The Positive Effects of an Arbitrary Goal
An Arbitrary Goal, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a goal, ‘based on random choice or personal whim rather than any reason or system’, would seem like a poor aspiration to work towards in training. But a goal with little applicable purpose to our work, hobbies or health may have huge indirect benefits. The benefits may lie in the journey rather than the destination…
Having a single goal can often be easier psychologically, at least it is for me. The overwhelming feeling that comes with a long list of things to do can be de-motivating. When you have a single task you tend to get it done. When faced with 10 you don’t know where to start, which often leads to procrastination and not starting at all. I find it easier to focus on a single goal. One does not sprint 100m by thinking, “I’ll pick this leg up, breath in, throw that leg forward, absorb the impact, breath out, pick up other leg…” one simply focuses on the finish line and does everything in one’s power to get there as soon as possible.
This philosophy is reflected in the many books and podcasts I have ingested in the last few years on success. We can define success however we like, but the media above has covered training, aesthetics, sport, exploration, business, finance, media, home life, fatherhood and more. There appears to be one universal method which all those who have actually succeeded in their chosen field – simplify.
This does not mean reduce the work, cut corners or miss out essential aspects. It simply means find the one goal that will produce the most benefit and focus. A general or arbitrary goal is like a wall whereas a specific goal can be seen as a single brick. “I want to improve my finger strength” is a brick in the wall of “I want to climb 7a” (for those not familiar with climbing grades think “I want to be a much better rock climber”).
That wall also contains physiological bricks like improved core strength, lower body flexibility, fore-arm endurance, reduced body fat or overall body-weight, as well as skills bricks like climbing movement, rope work and clipping speed. The arbitrary of having a ‘big picture goal’, by focusing on that one thing, we can encapsulate and improve on many fronts without having to feel like we are taking on 20 concurrent tasks.
Take for example the handstand. As cool as it is to impress your friends at parties, or your ‘friends’ on Instagram, unless you’re a professional acrobat or gymnast the handstand has little practical use in the real world and is therefore the definition of arbitrary. However, the handstand is a display of wrist, shoulder and spinal mobility, strength and control of the core, hips, spine, shoulders, arms and hands and an overall appreciation of your own body’s proprioception and balance.
Our greatest is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall.
Persistence is the key to success.
Therefore, in order to achieve a handstand one must work to improve all these areas. So, if like me, you’re suffering from a lack of core control, lack of T-Spine mobility, shoulder and wrist immobility, rather than trying to deal with all these aspects individually I have simply set myself the goal of performing a 30 second handstand.
Many gymnastic moves are good arbitrary goals. I’m not sure I’ve ever needed to perform a lever or planchet or box jump my own height, but in achieving these I would have countered a great deal of the mobility, muscle imbalance, chronic injury and general fitness issues I currently face. The value is in the journey not the destination. But without an end point to aim for we’re simply wandering around lost and confused.