At one time or another we have all been encouraged to set meaningful goals for ourselves. Usually we do this in order to direct our focus on what it is we truly want to accomplish. We may even be encouraged to set S-M-A-R-T (specific, meaningful, achievable, realistic, time-tested) goals in our quest for success, with the intention of moving us from ‘here’ to ‘there.’ But what happens when this strategy backfires, as it often does? (think of how often you see someone repeatedly miss a time standard by tenths, or hundredths, of a second)  In the anonymously published “The Rules for Being Human,” rule 6 (out of 10) reads;

‘there’ is no better than ‘here’. When your ‘there’ has become ‘here’ you will simply obtain another ‘there’ that will, again, look better than ‘here.’

It seems to me that what this quote is referring to is our inherent human tendency to set “there” expectations for ourselves. Two very specific things are likely to happen when we do this. First, our “there” expectation translates to a “should,” a “must,” or a “have to” mindset. Once in this frame of mind we start to imagine what will happen, or what others may think, if we don’t achieve the goal we feel we “must” achieve. These thoughts take our focus away from where we wanted to go when we set the goal in the first place! The second thing that often happens when we find ourselves in “have to” mode is that we begin to feel (consciously or unconsciously) that our performance is no longer our own. In other words, something (thoughts, time standards), or someone, is trying to run the show by telling us what is meaningful. This eventually leads to decreased motivation, increased stress, burnout, and misguided focus. Not fun!

So, what to do? Instead of setting a goal, try creating a Performance Plan. Your desire remains the same, but your focus moves away from “should”, “must” and “have to”, and towards “want to.” When we change this one phrase, we have our eyes, our thoughts, and our desires focused in the direction that we want to go. This allows our natural talent to manifest. You may even want to try this now and see how it feels. For example, say to yourself “I have to (make this cut…improve my turns… beat this person etc…)” and then change it to “I want to.” Notice how your motivation and focus change? Kind of freeing, isn’t it?

The next step is to include the intangibles (attitude, courage, enjoyment of the challenge, belief in yourself, and sense of fun) into your performance plan, again using the phrase “I want to.” As a result, ‘here’ and ‘there’ become arbitrary concepts on your way to athletic success, well-being, and true potentiality. I encourage you to give it a try and let me know how it goes!


Dr. Peter Thompson was an elite level swimming coach for over 30 years. He currently maintains a private Performance and Personal Development Coaching practice in Rochester, NY. “Dr. Pete” is available for one on one, small group, and team consultations via phone, skype, or at 95 Allens Creek Rd., Suite 324, Rochester, NY.;