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Perpetual Dissatisfaction

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Here’s a familiar story: an athlete comes up with a specific goal, like deadlifting 400 pounds, running a half marathon in under two hours, or scoring over 500 in our recent Crush Cancer event. He asks for my input in meeting that goal. We work together to craft a training plan and monitor progress. The day of the one-rep max test, race, or event arrives. The athlete surpasses goal with little trouble. The next time I see him I offer my congratulations, but am surprised to see a look of disappointment on his face. “Yeah, it went ok,” he says. “It’s just that I realized I could have done better. If I’d added on the weight/taken those middle miles/prepped just a little differently, I could have beaten that goal by a whole lot more.”

Invariably, my first thought is, Are you kidding me?  You MET. YOUR. GOAL. Be proud!

 

My second thought is, Dangit.

 

My third thought is, No rest for the weary.

 

And we get back to work.

Many athletes thrive in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction, a nagging awareness that there is always room for improvement. It’s counter-intuitive: in order to fully embrace the philosophy of “doing your best,” you have to accept the uncomfortable idea that “your best” is always right outside of your reach. You can brush your fingertips against it, but rare are the moments when you manage to grasp it in your hand. From my perspective as a coach, this is both motivating and frustrating. I enjoy working with and identify with people who crave continual improvement. At the same time, perpetual dissatisfaction can muck up the whole reason we even set goals. After all, we don’t approach a race or competition setting goals like, “Do really well” (what does that mean?) “kick ass” (other people’s or your own?) or “sweat a lot.” We set goals that are specific and measurable so we can carve a clear path forward and learn from your experience. When you set your eyes on a target on the horizon, work your ass off, and suddenly find yourself with that target inches from your nose, you have a responsibility to honor the arc of learning you passed through in order to get to that target in the first place. If you simply shift your gaze from that target to the next, far out in the distance, you’re not giving that learning it’s due. Before rushing off in pursuit of those extra ten pounds, seconds, or reps, you have to pause to take stock of the strategies and support systems that got you as far as they did, rather than dwelling on those that you think got in the way of your ability to land beyond where you wanted to go.


Imagine you were watching a friend prepare for an event. She sets her goal, works hard and on the big day, comes in exactly where she said she wanted to be. Moments later her coach walks up to her. “You messed up on the third round,” he says. “There were at least five extra reps in there you wasted.” Would you think he had a good point, or would you think, “Lighten up! What’s wrong with just adding those five reps to her goal for next time”?

My guess is the latter. Be as kind and rational to yourself as you would be to that friend. There’s a slight difference in tone between the dissatisfaction that is motivating and the dissatisfaction that is debilitating. You do yourself no favors by refusing to honor your own progress.

 

Ganbatte

JP

 

October 22

 

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