. And we only get what we get, by doing what we do. And how we do it is pivotal to our success.
So our craftsman stonemason would diligently work to hold his chisel in precisely the right way, and precisely the right place, or to work it with his mallet with precision strokes. He would be constantly preoccupied with the process of what he was doing, and in that way could for long periods put to the back of his mind the enormity of the long term task upon which he was working and take constant and repeated pleasure from achieving his process goals.
And he would only do one of these at one time, never try to achieve two simultaneously - every time he did that he’d hit his thumb or knock the nose off a gargoyle and have to go back to the start.
Imagine he started out as an apprentice; at first his efforts at precision would be varied in their success. Sometimes the stone would be beautifully carved, but the next one might be mediocre. One side of a supposedly symmetrical pattern would be better than the other. Some work might even be rejected by his master craftsman.
Gradually though, the desired outcome, high quality carving, would become more predictable. The quality would gradually improve as well as its accurate repetition. The mason would become skilful. And when he was, he could do automatically what previously he had to concentrate hard upon.
That would free-up some of his attention span and perhaps he would begin to aspire to moving on to some of the more prominent and prestigious carving, perhaps one day to become a master carver himself.
The most important aspect of this story is to notice that in order to achieve either the dream goal of the project’s originator, or the performance goals of the craftsman's foreman, what worked, and what can only work, was for the performer of the work to concentrate, without self-criticism and with persistence and diligence, on the processes involved, so that his carving gradually improved and in so doing slowly but inexorably moved the project forward toward its distant and grandiose dream.
No point in worrying about the distant outcome - doing so would just get in the way and perhaps make the task seem impossible- just concentrate on immediate process goals so that the the quality of performance gradually improved. Let the eventual outcome take care of itself.
Skiing with Precision
The issue arises as to what will be the appropriate level of precision and detail in our goal setting, for each type of goal. Rather like weather forecasting it is very difficult to be extremely accurate and precise about things that are way out into the future. But accuracy, detail and precision are possible in the near-to.
So it is with effective goal-setting. You will I hope have noticed by now that effective goal setting is nothing to do with “targets”. The government’s “targets” for the health service, are not goals. They do not work like goals, and they do not - or so it would appear - work as motivators toward the achievement of the long term desired outcome.
Rather, what happens with “targets” (to which punitive codicils are often attached for non-achievement – how is that for motivation?) is that those to whom they have been applied spend much more of their time finding ways to ensure that the reported results appear as success, than they do working on the day to day processes which will bring it about. The old Russian planned economy was a classic example.
The idiots at the top realised that if the economy was growing, then one of the signs would an increased consumption of cardboard boxes in which the burgeoning production would be packed. Another sign would be an increased number of rail cargo miles travelled annually. What happened?
The designated cardboard box factory (government directed) got in cahoots with the “government directed) rail company, and millions of empty cardboard boxes were carried back and forth from one end of the country to the other. Two “targets” achieved at one stroke! Brilliant.
At last - skiing!
Now let’s transfer this to a ski run. Your dream goal is to ski steep deep powder, but all you currently get is mouthfuls of snow, and not much forward or downward progress. Keep your dream. Don’t ever let it slip away, but remember that it’s in the future, you can’t have it now. There's no shortcut. Unless you make cardboard boxes.
You are about to set off on a training run, of about 200 metres. You can now choose between two types of goal. If, let’s say, you are working on short radius arcs, and things have been going quite well today, you could set a performance goal - say, “three more arcs between those two lift pylons, than I managed last time”. This is your desired outcome, and in concentrating on it, you may well find you do, almost without thinking, what you need to do to bring it about.
OR - you could choose a process goal; something which if you do it – skilfully - will bring about a change in your effectiveness. So you might choose to execute a series of arcs with a faster rhythm, or to make leg extensions and flexions slightly more aggressively than hitherto; or concentrate on not allowing your torso to follow your ski tips's direction too closely.
By concentrating on these modalities of what you do, you will bring about changes in outcomes and if you are perceptive they will modify your performance. The key to this is to notice (uncritically) what you get from what you do, and maintain that connection. This may be the subject of another post.
I originally wrote this back in 2006. Hope you enjoy it, and that it's useful to you.
© 2006 Bob Valentine Trueman