Flexible Goals

I've just recently read about this topic in a book (I will give a book review on it in the near future). It is a concept that can greatly help performance. Having flexible goals is very similar to the ideas that I've written about in the past regarding wanting to win vs wanting to give 100% effort. Having flexible goals helps you balance these two motives to maintain peak performance.

Let me explain what I mean by flexible goals. It means to not have only one specific vision of what success looks like. It means to provide yourself multiple paths to success and a hierarchy of goals. Here are some examples to show what I mean:

If you only have one specific vision of what success looks like, then you are cutting yourself off from other paths that could lead to good things. For instance, if you really want to be a professional basketball player, but you only want to play in the NBA, then you'll most likely quit basketball altogether if you fail to get drafted or signed to an NBA team. You should have a backup plan of playing professional basketball in other countries in case you don't make it to the NBA initially. Having an "all or nothing" or "NBA or bust" mindset prevents you from taking other viable paths to success and happiness. Furthermore, going straight to the NBA after college isn't the only path to the NBA. After playing overseas, you can still try to make an NBA team. Allow yourself multiple paths to multiple levels of goals.

Having a hierarchy of goals prevents you from completely giving up if you initially fail to reach your top goal. The previous example is more of an overall, bigger picture application of the idea of flexible goals. But the concept of flexible goals can be applied in smaller cases, involving individual performances. Here is an example:

Imagine you want to get a 100% on a multiple choice science test. If you don't have flexible goals, and you have trouble early on while taking the test, start guessing, and worry that you got some questions wrong, then you are more likely to give up entirely. Once you think your chances of getting a perfect score is out of the picture, then you might give up, thinking that even a 90% isn't worth the effort.

But a rational person knows that even a 70% is better than nothing. A rational person continues to do their best, no matter how many previous questions they have trouble with. A rational person isn't attached to having a perfect score. They are more attached to perfect effort. They simply want to do their best. They are process oriented rather than outcome oriented.  After any mistake, they refocus and try to do the best that they can from that point onward. They do this by having flexible goals. They may start out wanting a 100%, but if they start making some mistakes, instead of giving up completely, they just lower their goal to keep themselves motivated. They think to themselves, "If I can't get a 100%, I want to get a 90%. If I can't get a 90%, I want to get an 80%. If I can't get an 80%, I want to get a 70%" Whatever is the next best possible outcome that they can get, that is what they want. They simply want to do their best, but they use flexible goals that change along with their circumstances to keep them motivated on giving their best effort at all times.

This example can be translated to so many types of sports competitions. Here is just one quick example: a football team may want to defeat their opponent by 50 points. If after the first quarter the score is tied 10-10, instead of growing frustrated, they may lower their goal and make it more realistic and attainable to keep themselves calm and motivated.

Flexible goals isn't just about lowering your goals. It can also mean to raise your goals when circumstances change and make higher goals seem more realistic. For example, maybe your top goal is to play college football, but for some reason, you improve more than anticipated and the NFL becomes a possibility. Then you should raise your goal and strive to reach the NFL. Don't put a ceiling on yourself if it's possible for you to reach higher. 

Flexible goals can be a difficult concept to understand. I hope my explanation and examples made sense, because it is very valuable knowledge to add to your mindset and use as a goal-setting and performance enhancing technique. One exercise that you can do to better understand flexible goals is to write down a hierarchy of goals before a competition. It is also helpful to write down multiple paths to success and strategic backup plans before a competition. This mental preparation will help you use flexible goals better in games so you can maintain peak performance.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that having flexible goals doesn't mean giving up your top goals and settling for less. It means to give up your top goals only when your top goals are no longer attainable. It also doesn't mean to settle for less. It actually means to never settle for less than you are capable of achieving, at any point in time.

Some people are afraid of using flexible goals or "plan B's" because they think they will distract them from their top goals. This can be true. Sometimes people are tempted to lower their goals, even when their top goal is still attainable, just because the lower goals are easier.  This is the true definition of settling. The challenge lies in knowing when your top goal is and isn't attainable and sticking with it when it is and changing your goals when it isn't. If you can do this well, flexible goals will be very beneficial to you. If you can do this, you won't settle and you won't tank (give up). You'll do your best and reach your full potential.