Fuck Your Goals, Focus on the Process

Written by: Kevin Cann

I will admit, this title is a bit of clickbait.  I honestly did not know what to title it and have this weird OCD thing that makes me title it before I get started.  With that said, here we are.

This is a conversation that I have had quite a few times in the last few days.  Not only with lifters of PPS, but other lifters as well.  We have all heard someone tell us that we need to focus on the process and not the outcomes, or to “trust the process.”

This statement is not only popular in sports, but also in any field where one is looking for self-improvement.  This can be their jobs and even their family life.  In the sport of powerlifting, many lifters are always, “watching the scoreboard.”

Nick Sabban said it best, “Don’t look at the scoreboard.  Whether you are ahead or behind shouldn’t affect how you participate.”  If you focus on using every repetition as an opportunity in training to get better, focus on your diet, your sleep, and your recovery, the results typically take care of themselves.

Even if you lose focus in one area or another, the results will take care of themselves.  This does not mean that if you do everything “right” that you will hit PRs and win world championships.  Sometimes you do everything right and still lose.  That is life.

However, we need to understand that we cannot control the outcomes.  All that we can control is ourselves and our actions.  When we begin to focus our attention on these external outcomes, we can begin to lose sight of the things that we need to do to get there.

I gave all of my liters an assignment to complete.  I asked them “why” they participate in this sport.  Having a strong reason why, that is personal to you, will help you show up and work hard even when the deck is stacked against you.  It is the thing that gets you to keep taking one more step forward when the voices in your head are telling you to quit.

A few of them had stated they want to compete at Nationals or make a worlds team.  One of my lifters last night also stated that he wanted to squat 600lbs raw, and deadlift 700lbs.  These are all great goals, but both unsuccessful and successful people make these goals.  The goals do not lead to or define success.

In fact, I think goals can actually limit success.  Why put a ceiling at a 600lb squat?  Aim for the fucking moon, not the top of the mountain.  We need to focus on the process and allow those things to happen.  We can’t try to force them.

When we chase goals, we end up creating a situation of almost definite disappointment and frustration.  What if you do not achieve that goal?  Or even better, you are pushing hard for those numbers and constantly stretch the weight that you should be putting on the bar.  This leads to missed reps and frustration, which only ironically reinforces that same poor decision making.  Then nagging stuff can start to pop up, and even the risk of injury increases.

In this case the lifter loses sight of honing their skills, making good training decisions, and analyzing the process.  All of the things that would actually help the lifter achieve those goals.  We have no control over the outcomes, but we can control our actions.  We can focus on our technique, building momentum in training, making good decisions, and allowing the results to happen.  

This is what it means to “trust the process.”  Trusting the process is not just following along with a program.  It is much more than that.  The process is everything that goes into becoming a better lifter.  It is executing each repetition on that sheet of paper with focus and intent.  It is going to bed at a reasonable hour.  It is eating enough to recover.  It is also giving back to the sport and helping others.

Whether that attempt is successful or not, we need the same attitude for the next one.  I say a lot to my lifters that we can never get too high or too low because each one can negatively affect our decision making.  There is no good or bad there just is.  We celebrate a PR, or learn from a miss, and then we move on.

To quote Nick Sabban again, “Don’t look at the scoreboard, don’t look at any external factors, just all of your focus and all of your concentration, all of your effort, all of your toughness, all of your discipline to execute went into that particular play.  Regardless of what happened on that play, success or failure, you would move on to the next play and have the same focus to do that on the next play, and you’d then do that for 60 minutes in a game and then you’d be able to live with the results regardless of what those results were.”

Powerlifting is not football, but this quote applies.  Think of each repetition as a play in football and each training session as the game.  String together years of having that attitude and you will be surprised at where it takes you.  Not just in the sport, but also in life.

When you string together years of doing this, the results take care of themselves.  We live in an age where everyone wants immediate results.  Lifters that have been training for less than 5 years think they should be qualifying for nationals.  Of course, some do get there quicker than others, but there are other factors at play there.

 I saw this frustration set in when the USAPL increased the qualifying totals for nationals.  There was a negative uproar over these very large increases.  This shows me that the focus is in the wrong places to be successful.  The change in numbers does not change how we get there.  We get there from focusing on the process.  The only thing the numbers may change is how long it takes us to get there, but nothing else.

Were these lifters planning on stopping lifting once they reached that goal?  Probably not.  So if this is a sport that you plan to do long term, you better learn to appreciate the things this sport brings into your life.  If you are chasing numbers, you will be happy for about 5 fucking minutes and then it is onto the next ones.

I remember when I started, all I wanted to do was squat 3 plates.  I did that and then I wanted to squat 4 plates.  I did that and wanted to squat 5 plates.  By that point, I actually stopped caring about what I wanted to squat and started focusing on just getting better.  I am sure maturity plays a role here as well.

I have not hit a PR on an equipped lift in almost a year and a raw lift in over 2 years.  I did not even realize this until today when I thought about it!  I have just been focusing on training.  Making sure I bring focus, intensity, and effort into each and every training session.

Last week I hit a box squat that was 20lbs under my best full gear squat, but with straps down, no knee wraps, and it is a larger suit.  I also hit a deadlift that was 15lbs under my all-time best (also in a larger suit), but more importantly, the 600lb number is much more stable now in the gym.  I am messing with a new bench shirt right now so that does not really count.  Training is going extremely well.

I used to focus on the numbers a lot more.  I hit this spot with my raw training where I was stuck and began to try to force things to happen.  I was very easily frustrated with my training.  I knew I needed to shift my focus, so I took over my own programming, and I also got into equipment.  I needed to have fun training and to try out new things.  I needed to adjust my focus from external outcomes to the process.  Once I did that, my training really turned around.

Part of paying attention to the process is also realizing some of the other important things.  The experiences and the people matter too.  Do not take these things for granted.  They help keep you going and make you appreciate the sport more as well.  I feel too many people are blind to this aspect.

Too often lifters will define their success and failures by whether they qualify for nationals or lift a certain number.  Often, we see lifters put each other down to justify their own successes.  We see one federation put down another, raw putting down equipped, DUP vs conjugate, and so many more. 

We should be appreciating all aspects of the sport.  You can learn more, meet more people, and have more great experiences.  Be proud of your total because ultimately this is a sport where you compete against yourself.  It doesn’t matter what federation you lift in, equipment you wear, or program you choose to do.  If you lift the weight, you lift the weight.  Be happy for those moments and celebrate them briefly.  If you miss, learn something from it, but either way you need to move on and focus on the next repetition because that is what is necessary for continued growth. 

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