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Layered Goal Setting

Several years ago, when I started participating in triathlons, I discovered I needed to rethink how I set goals for my physical workouts. I’ve lifted weights and been a runner for most of my life, but specific goals in those areas we’re never a concern. My physical fitness goals went something like, “Get in even better shape,” or “Run farther today than last time”. Goal setting in my personal life was much more robust, but for many of my physical activities, the activity itself was the goal and didn’t seem to need anything more specific. I quickly discovered, however, that performing well in long distance triathlons required a slightly more sophisticated approach. The approach I found (from “The Triathlete’s Training Bible” by Joel Friel) is one I’ve since applied to my To-Shin Do training as well with great results.

While there are lots of types of goals, this method has to do with how to layer goals so they build upon one another without being overwhelming. The idea is to create three goals, each one more specific, and each one complementary to the one before. For a Triathlon season, an example might be 1) Finish a half Ironman distance event 2) Improve swim split 3) Finish the event in under a set time.

These goals are also in order of priority. Every training session should focus on the primary goal (finish a half Ironman). Some workouts also concentrate on the remaining two goals, but with the constant awareness that finishing (the primary goal) is more important than anything else. This is done to avoid overtraining and injury, but also because there is so much to focus on and it’s easy to get lost in a goal that feels important but may not be entirely in your control.

For my To-Shin Do training, not only do I have yearly goals, but I also walk into every single training session with this same mindset. Here are some goals I set based on a recent workout:

1. Practice kata x and its principles

This was my primary goal because it is a specific kata I haven’t worked on as much as I would like. This is a goal totally under my control. Even if I’m the only one who shows up, I can drill parts of the kata.

2. Explore how my relationship to the attacker’s centerline changes their reaction during the kata

This was my secondary goal because it’s dependent upon my attacker being a good uke, and because I want to practice this skill within the context of the kata. In other words, if I’m not careful I could practice this skill in a way that slips beyond the principle of the kata. Not wrong, just not meeting my first goal.

3. Effectively take advantage of that reaction

This was my tertiary goal because it’s dependent upon my attacker being a good uke, and me correctly meeting the previous two goals. Most important, while I want to get here, if I don’t I’m okay with it. Working on a historical technique I don’t often practice, the goal of this session is more about practicing the technique then the end result. Another session and the goals might be different.

I find that walking into a session with layered goals, I get far more out of it than just going in ‘to train’, or even going in ‘to work on kata x’. I also feel a lot better about a session even if I didn’t get all my goals met, because I understand more clearly how they all fit together to get me where I want to go.

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