Motives versus Goals

This is just a quick note. A lot of coaches and gurus say that athletes should have specific goals in mind for their training. An example of a goal would be something specific, like: “snatch my bodyweight” (in fact, this is one of my long-term goals) or “clean 225 lbs” (another of my goals).

Everybody who engages in “training” has different goals. Usually more than one. Usually a list of goals.

What drives me crazy is when one athlete or coach or fitness guru or random crazy blogger belittles someone else’s goals, or worse, a whole category of goals, as worthless, or pathetic, or subhuman.

It’s one thing to criticize a person’s goals because they are unworthy of that person. For instance, it’s possible that a 220 lb 6′ 3″ male CrossFitter with 10% body fat would not be setting the bar high enough for himself if he said one of his goals was to “deadlift 350 lbs someday.” I might criticize that goal. Or if a 5′ 6″ female trainee weighing 300 lbs with 45% body fat said she hoped someday to “weigh 200 lbs” I think it might be fair to criticize her goal both for a lack of specificity (i.e. 200 lbs at what body fat percentage?) and for a lack of ambition (if she wants to lose weight, I’d wager she can do better). But it all depends. I only said I might criticize. What really matters is the specific, individual personality. What is motivating the person?

And, whereas we might criticize a person’s goals once we consider their individual capacities and desires, it’s quite another thing to criticize a person’s goals categorically, saying things like: “nobody should ever want to lose/gain weight,” “it’s stupid to want to run a marathon,” “why waste your time with bench presses,” “you shouldn’t care how you look in a dress,” “only an idiot would do low-bar back squats.” Those kinds of criticisms are imperialistic; they seek to make the other person conform to your own identity and plan for yourself.

Before you criticize someone’s goals, either specifically or categorically, stop, and think: who is the person? where are they starting from in life? and what, by God, are their motives?

Goals are fine. They are destinations we want to reach. But unless they are unattainable, we can reach them. And if we do that, then what? More goals? Yes. More goals. When existing goals are reached, we need new goals.

But think about it. What drives us from point A (where we are now) to point B (where we want to go)? For that matter, what ever possessed us to select point B as a desirable destination in the first place?

That’s where motives come into play. Everybody has motives. Because, believe me, there is no intrinsic reason why I should want to have a bodyweight (or better) snatch. There is no intrinsic reason for doing anything. No goal is an end in itself. Why… do you want to run, lift, jump, climb, etc.?

“Because it’s there” is the ultimate cop out. It is the life unexamined.

Motives matter. The first person to question your goals should be you, And if someone else questions your goals, you should question their motives.

What motivates you? That’s the question that really matters. It’s your motivation that gets you up in the morning and pushes you through the process, through the work, through the training, and through the crap, to achieve those hard fought goals, and then, to select new ones. Be honest with yourself. What motivates you? A desire for life? a fear of death? a quest for health? immortality? fame? power? love? sex? pleasure? respect? friendship? virtue? union with God? The list of possible human motives goes on and on. But without some sense of whatever it is that is fueling the drive, both the chosen destination and the process will make no sense.

So, here’s a thought for you, you weekday warriors out there, here’s a challenge to your complacent wandering arbitrarily from goal to goal in this life: unless you have some inkling of an answer to the question of motive, you have no business setting goals. You might be better off sitting still. You might. I can’t be sure. Which brings me to my other thought, for you, you gurus and evangelists and coaches out there: unless you know and understand the individual seeker, and “get” his or her underlying motives for setting goals, you have no business getting in their business. Leave them to their goals.

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  1. I want to share my motives but I won’t do it publically. This is my new favorite post of yours.

  2. Who got your panties in a wad?

    • Brian, nobody in particular. Everybody. I read too many blogs from too many people who violently disagree with each other. CrossFit, Power Lifting, Weightlifting, endurance training, blah blah blah. Live and let live. I get tired of how ego-driven the whole movement for fitness, health, and diet is; every difference in approach is magnified into a conflict of inflated egos, and how every time anyone finds something that works for them they automatically seek to universalize it into dogma. I’ve been there, done that, and now I want something more.

      If I was a coach/trainer/guru instead of just some random crazy weekday warrior, I’d mostly be interested in seeing the maximization of individual potential of my clients.

      By the way, if you want to have a really great game on the putting green, and that’s your idea of the ultimate fitness goal, I think that’s awesome. And I’m not going to make (too much) fun of Weightlifters who think eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts is no big deal. It all comes out in the wash, anyway.

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