Is Goal Setting De-Motivating?

Our very own Rosie Jones came across an interesting article from a website called the the99percent (unrelated to occupy wall street) that contrasted the idea of focusing on goals vs focusing on experience or process. The findings suggest that focusing on the process or the feeling in the experience (ex. enjoying a good workout) was more successful at maintaining longterm dedication to an activity than focusing on the end result (ex. losing weight, gaining strength).

People who focused on their goal or the longterm benefits of a particular activity had a greater initial motivation but the focus in the future and not on the present sabotaged their short-term enjoyment and satisfaction and thus their motivation. Those who focused on the feeling of the activity itself tended to maintain a more consistent practice.

I personally try to do a bit of both. I frequently establish longterm goals for myself more as a process of self discovery and exploration than rigid planning. I might ask myself “what do I want to get out of swordplay?” “Where does my joy come from and how could I maximize it?” “How do I want to challenge myself?”.  I might set specific targets as well “Win X tournament”, “learn the full third assault of marozzo”. I think without setting these goals I would never make the time I need during my days or weeks leading up to the event to actually achieve a larger outcome. However the trick is not setting all your enjoyment and satisfaction on a goal having to be fully achieved.

If I work my butt off to win a tournament and then don’t win, there is still much to enjoy in the process and much to celebrate in however far I made it in the tournament. I’m a fan of failing forward — use goals to set direction, give a theme for daily practice, and to challenge you to achieve your full potential. But enjoy the process, and celebrate any and all movement toward the ends. Then pick up where you left off, set a new direction and keep going.

Goal setting has certainly played a large role in the growth of Academie Duello into the school that it is today. However few of our goals were achieved exactly as planned or in the timeframes expected. Setting goals opened us up to what was possible. Enjoying what we were doing and believing in the activity in the day to day is what made it happen.

Back to the article. I think it is important to have an idea where you are going, and to use future ends to help you plan how to spend your time. However it is essential that you enjoy the process and grow from your experiences now. It is apparently tied more strongly to motivation than we may have thought and though achievement of a goal is enjoyable, it’s only a small moment in time. Better to enjoy every step along the way.

Check out the article here, then come back and tell us how you approach your own goal setting for your martial arts or otherwise.


devonboorman Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
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