The Phantom Goalpost: Learning to Treat Yo’ Self

When I was flying across the country every 4 days, watching movies on my iPad got pretty old. Just to give you some perspective, when traveling from Boston to San Francisco, that was 2.5 movies each way, and it was 2 movies each way from Indy. That’s over 200 movies of air time over the course of a year. On top of that, all of my work was on a computer, so I got really tired of staring at screens all day.

Enter: Podcasts and knitting

Now this may seem a little off topic, but bear with me for just a minute and I promise I’ll get to the point.

I imposed a “no screens” policy on airplanes because I was spending so much time on my computer at work, and as a result of that, I discovered the amazing world of podcasts. I became obsessed with “Serial” and binge listened to the first 5 episodes on one flight (if you haven’t listened to these yet and you love a good mystery, you can listen to them here). Podcasts, I should add, were exceptionally wonderful because they provided the same entertainment value of a movie, but I was much more productive because I could still concentrate on my knitting projects.

I started listening to a podcast called The $100 MBA. It’s 7-15 minute episodes about business, entrepreneurship, building an online presence, and all things related. They release an episode every day, and they’re super succinct, provide great examples, and offer up manageable action items.

I was listening to an episode of $100 MBA one day and they were talking about goals and celebrating your accomplishments. It’s a concept that really hit home for me and I noticed I was a big offender of what they were describing. It can be totally crippling when it comes to trying to achieve anything at all, and I call it: The Phantom Goalpost.

Instead of explaining the phantom goalpost, Here’s a couple of examples on what it looks like. Let’s call the person in this first example “Alice”:

Day 1: “I really want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 weeks for my vacation.” – great, Alice, you’ve set your goal.
3 weeks later: “Wow! I’ve already lost 7 pounds! I’m going to go for 15 pounds!” – woah, nice work Alice, raising the bar!
End of 6 weeks: “Ugh! I’ve only lost 11 pounds! This is the worst! I’m just going to eat whatever I want and not care about my weight anymore.”
48 hours later: *Alice has eaten unimaginable amounts of food and has gained back 3 pounds*

This is an incredibly common form of the phantom goalpost. Here’s another true example of what I’ve gone through in my training this year so far:

January 1: “I really want to snatch 77kg by the end of this year” – nice job, Paige, thumbs up!
January 17: “I snatched 70kg! Only 7kg to my goal!” – great progress, Paige, keep it up!
February 19: “I snatched 75kg! I bet I can get 85kg by the end of the year!” – Fantastic! ….wait, what?
March 6: “Man, I snatched 77kg today and that was so hard! 85kg is going to be impossible!” – *insert sad violin music and frowny emojis here*
Today: *Has still not snatched 85kg*

Do you see what’s happening? In both cases, both Alice and I never got to celebrate reaching our goals. And we both met them! Instead of letting ourselves reach the goals we set and enjoy that sense of accomplishment, we moved them farther away and have ultimately been unable to achieve them. This is the phantom goalpost. It’s a goalpost that moves before you ever get the chance to score… and it will kill your ability to feel success because you never allow yourself the opportunity to actually get there. Reaching a goal is something you should celebrate, but first, you actually have to reach it.

By no means, does this mean you shouldn’t continue to set new goals, or that you should set the bar low. We set goals to push ourselves, but they do need to be realistic and achievable. I’m 24 years old, and I’ve only taken 4 gymnastics classes in my life, so going to the olympics as a gymnast is probably not a realistic goal for me. Losing 100 pounds (if you have it to lose) is a great goal, but losing 100 pounds in 12 weeks? Probably not. Goals can have any timeline and be related to any aspect of your life, and they’re an incredibly useful strategy when it comes to keeping yourself focused and on track when you’re working towards something.

Ultimately, my point is this: when you work really hard at something, you want to feel like you’ve made some sort of accomplishment or progress. If you keep changing what that is before you do it, it never actually gets done. That’s why I call it the phantom goalpost. You’re never really sure what the goal is, if it’s even there, or where it might go as soon as you get close. It continues to fade into the mist and scoring becomes utterly impossible.

Here’s a few tricks I’ve used to combat the phantom goalpost, and they’ve made reaching my goals feel (and taste) even sweeter:

Goals written on the first page in my training notebook

Goals written on the first page in my training notebook

1) Write your goals down and date them. Here’s my training notebook and some of the goals I wrote down at the beginning of 2015 (so they are not dated).

2) When you reach that goal, write down the date you reached your goal, and then do something to celebrate. This is the part I like to call “Treat yo’ self”. It doesn’t have to be anything huge or crazy. Hit your weightloss goal? Buy yourself a new outfit. Made it to the gym 5 times this week? Treat yourself to your favorite snack. Hit your 100kg clean and jerk goal? Crush a big a** rainbow sprinkles doughnut. PR DoughnutRan your first 5k without stopping? Go high five a stranger and tell them that you hit your goal. Just do something! Give yourself a pat on the back and 5 minutes to be proud of yourself before you challenge yourself with a new goal.

3) After you’ve sufficiently rewarded yourself, set a new goal. Raise the bar. Not insignificantly, because you still want it to be a challenge, something you feel like you’ve worked for. Write this goal down and date it. You can see this in my picture above.

4) Keep on crushing your goals  and enjoy and bask in the warm fuzzy glow that comes from knowing that your hard work is leading to success.

Keep being awesome, and remember: be powerful today,

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