Sunday, September 7, 2008

To improve incrementally, you must plan incrementally

One night, after watching Usain Bolt break Michael Johnson's records at the Olympic Games in Beijing last month, I remembered I had a book by Johnson titled "Slaying the Dragon." I was able to find it on the bookshelf and started re-reading it.

Here's an excerpt from the book:

"Imagine your life as a series of races, a strand of goals on the way to some larger accomplishment (usually far off and unfocused at first, like the Olympics).

Connecting those smaller goals are training and plans, and the more refined you become, the closer you move to your ultimate goal -- to fulfilling that core desire inside of yourself -- the more you realize that the plans are the really important part, more important even than the goals.

Plans are the string holding the pearls together.

When you begin to perform at higher levels, the only difference between winning and losing, between succeeding and failing, is the precision and preparation of your plans.

At the beginning of the season, I sit down and talk with my coach and with other people whose opinions I value. And I think about what I want to do that year. When I've identified specific goals, I write them down on a sheet of paper.

Then I ask myself the old Paul Johnson Sr. [his father] question:  'How are you going to do that?'

That's when I connect the dots, stringing plans between those goals.

The point is that to improve incrementally, you must plan incrementally. And the best way to do that, to think it all through, to make sure you've missed nothing, is to write it down. A written goal is a contract with yourself and a constant reminder of all you still have to do.

Having a record is vital; it's the first step in learning to put yourself on the hook, to being responsible to yourself.

It is also important to be specific and realistic when you set goals. Being realistic isn't settling for anything less than you're capable of doing; it isn't throwing away your dreams; it's simply acknowledging that, right now, you are incapable of some things.

Being specific is also key. At the beginning of the season, I charted the days, weeks, and months before the Atlanta [Olympic] Games and figured out where I needed to be at each step along the way. That work is what tightens the focus on my dreams and turns them into goals.

I think most of us have an innate sense of what we want and how to get there. You owe it to yourself to constantly check and re-check your [inner] computer, to assess the information coming from your mind, your body, and your core -- the place where your dreams and ambitions lie.

No matter what [your ambition], you owe it to yourself to figure out what you are chasing. And how you might catch it."