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December 2014 - Denise Neish

My new perspective on setting goals

Posted by | Articles, Drugs, Running, Thoughts, Updates | 11 Comments

Just as I was about to enter the elevator yesterday at Huntsman Cancer Institute, I saw a familiar face walking toward me. I couldn’t place the face until I looked at the nametag affixed to his shirt. I said his name out loud, and he recognized me at the same time. It was an old teammate from my University of Utah Track days! I think the last time I have seen him was shortly after Branden and I were married.

He is a healthcare professional at Huntsman, which makes it a little odd that I haven’t run into him in the last 3 ½ years, but it’s a big place. It was so great to see an old friend after the somber task of chatting with my oncologist about my health. And this particular guy is a funny man, who always kept the team entertained, so that made it even better.

He went down the elevator and walked out to my car with me while we caught up, very briefly, on how many kids we each have, etc.. Suddenly I recalled a memorable incident when I learned something about goals from him, back in the college track days.

Here’s what happened (and if you are reading this, and were on the team back then, you will remember this, and know exactly who I’m talking about!):

It was Cross-country season, and our team was scheduled to meet with the sport’s psychologist about setting goals. (We were sometimes forced into going to things like this against our will. Attendance was NOT optional!)

The rest of us nodded along compliantly to get through the experience as quickly as possible, while the sport psychologist handed us pencils and paper to write down some of our personal goals for the season. She told us that our goals needed to be obtainable, and something we could control.

After a few minutes she asked if anyone would share one of their goals. “Funny guy”, who was also a good runner and the team captain, raised his hand. “My goal is to win Conference this year.”

The psychologist reminded him that he couldn’t control how fast the other guys in the conference would run. She added, “If you don’t reach this goal, which you can’t really control, you will feel like you failed. You need a goal you can reach.”

“Funny guy” was all serious now. He was no longer nodding and complying. He said, “No. My goal is to win conference. That has been my goal all year, and it’s possible. That’s my goal,” he stated stubbornly.

She countered authoritatively, “That can’t be your goal! You can’t control it, and you will need to set a different goal for this exercise, because you aren’t following the guidelines I taught you about goals!” She was clearly exasperated about his defiance of her goal rules, and she wasn’t backing down.

For the next several minutes, two very determined individuals argued back and forth about what his goals should be. As the conversation heated up, the rest of us smiled nervously at each other, slightly entertained, and slightly bugged that they were both taking this so seriously.

The sports psychologist would not budge. It was her job to teach us about making achievable goals so that we could all feel good about ourselves. She had undoubtedly dealt with student-athletes who felt discouraged when they didn’t reach their lofty goals.

But “funny guy” wasn’t giving in either, and though he wasn’t being mean, he was not in a funny mood.

It ended when he stood up and said, “Look, my goal is to win conference. Period. And yes, I will be disappointed if I don’t reach my goal, but that’s okay. That’s my goal.”

With that, the sport’s psychologist threw her hands in the air and gave up. She was genuinely mad, but “funny guy” was dead serious. Some of us were giggling by now, but we quickly wrote down some “obtainable” goals.

When I reminded him of this incident, he laughed and said that he felt badly now that he had given her such a hard time. “Funny guy” is also a nice guy. But I thought about it my whole drive home.

Goals are our own. Nobody else can make them for us. They have to be personal, or they can’t be effective. There are some good basic guidelines out there for setting goals, but my theory is that if you always stick with “obtainable” goals, you may just be disappointed later that you didn’t really go for it! And guess what? If you set lower goals, you almost certainly won’t reach your potential.

Just minutes before I ran into my friend, I told my oncologist that I had a goal. We were discussing my drug options, and she told me that she felt it was her responsibility to help me continue to feel well.

I told her that I have decided I want to live to be 60. I said, “I know it’s not something that we can necessarily control, but I just want you to know, as we discuss my treatment, that I am looking at this with the long-term in mind. That’s 19 more years.” I motioned to Macy coloring in the chair next to me, “She’s not even five yet, so that’s where my mind is. ‘Feeling well’ is important to me, but it’s secondary to fighting the cancer.” She nodded with understanding, and I was glad she didn’t tell me that my goal was ‘unobtainable’ for someone with stage 4 breast cancer. And if I achieve that goal someday, then I will set a new goal, which may, or may not, be ‘obtainable’.

Goals make us happy. I don’t think it matters as much what the goal is, as how it motivates us on a daily basis. My goal of living to see 60 gives me hope. It makes each day seem less daunting when I plan on seeing my youngest graduate from college, and hopefully meeting a few grandchildren someday, rather than constantly worrying that I need to prepare my kids for the worst. It also makes reaching 60 seem possible, which motivates me to eat healthy, exercise, and choose my treatment plans with wisdom.

Like you, I’m happiest when I’m progressing. I will always have some personal goals, which are less measurable, like improved patience, or noticing the needs of others around me. I have some specific goals, such as organizing my home, practicing the piano, or preparing for a race. As a mom, I have goals about what I want to teach my children. But because of my beliefs, all of my goals hinge on my eternal goal of returning to my heavenly home with my family one day. Knowing my goals helps me determine how to spend my time each day, and helps me to be happy with the direction I am going.

As you make goals for the new year, I challenge you to be thoughtful and determine what you really want out of life. Then make your goals your own, and you will be driven to succeed. You may occasionally be disappointed if you don’t reach the high expectations you have for yourself, but you will find joy in the challenge, and in the new heights to which your goals bring you. Obtainable, shmobtainable!