Recommend Print

Setting Proper Goals

Tyler Welch
08 August 2009
Setting Proper Goals

Recently we’ve been talking a lot about WHAT to do and HOW to do it. I thought that this week we’d take a bit of a break and dig a little bit deeper, instead discussing WHY we train and what drives us to succeed, or causes us to fail. Central to this discussion is the question of goals: what are they, how can we use them and why do we need them? It seems much simpler to walk into the gym, perform our movements of choice and leave, foregoing larger structure and pursuing the moment. Many of us train in this fashion – day in and day out, chasing some vaguely defined notion of what we want to achieve, working more on the struggle of getting into the gym, without really even considering what “there” might be.  No matter what your poison (BJJ, kickboxing, strength training, running, etcetera), goals are an essential part of training. It is, of course, why they call it training. I cannot over-emphasizing the importance of goal-setting. Without a greater target, we have no motivation to succeed. If you do not have a reason, you will inevitably stray from your course of action.

Perhaps your definition of success does not lie in competition – this does not preclude you from considering goals, though  – whether the opponent is internal or external, we must face what opposes us and prepare accordingly. Goals provide us with intentions, direction and obstacles. You cannot defeat an enemy which you cannot define. In his Five Principles of Enduring Human Happiness, Dr. Paul Hatherly outlines five actions for achieving happiness: Understanding, Caring, Mastery, Creativity and Contribution. According to Dr.Hatherly, we must first discover and define certain truths about ourselves and our wants versus needs before we may truly begin our path to happiness. In terms of goal-setting, understanding is essential for identifying our strengths, weaknesses and needs, as well as building our base of knowledge, providing us with the necessary tools for us to progress towards our goal.

Caring is a bit of a no-brainer: understanding helps us to define our goals, but Caring is what drives us to succeed. Caring is motivation. If you are not motivated to a goal, then either you do not yet fully understand it, or it falls outside of your personal realm of concern. If it is health-related (such as doctor-prescribed weight loss, or rehabilitation), then a lack of understanding may lead you to marginalize the import of the goal, but say you are pursuing a course of action to become a runner, but you simply cannot motivate yourself, as you hate running, hate training for it and have no real desire, well, perhaps running is not the correct pursuit for you.

Mastery is the meat of the matter, for certain. We cannot expect to decide on a course of action, sit back and expect results. Constant striving, reflection, adaptation and commitment are vital to progress, and also integrate fairly seamlessly to Dr. Hatherly’s fourth principle, Creativity: on our path to the mastery of our goals, we must continuous mold and re-mold our aims, intentions and tools. To reach our fullest potential, we must re-interpret we what perceive to be our goals, then apply the knowledge we have gained along the path. This, of course, is interchangeable on many levels with Contribution. Dr. Hatherly discusses Contribution in terms of the propagation of knowledge, happiness and contribution, but we can still consider it in our context in terms of utilization – what good is a skill hard-earned unused? When we further ourselves, we create a responsibility to share that success with others. What good is a belt if the skills that came from years of study go unutilized? That is not to say that all goals must be martial in aim, but it provides an apt analogy. If your goal is fitness-related, it is all but assumed that the goal in question will lead to some manner of life improvement, whether it be sports performance or simple quality of life.

This does raise the question of intention, though: what good are goals that are based on external motivations? The fitness industry (outside the realm of sports/martial arts performance) is based almost entirely on the aesthetic. Every program, tool or video touts its ability to improve a certain aspect of the human body. Things have spiraled so far out of control that the body parts in question are not even involved in functional movement, but instead areas of natural body fat deposit. That’s not to say that Americans don’t have body fat to spare (unfortunately they do, in spades), but the point is moot. Misdirection is the primary tool of modern fitness, and it leads the public down a hole chasing rabbits. Establishing real goals that actually impact your life and fitness will undoubtedly create progress, unlike short term immediate gratification-type goals, which may create the illusion of progress hidden under the veil of popular science, new theories and muscle “burn,” but inevitably lead to plateau, burn-out and frustration. Discover what you truly want to achieve, undertake a well-thought-out plan that considers both the short term and the long, enact said plan, commit to it, continue to learn, re-evaluate and adapt along the path, and achieve. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself along the way, for that is, truth be told, where the thrill lies. Lose yourself in the movement, but always keep in mind your objective.

Tyler Welch is the Strength & Conditioning Coach at Neutral Ground Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is also the founder of Second Nature Fitness, an active Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor, and a whole lot of other stuff that means he paid a bunch of people to teach him things about fitness. Follow him at,, Facebook and

We will also be answering your health/fitness-related questions in future columns. Either email your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or post your questions on our USCS Fitness Q&A thread.

See a list of previous USCS Strength & Conditioning articles here.

Last Modified:
11 November 2010

Add comment

Security code

US Combat Sports Facebook US Combat Sports Twitter US Combat Sports YouTube US Combat Sports RSS Feed MMA Recap