Climbing to the Top with Effective Mid- level Goals

Author: Matt K Training | | Categories: Behavior modification , Goal setting/planning to succeed

Blog by Matt K Training

Earlier I wrote about the Destination or wellness vision. Reaching this is a journey, one completed in a stepwise manner. My wellness vision, is the outcome I am looking to achieve, a “long-term” or “outcome goal. Successfully realizing this outcome necessitates the steps be on the path that encompasses my goals and ultimately leads to that end. In a past article, we looked at some examples of goals that aligned to an overall outcome. In this post we’ll zoom in on those mid-level goals and how to define and classify them. We’ll look at ways to assure they are effective and indeed on that path that leads you to your ultimate outcome. As usual, you’ll find a plethora of easy tips, tricks, and examples to help you do this.

Types of “goals”

There are basically three types of goals, which we can call high, mid, and low level. Each is differentiated basically by the amount of control we have over its success. We have the least amount of control over the high level or “outcome” goal. These outcomes should be long term (months to years) and are usually a result of many factors. The outcome goal (synonymous with my overall vision) is the top of the pyramid (the one with the stairs and landings leading up).

Here’s an example of an “outcome” goal:

I want to be living the running lifestyle. People will know me as the guy who runs and competes in road races. The guy who trains regularly but also knows when to rest and relax! I push for communities that have safe and accessible places to run, outdoors and in. I take great care of myself, and want to age well and continue these activities well into the future!

This above example is an outcome. It occurs as a result of many factors coalescing. It cannot be done quickly, nor is the pathway always straightforward or clear. I can’t force people to associate me with these running related activities. Aging well, again, I cannot control this directly, I can only do my best over time to maintain my health and fitness. Each of these points require consistent, relevant, rational, habitual behaviors over time to achieve. The better picture we have, the easier the factors we need to address can be identified. Achieving a specific bodyweight, obtaining expertise or recognition in a particular field, winning a match or a series of events, changing a lifestyle. These are all outcomes.

Its a stepwise process

As mentioned, with most journeys, realizing your vision is a step by step process. In fact it may be useful to imagine a stairwell, complete with flights and landings (no elevators though). Each landing reflects a goal (mid-level), and upon accomplishing, an opportunity to reflect and acknowledge success (no matter how small it may seem). To get to the landing, you need to climb the stairs, which could represent the steps (low-level goals) you take to achieve your (mid-level) goal.

Setting the mid-level goal

The mid-level goal, also called a performance goal allows more direct control than the outcome goal. Accomplishing a specific running time (<7 minute mile), getting a degree, landing a job, learning a new skill are all mid-level or performance goals. I have some control. For instance in landing a job I can apply for the job, prepare myself for it, reach out to others for support and help but I can’t make someone hire me. Based on the previous example (the runner) of an outcome, some possible performance goals I might have would be:

  • Complete a half-marathon
  • Form a local running group that runs and trains together

Remember, an outcome results from the coalescing of multiple factors. Your mid-level goal(s) should target these factors. If the outcome takes months to years to achieve, then the mid-level goal should take weeks to months.

Starting with the middle in mind

What if all you can think of are mid-level goals? Those stairs and landings have to lead somewhere useful don’t they? Finding some direction can be a challenge. Here’s some ideas when you’re starting in the middle:

  • Pick it apart. Let's say I want to lose weight (the most common mid-level goal ever). How much weight? Why do I want/need to lose weight? What will I do when I lose it?
  • Make it an outcome. What's the ideal version of losing weight? What is the ideal weight for me? My answer may look something like "I want to weight 140 lbs." (which entails losing a significant amount of weight). I chose this weight because its what I used weigh back in the day, when I was healthy. Thus my new mid-level goal might be taking a smaller piece of that. An amount of weight I could reasonably lose in a couple of months, say 10 lbs.

Answering these questions may give me the extra details I need to formulate a rough “draft” of an outcome.

Refining my mid level goal(s)

Once you have a draft of the outcome (top of the staircase) and a good idea of the mid-level goals (the landings), run those mid-level goals through the following checklist:

  • Put them in writing- The jury is out on whether keeping written goals has any evidence-based support. At the very least, the act of writing dedicates some mental energy making the goal(s) more than just “passing thoughts”, privy to dismissing once a roadblock appears or simply forgetting.
  • Get the details right – You should be able to describe what you are doing and where you are doing it. Using our earlier example of completing a half marathon, are you “running” it or just “finishing” it? Is this to be an official sanctioned event with other runners or a solo event of your choosing (if so, where is that route? Or are you going around an outdoor track at the local high school 13.1 times?)
  • Ask the obvious– How will I know if I succeed? I’ll show up, start and finish 13.1 miles later. I’ll time it with my smartwatch. These are objective measurements, (not susceptible to opinion, moods, or judgement).
  • Look at the evidence – You should have some supporting data. Have you run before? What’s the longest run you’ve ever done? When was that? Have you been running and this distance is just a little bit more? Or are you starting from scratch (if you are, you should read this article first). What skills do you need to accomplish this?
  • Take a panoramic view – Will this goal get me closer to achieving the overall outcome? You should be able to easily explain this.
  • Commit – Put it in your calendar. Tell someone who supports you about it.

In summary

The three major classifications of goals are the outcome, mid-level (or performance), and the low-level (or process). In this post we discussed the relationship between the outcome and mid-level goal. We then learned some ways to farther define and round our those mid-level goals. The important points here are that effective mid-level goals:

  • target the factors that lead to an outcome
  • are things you have some direct control over
  • take weeks to months to achieve
  • are comprised of a series of steps or process goals, performed regularly and often

Once the outcome is drafted and the mid-level goals have been run through the gauntlet (above) you can go ahead and start on that to-do list. In a future post we’ll get more into those steps (the stairs leading to each landing, also known as low-level or “process” goals).

Looking for guidance in improving your athletic performance? Better yet, ready to make a change in your life? I help folks eat, move, and recover well, contact me here to set up a free consult!

Published by mattktraining

I am currently the Owner of my soloprenuerial company Matt K Training. Through my fitness and nutrition programs I help adults develop skills and practices that help them eat, move, and recover well. Over the past 20 years, in various roles such as a Personal trainer, Exercise Physiologist, Clinical Researcher, and Health Coach I have helped hundreds of adults reach their health and physical performance goals. When not working, I enjoy active pursuits such as playing right field for the Charlton Giants (in a 38+ competitive baseball league), playing tennis, hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing. I also enjoy indoor activities such as playing strategy board games, reading and discussing science fiction literature, dabbling with my guitar, finding creative ways to eat oatmeal, and being a good dad.