Friday, November 23, 2018

A different take on goal setting

Upper level event rider Matt Brown recently wrote an extremely candid article for Chronicle of the Horse about goal setting in particular, and the mental health implications thereof more generally.

 
In short? He shared a very personal look into how his fixation on specific outcomes ("Be selected to the Olympics team!") led him down a troubled road replete with dissatisfaction, anxiety, demoralization, and an overwhelming sense of fragility that crept into every aspect of his life -- even his personal relationships.

That finally, Matt hardly recognized himself anymore and realized he needed professional help to get back on track. This led him to begin aggressively researching mental health, and its interplay with our ambitions and approach to goal setting. And from this, he learned more about how to adjust and adapt his mindset and reevaluate how he sets goals in order to feel more fulfilled.

 
The article is definitely worth a full read -- especially since it appears to be Part 1 of a series. But I thought I'd share some quick thoughts on my general impression.

One major actionable takeaway from Matt's story is the importance of "process" v "outcome" goals. The idea being, often we have very very little control over specific outcomes, no matter how hard we try. And that if all our hope and happiness is tied up in something over which we have limited to no control.... We're setting ourselves up for disappointment.

 
Rather, he says we're not only likelier to succeed, but also likelier to be satisfied and happy with our efforts, when we focus on the "process" goals. Meaning, the steps we can control that naturally would lead to that desired outcome.

 
He uses dressage scores as an example: Focusing on a specific score would be an "outcome." Whereas focusing on the movements or our efforts in schooling etc are more related to the "process" of achieving that outcome.

 
Matt writes,
"Process goals are more conducive to actually feeling fulfilled on your journey towards a goal, and oftentimes are more useful in the actual accomplishment of your goal. Process goals consist of things that are within your control. They have mainly to do with your attitude, your behaviors, your thoughts, your level of effort and your actions. When we focus on the things we can control we can take ownership of our path, and we can make progress in any situation regardless of our circumstances."

 
This, to me, makes a lot of sense. And much like Olympic dressage coach Jane Savoie's idea of only ever using positive language in goal setting (ie, avoiding terms like no, not, stop, don't, won't, can't, less, never, etc etc), seems reasonably easy to adopt.

Winter is the season when many of us start thinking more deeply about goal setting for the coming year. And as I organize my thoughts, these words from Matt will be top of mind.

 
There's something else, tho, here -- another undercurrent that I think is especially important for me personally, and maybe some of you too.

It's that, from where I stand, from my perspective, Matt is so incredibly accomplished. He's done so much, achieved so much. And yet, here he is, honestly and without adornment sharing his struggles with feeling like he's not good enough, doesn't measure up, can't make the cut.

 
It's so common now with social media's highly curated photographs and video clips of only the best moments, that we're practically inundated with images and impressions of those around us achieving more, doing more, doing better, getting farther. And that if we're not careful, it's all too easy to fall into that trap of negatively comparing ourselves to all that. To look at our own circumstances, without the shiny filters and editing of what's presented online, and feel badly about ourselves.

 
And furthermore, to think that, if we could just reach that next level, make that next step, do that bigger jump or movement, then maybe we'd be happy like those people in the pictures too.

Matt's article tells us, tho, that not only does that mindset not actually lead us to happiness and satisfaction, but that it can actually rob us even further of our joy. And that even at the highest levels of this sport, there still always that next level to haunt you, if all you ever think about are outcomes.

 
Rather, even for us mere mortal amateurs, it's so important to focus our efforts on what we can control, and let the chips fall where they may. We invest too much in this sport --- infinitely more than time, money and energy --- to not be deriving happiness and satisfaction from it.

 
And so as I look toward evaluating my goals from this past year, and setting new goals for the year to come, all of this will very much be in my mind. And I'll be focusing on the process, those small steps that I love so much.

Did you read the article too? What did you think of it? Did any of the points resonate with you as well? Any takeaways or perspectives that stand out to you?

25 comments:

  1. What a great piece! Thank you for sharing it. I totally agree that being happy with the process/having process goals is so important. I've found that doing this and maintaining a growth mindset, while incredibly difficult some days, keeps me so much happier in the long run.

    And to the point about being like the happy people in photos...the photos I most love of others are the ones where they are smiling so big in the middle of their dressage test/jumping round/xc run/50-mile attempt. Not the end photo where they're smiling, but the process photo where their happiness is so contagious. I decided not long ago that I wanted to be that person; the person so happy in the moment that even with a less-than-perfect outcome, they'd still be thrilled because they got to Do The Thing. And it's not too surprising that when I started putting more emphasis on the process and being happy through all the tiny steps how much improved my overall mindset became.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it's definitely hard sometimes, but so worth it when i really try! agreed tho that trying to adjust my mentality has also helped me to stay happier with whatever comes my way.

      Delete
  2. I read this article too and it really resonated with me. I am very goal oriented, and can sometimes find my motivation to ride dwindling when I feel like I am not accomplishing enough toward my goals. Also, I liked the idea of a growth mindset instead of a fixed one. Instead of constantly working to prove that you are good enough, smart enough, talented enough, etc., view each mistake and victory as a growth opportunity that is helping you become better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh man, yea it can be so so hard to stay motivated without some sort of Big Thing to work toward...

      Delete
  3. This article was so perfectly spot-on, especially after just writing my own series in a similar vein. I'm really excited to see the other posts he writes if Part One is this good!

    I kind of adopted that growth mindset last winter without knowing that it was a "thing"...it's been a tremendous help, and I hope to keep it up and build from there. Starting to look at "problems" in my riding as challenge to overcome has helped keep things interesting instead of dragging me down into the whole "ugh I suck" mindset.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. for sure! i naturally have somewhat of a "process oriented" way of thinking anyway, but definitely breaking issues down into their component parts and trying to troubleshoot through them is SO MUCH KINDER to ourselves than just being like, 'whelp i guess i just can't do that....'

      Delete
  4. It hit a little too close to home for me. Not that I'm struggling with my place on the Team or anything. But I've really been working hard on my mental game. And I've noticed it seems everyone out there is too. We all seem to think we aren't good enough and are struggling. Well like 90% of us. But I like that is a conversation that is happening.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it's such an important conversation too. it's always amazing to me how horses as a sport in general can teach us so much about our mentalities and how to face life's biggest challenges...

      Delete
  5. I love the article. I'm very much of a fixed mindset, and so I loved his explanation of growth mindset and how much healthier it is. I think it's so easy to what I call, spiral, when things don't go as planned. We can spend so much time thinking about the plan, working towards the plan, and as he did, letting it consume your life, that the only realistic answer to the plan failing is to become depressed. I applaud his candor as well as his perseverance. He's a role model for sure

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. omg that's exactly it: that by becoming so fixated on the "plan", our only option when the plan fails is to become depressed. ugh. i know that feeling way too well, and i know you do too. it's an ugly cold place. so yea. this article is a really really useful reminder for me to work harder to focus my effort and energy on the pieces realistically within my control...

      Delete
  6. Great article and perfect timing. Your own posts regarding the difficulties when Charlie decides he needs a break for work and achieves it through..um..creative ways (no more splint injuries or mulch abscess!) were eye opening for me. You always took it in stride, regrouped and moved on. Or at least that is what t seemed in your writing.

    I’m not a goal setter which sounds awful to write out but is true. There are overlying things I would love to do in life but with horses I take it as it comes. I find when I try to set goals I get stuck in my head way too much and every ride sucks because it needs to be a and I’m getting b.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. aw thanks. it's definitely the attitude i'm trying to work towards, altho i will fully admit that it doesn't always (or even necessarily usually) come naturally. but that by working out those thoughts and ideas here in my writing, i can usually arrive at a better mindset.... as always, tho, it's a process haha.

      and i hear ya on not being totally in line with the idea of goal setting and horses. i usually go about it by thinking, 'what would i like to be doing with my horse today? tomorrow? next month, next year? and what needs to happen to get there?' it's a useful exercise for me bc i tend to appreciate structure in my life, routine etc. and that if i can flesh out that scaffolding clearly enough, it can help inform even the most mundane question of "hm, what am i going to do in our ride today?" so that's just one of many reasons i really appreciate goal setting activities.

      Delete
  7. I read the article a few days ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The fixed vs. growth mindset really spoke to me bc though I tend to be a very growth oriented person, and in most aspects of my life I have a growth mindset, in horses I tend to have a fixed mindset - and have a lot of feelings of inferiority and insecurity. I'm working to change this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i think one of my favorite things about horses is that they can, even through the most unexpected channels, help us try to improve ourselves and become better and happier.

      Delete
  8. Replies
    1. i was honestly surprised by how great it was, and have been keeping it bookmarked ever since bc i knew immediately that i wanted to write about it. looking forward to the future series installments too!

      Delete
  9. I am going to read this article. I loved your recap and I think it's a great thing. I've been kind of hard on myself for not getting farther this year. I think that this approach is probably more likely to lead to less stress for both of us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh man, we are all so so so so so SO hard on ourselves, i think. the act of blogging can be extremely useful for being thoughtful and reflective, but only if we can resist the urge to put too fine a point on our own self-evaluations... this idea from Matt of focusing on process v outcomes i think might help a lot with that!

      Delete
  10. Thank you so much for this! I just read the article, and wow, lots to ponder there for me. I have a feeling I should bookmark both this post and his, so many excellent tips and thoughts.It's kind of scary how many of those not so great habits I indulge in every day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. glad you enjoyed it too!! and yea it's definitely crazy how many of those "bad habits" are ... ya know, super relatable. but i think that's what i liked so much reading this from the perspective of such a highly accomplished rider! if even the greats can feel this way, then that definitely means it can't just be me haha. which, in a way, is a helpful thing to know in a weird way!

      Delete
  11. I read the article when it was posted and loved it. Unless I'm careful, I tend to focus on outcomes vs the process. It's bad. Like with P rehabbing, for awhile I was just going through the motions- walk/trot/walk/trot. But as it's dragged on (and on and on and on), I'm now treating it less like a mindless walk in the arena and more as solidifying the basics. Can never have too solid of basics, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh man, agreed 1000%!! obvi charlie's rehab from surgery wasn't anywhere close to what you're facing with P, but we still spent a fair amount of time limited to the walk, and then slowing reintroducing trot etc etc etc. and while a lot of that involved easy mindless hacks, like you i also took it as an opportunity to "restart" charlie in some of his basics. and it really made a huge difference! he came back from that rehab stronger and better schooled than ever before. hopefully you get the same results with P!!

      Delete
  12. There are so many really great books, articles, and speakers on what goals and the process of achieving them can do for us good and bad. Like with anything though we really need to find the parts that speak to us on our own journey since no two journeys are the same.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. definitely. kinda like how we can all read the same thing and perceive it slightly differently. i really appreciated tho that someone who has reached such a high level felt secure enough to share their own journey in this way! it helps keep the conversation going!

      Delete
  13. As soon as I read it I knew I wanted to write something on it also because it resonated in a lot of areas for me! Still working on it... ;) but I was excited to read this because giving your take & experience on how the growth mindset stood out to you (and the image vs. reality idea) helps me/everyone see multiple perspectives on something and brings more depth to specific parts

    ReplyDelete