It is purported that Yogi Berra once said, "If you don't know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else." Any die-hard open water swimmer has to appreciate the wisdom there.
Without the direction provided by a clear sense of purpose and coordinated, meaningful, well-structured goals, you're unlikely to get where you want to go. Make sure you are clear on your purpose for swimming. Then you can begin setting goals by identifying your destination.
“What?” you may ask. “My purpose for swimming is to support a lifetime of health, fitness, cosmetic benefits, and fun. I'm not looking at any destination.”
Fair enough. There is a difference between a purpose or a mission and a goal. Your purpose is ongoing. A goal, by definition, has an end point.
So, as long as you are clear on your purpose, and it resembles the one stated above, it may be okay not to have an ultimate destination, such as the goal of choice for those whose mission is the pursuit of excellence in competitive swimming: “To win the Olympics in world-record time.”
On the other hand, as long as you are clear on your purpose, more proximate goals can be tremendously valuable for helping you fulfill your purpose, whatever it may be. Short-term goals set for today and for this week are the best goals anyway.
Good goals aren’t so much about what you want to accomplish. They are much more about what you are going to accomplish in order to get what you want. Moreover, the only opportunity you ever have to act is now.
I usually recommend that swimmers (and other kinds of people) set at least three goals for the week. Three is a nice manageable number (and as the week goes by, you can always add more). If you strive to accomplish at least three good goals each week, you're likely to stay on the road to fulfilling your mission.
Goals work best when they have certain characteristics. Good goals are:
You have a mission. Set goals that will keep you on track to fulfill your mission.
State your goals in terms of action, not vague states of being or consequences of the action to be performed. A good goal leaves little room for doubt as to what is to be done.
In psychology, “positive” means "toward"; “negative” means "away." Your goals should describe what to do rather than what not to do.
You must have some way of assessing your goals against some standard; otherwise, you have no way of telling whether you reached your goals.
Attach a number to your goals. Quantifying goals is a good way to make sure they are measurable. If it doesn’t make sense to tack a number onto your goal, it’s not a good goal.
Specify some time by when your goal will be achieved. If it doesn’t have a time limit, it’s not a goal; it’s an intention.
Set goals with depth. Don’t limit your performance. Most often it pays to attach an “at least” or a “fewer than” to your goal.
Most of the time, challenging goals will boost enjoyment and enhance performance.
Forget realistic. You can never know if a goal is realistic until after the fact. When the game is over, if you reached your goal you can say your goal was realistic. Or, if you failed to reach your goal, you can label it unrealistic, but what good would labeling either one do? When the game is over, who cares if your goal was realistic? The game is over.
Before the fact, all you can do is make your best estimate—on the basis of your preparation and past performance—of a level of performance that you believe will give you a reasonable chance to succeed. You decide what constitutes "a reasonable chance to succeed" for your particular circumstances.
Except for short-term, easily attained goals that are mere reminders, avoid perfectionistic goals. Omit the words “always” and “never” when you construct your goals.
Goals should be written in pencil, not carved in stone. Your goals are your tools. Use them. Don’t let them control you. A good goal, like a good tool, is one that works. If your goal isn’t working for you, get a handle on one that fits. Remold it or use another tool.
Make your goals relevant to your situation and worded in language meaningful to you.
*Excerpted from The Swim to Win Playbook, Copyright © 1998 by Dr. Keith Bell