Make progress with two essential perspectives
“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”
Pablo Picasso
We all know that new year’s resolutions aren’t particulary effective that the end of the year feels like a good time to look back, to look forward and reset our hopes and ambitions. As we get closer to the end of January, with the knowledge that 66% of us don’t persist with our resolution, beyond the first month, what simple options have we got in order to set goals?
When we’re looking to make progress, often we seek out a handy acronym to offer a guide, but they can also be annoying! A great example is the SMART goal system where each of the letters represent aspects of the comprehensive goal system. A slight limitation can be that you might need to be using this system regularly for you to become sophisticated at each of the different aspects. There’s also a risk that if you don’t use such a system frequently you forget what the letters represent at all and then you’re reaching for Google for a quick reminder;
S – is for specific; M – is for measurable; A – is for artichokes; R is for remember to put the washing out, etc
Or even worse;
S – Started with a specific goal; M – Moaned about the measurement; A – Asked if this will ever be over; R – Realised I should never have started; T – Think about a new goal
Actual system;
-Specific: State, specifically, what you want to accomplish.
-Measurable: What information, objective and subjective can you collect on the way that will show you’re on track?
-Achievable: All goals should stretch you, but should be attainable.
-Results: Focus on results.
-Time based: When do you want/need the goal to be accomplished?
Make progress with two essential perspectives
Acronyms or mnemonics are particularly useful when you have a concerted and immersed effort toward making something happen, they can provide a structure to keep on track. They particularly help when you are at the drawing board stage, sitting down with blank sheet of paper setting out the project aim, the plan, the actions, form the tracking system such as the dashboard to keep you honest, accountable and on task.
On a day-to-day basis, we can often find yourself needing something simpler and more practical to remember and use. The godfather of goals Albert Bandura tells us you need two levels of goals to make progress against your hopes, desires and ambitions. He tells us that you need both;
A distal goal – a hope an ambition that is lofty and way out of reach
A proximal goal, tangible next steps to be able to achieve the distal goal
If someone says, “I want to become a doctor” (a distal goal), we’d ask for the proximal goal, “So what are you going to do tomorrow to make that happen?”, (study hard to get into medical school).
Equally if someone says, “I want to eat more fruit and veg” (proximal goal), we’d ask them for the distal goal, “In order to do what?” (feel healthier, have more energy, lose weight).
Make progress with two essential perspectives
That distal and proximal system, isn’t just nice way of viewing things, it has been found to improve motivation and performance along the journey as measured by early perceived self-efficacy. And showing that accomplishing proximal goals increased self-efficacy perceptions, satisfaction with performance, and task persistence.
If you want a deep dive on setting a new ambition or goal and the structure to stay on task and persist a system such as SMART can help in the planning. But if you’re looking for a simple reminder of how you should be viewing your progress an approximate distal system simply helps us to get our heads down and get our heads up.
This is equivalent to looking up and looking down. You need to look up at the mountain top to see where you’re going and to renew your ambition. Then you’ll need to look down to see where your next step is going to be.
Looking up is about getting inspiration
Looking down is about the perspiration
Us humans need both for success.

About steveingham

Dr Steve Ingham is one of the UK’s leading figures in sport and one of the world’s leading performance scientists. He is steeped in high performance and has been integral to the development of Britain into an Olympic superpower. He has provided support to over 1000 athletes, of which over 200 have achieved World or Olympic medal success, including some of the world’s greatest athletes such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent. Steve has coached Kelly Sotherton's running for heptathlon and to 4x400m Olympic medal winning success. Steve has worked at the English Sports Council British Olympic Association, English Institute of Sport, where Steve was the Director of Science and Technical Development, leading a team of 200 scientists in support of Team GB and Paralympics GB. Ingham holds a BSc, PhD and is a Fellow of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Steve is author of the best selling ‘How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete’, discussing and inspiring the importance of learning and adapting to reach our maximum potential. Steve established Supporting Champions with the ambition of helping ambitious people to find a better way of creating high-performance. Steve hosts the Supporting Champions Podcast on sharing his pursuit of understanding and exploration in performance.

Leave a Comment