Winter in New England… It’s cold. It’s unpredictable. It’s long. It can be a roller coaster ride full of jubilation at the first picturesque snowfall to gloominess over dismal cold days full of hibernation and darkness. Most of my workouts have shifted to being inside on stationary pieces of equipment, which seem to provide much space for rumination. Dreaming of bike rides outside and summer runs in tank tops, I find myself thinking about what lies ahead and how I can get to where I want to be. And more importantly in the meantime, how I can make the best of every day.
Enter my motivating source throughout the dismal winter months: Trainer Road. Trainer Road and I have a quintessential love / hate relationship – for those who are familiar with the program, I’m sure you can relate. You love it because it pushes you so hard and you hate it because it pushes you so hard. This is why I find it such a valuable training tool. It forces you to push beyond what you ever thought was manageable.
If you aren’t familiar with Trainer Road, it’s a bike trainer program that gives you specific power targets that you try to maintain for a given duration of time. This program has changed my mindset in terms of how I view success: it’s not about the destination and reaching those established targets. Instead the value lies in the process of striving to reach those targets. I self-select my own trainer road rides — for some of the rides, I approach the ride feeling confident that I should be able to hit the assigned power target. While for others, I know chances are pretty slim that I will get my power up to the top of that daunting blue box that resembles the Eiffel Tower. These rides where I fail to hit the assigned targets have proven to be my most valuable training rides. The targets, which are just out of my reach, force me to push myself beyond what I thought was possible. I’m forced to re-evaluate the situation and try to find a way to turn the “failure” into a success. My strategy typically gravitates toward coming up with a secondary target to aim for. In fact the old target quickly becomes obsolete, as I discard it by throwing it out the window without regret. I proceed to ask myself, “If I push myself as hard as I can, what do I think I can accomplish?” And then I work to accomplish my secondary goal, which is just as valuable as the initial goal in my mind. The goals are constantly changing, but the mindset always stays the same. It’s not about what I accomplish, it’s about how I continue to challenge myself and find ways to be successful.
I firmly believe that it’s essential to have a clearly defined target to strive toward – whether it’s in training, in your job, or in some other area of life. You need to have a clear idea of where you are trying to go or what you are trying to accomplish in order to get anywhere in life. However, I firmly subscribe to the notion that whether or not you meet the goals you set for yourself is actually irrelevant. The targets and goals are necessary motivating factors that keep you moving in the right direction; but in actuality it’s the work and effort you put into striving to meet your goals that define you as a person and add value to your life.
Having an objective target to work toward versus targeting a “maximal effort” are two entirely different experiences. How do you truly gauge if you are put
ting forth a maximal effort? Mental limits are reached before physical limits are reached 99.9% of the time. Chances are you could probably push a bit harder – your mind gives up before your body, hence you never really reach your maximal effort. I find more value in having a target to work for, perhaps just out of reach — something tangible to push toward rather than just a self-declared “best effort”. If you are truly pushing to reach this external objective target (which may be just beyond your reach), you will most likely be a touch closer to your “maximal effort”. Again here, the value does not lie in whether or not you meet the established target. It’s in how hard you pushed yourself along the way and what you learn about yourself in the process.
If you can embrace the process of finding value in the journey rather than external reward, you can redefine how you view success. It’s not actually whether or not you hit that target or accomplish that goal you set out for yourself. It’s whether or not you put your best foot forward and give your best effort, defined by giving everything you have to give in that given situation. If you can train yourself to view success from an internal perspective, you will find that you feel much more successful in all that you do. Success can become entirely within your control. Who doesn’t want to feel successful? Since I have made this shift in my thinking, I have also found my performance has improved significantly. Focus on what you can control and let everything else fall into place the way that it will.
So goals and targets are critical for motivation and direction in both training and in life. Goals are to provide direction for training and daily action. Whether or not you reach them is essentially irrelevant. It’s how hard you push yourself in the pursuit of your goals that truly makes a difference in your life. It’s how you respond to setbacks along the way. It’s the lessons you learn in how to juggle life in the context of the pursuit of your goals. Herein lies the value of pursing your goals. The outcome becomes almost insignificant and yes, the value lies entirely in the journey. If you can remove the external measures of success from the equation as much as possible, and truly come to view success as a measure of “did I give it everything I had to give?” you might be amazed at how your performance will improve. Regardless, you will feel much more successful in your pursuits!