Try This: A Better Goal Setting Method

After talking about my goals, I realized I have never actually talked about my goal setting methodology.

Every person I know has, at some point, set a target for themselves. Most of them never get obtained.

What you are probably doing

If you are like most people in the professional world, you’ve been taught SMART goals. SMART, if you aren’t familiar, stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bounded

To be clear, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with SMART goals. When implemented correctly, they make good guidelines. The trouble is that most people just don’t have enough practice on each of those components.

The thing glaringly lacking from SMART goals is an actual plan. A goal without a plan is just a wish.

As one former commander of mine used to put it, “You can wish in one hand and shit in the other; see which one fills up first.”

Writing Better Goals

With Winning in Mind, by Lanny Basham, is one of my favorite books. My method is derived from this, though a bit less rigid. The first step in a proper goal is to decide exactly what it is that we want to achieve and when. When we talk of specificity, you need to think about the end state and not the process.

For example, take these two goals:

  • Lose 20 pounds
  • Weigh 190 pounds or less

If the person who wrote these weighs 210 pounds today, what is the distinction between the goals? They both say the same thing, right? They just state different ways of looking at a target.

This is where psychology comes into play, along with how we think and talk about our goals. The successful person will always talk in terms of how they see themselves at the end. Those who don’t focus on the outcome tend to get lost.

The first person is more likely to say, “I’m trying to lose 20 pounds.” By constantly speaking in terms of “trying,” they subconsciously program their minds to never really reach the goal. They don’t see themselves as someone who weighs 190 pounds, but someone who is perpetually trying to lose 20 pounds. Think of smokers you have known who are “trying to quit,” and get close to the end goal only to revert and continue “trying.”

So, to recap, step one of choosing a specific goal is to choose the specific end state you envision.

Step two is deciding exactly how you will measure such a goal and under what conditions. To truly demonstrate progress, measurements must be done in a controlled and consistent manner. For example, “hitting the ring” doesn’t say a whole lot by itself. Am I shooting from a standing, kneeling, sitting, or prone position? Am I shooting outside in calm weather, or in cold/windy/rainy weather? How much time do I have to prepare for the shot? What kind of rifle will I be using?

Here is how I would incorporate that information into goals, starting with our weight loss example:

  • Standing on my bathroom scale in the morning after a shower and before breakfast, weigh 190 pounds or less
  • From sitting position outside in calm weather using my primary match rifle, place at least three out of five shots in the x-ring (bullseye) of a standard A-23 target from 50 yards.
  • From a fasted state within one hour of waking up, complete a 3.2 mile run over gentle hills in 24 minutes or less

Those three goals are all specific and include measurement conditions. I will know exactly when I have achieved my goal, and I can clearly chart progress towards that goal for feedback and review.

I haven’t mentioned time-bounding, achievability, and relevancy, though.

Achievability and Relevancy

Your goals should be challenging. Easy goals don’t motivate us the way that difficult goals do. Achieving difficult goals gives us a stronger dose of the positive neurotransmitters in our brains that make us feel good about ourselves. Failing to achieve goals does the opposite. Balance those two factors the best you can.

A common problem is that people often set goals in areas they don’t have a large amount of knowledge or experience. If you do not know a lot about a subject, it is easy to incorrectly estimate what a fair amount of time would be to give yourself, or how difficult a goal might be, or even if you’re tracking the right data points. I did this early on starting this blog, and received solid feedback from others that my goals were too aggressive.

For another example, most people use the number on the scale as the sole indicator of health. However, health and fitness experts generally agree that measuring the weight of a person is not nearly as good an indicator of health as using body fat percentage and strength capacity. If you take two women of roughly the same body type who both weigh 140 pounds, but one has a body fat percentage of 20% and the other a body fat percentage of 30%, the former may look like a toned swimsuit model and the other will look flabby. But they weigh the same amount.

Moreover, dropping 10% body fat in a short amount of time is also unhealthy and comes with a high risk of “rebound.” The difficulty and proper time programming must be accounted for. When you set a goal, do your homework!

What About Planning?

How much do you care about achieving your goal? What are you willing to give up reaching it? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just wanting it is enough. In his great book, Mastery, George Leonard talks about the concept of homeostasis. Whatever life patterns, social relationships, and obligations you have established to this point are going to fight against any effort you make to change something about your life. Change is hard, it makes others feel uncomfortable. So what are you going to give up?

Our fat loss goal is not going to happen by itself. It’s going to take eating right, exercising, and discipline. Are you willing to wake up earlier and feel more tired during the day so you can fit a workout in? Are you willing to put up with ribbing and teasing from friends about your new “clean” eating habits? Are you prepared for the increased time (and fiscal) commitment to buying and cooking your own food?

If these factors bother you more than not reaching your goal, then you will fail.

Whatever your goal, are you willing to trade your life for it? If the answer is no, then stop here and go pick a new goal that you are willing to trade for. Failing to reach your goals will only put you in a spiral of frustration and failure, which will hurt any other goals you have.

Once you’ve got your goal, and put a fair deadline on it (and you really need to put a deadline on it), it’s time to plan for it.

First, list the things that might stop you from achieving your goal? Let’s look at few for our fat loss goal.

  • Time – required to exercise, cook, and eat slowly
  • Financial resources – It might cost more to buy and cook your own food
  • Social relationships – People may give you a hard time for trying to break out of the pigeonhole they put you in
  • Convenience – Bringing your own lunch to work is less convenient than eating out

Really take the time to sit down and think about this. List everything that might hold you back.

Now, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to compensate for those things that will hold you back?

  • Time – Wake up earlier, pick efficient workouts, eat small meals
  • Financial resources – Build a budget that involves less Starbucks or other niceties (Satellite Radio? Luxury cell phone plans? Good beer/wine habit? Comprehensive cable/satellite TV packages? If you aren’t willing to give those up, then this goal wasn’t important enough to you to begin with)
  • Social relationships – Pre-build list of comeback quips, form new supportive relationships, get others to join you
  • Convenience – Embrace it?

Lastly, how are you going to reach your goal? What is your plan? This will probably require you to create sub-goals and milestones. Follow this whole process again for each of those. How often are you going to exercise? What proportions of fats/proteins/carbohydrates are you going to eat? What is the deadline for each of your milestones?

Perhaps even more important, what is the next goal you want to achieve after you’ve reached this one? Always have another goal in sight. If you’ve reached your goal for body fat percentage, what about establishing a goal for strength? How about winning a competition?

Never stagnate. Never stop growing.


Establish a New Rhythm

Breaking established patterns is a hard thing to do, and often very disruptive. The recent sweeping changes in nearly every aspect of my life have dramatically challenged even the most routine activities that I had grown accustomed to. A new career in a different industry (with very different expectations) means I need spend a lot more time “learning my craft” than I used to. Different work hours mean my daily battle rhythm doesn’t fit anymore. A tighter budget less ammunition to practice with, and living farther away from a suitable range means live practice sessions get fewer.

These are not insurmountable problems. Difficult, yes, but manageable.

To establish a new baseline, I need to set some priorities and goals. I did this way back in the beginning, and it’s time to revisit that process. In the last post, I mentioned that the four domains I will be focusing on for the coming years include physical capabilities, skillsets, tactical know-how, and mindset. The two of those most relevant to the topics I write about are skillsets and tactical know-how, so let’s focus on those. For accountability, I’m doing this publicly.


Goal #1: From a standing position with the weapon on the ground, identify and correct any type of malfunction within five seconds of picking up the weapon.

  • Deadline: July 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints: I have had no formal instruction on malfunction clearing, though the information is out there and readily available. I do not need life ammunition for this goal, and I have a sufficient quantity of snap caps, dummy rounds, and spent brass on hand to make this a useful exercise. Malfunction practice does not require a large time commitment.
  • Countermeasures: Schedule adequate time into my day/week to practice this skill.
  • Process: This will follow a standard crawl-walk-run progression. I will practice “setting up” the malfunction to gain better understanding of what is happening, and then slowly clear the malfunction. Gradually, I will work towards the target time goal.

Goal #2: From any position, perform a speed reload within one second after recognition of need; perform a retention reload within two seconds of recognition of need.

  • Deadline: July 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints: I have limited instruction on rifle reload techniques, and they were last practiced nearly five years ago (before I had to install the dreaded bullet button and use low-capacity magazines). I have a sufficient quantity of magazines to practice with, and I do not need live ammunition to perform this practice. I do not expect this to require a large time commitment.
  • Countermeasures: Schedule adequate time into my day/week to practice this skill
  • Process: I already have a foundational knowledge of speed and retention reloads, so that skips me past the “crawl” phase, but I do need to practice from positions other than standing. This will be done slowly until the movement patterns are set, and then sped up to meet time goals.

Goal #3: From any position, acquire any other field position and obtain a correct natural point of aim within three seconds.

  • Deadline: July 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints:  I already have a solid knowledge of the traditional field positions, but do need to practice the more unconventional ones. Additionally, the main factors that might slow me down are strength/flexibility and speedy NPOA attainment. This exercise may require rethinking my equipment positioning to better facilitate smooth movement. Lastly, this will require more time.
  • Countermeasures: Schedule time, even if in small chunks, to practice this skill at least two days per week. I already incorporate strength training in my schedule at least two (usually three) days per week. I will also have to reincorporate NPOA practice back into my dry fire routines.
  • Process: In addition to the traditional shooting positions I’ve spent time covering, I also need to study and practice the unconventional positions. Once I have a foundational knowledge of these, I will practice slowly transitioning from one to another and obtaining a correct sight picture. I estimate that the transition part will be fast, it’s the NPOA component that will be slower.

Tactical Know-How

Goal #1: Graduate from at least one formal training course that includes weapon handling and small unit tactics.

  • Deadline: November 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints: Cost, both in course fees and ammunition requirements. Time off from work and away from family. Potential lack of suitable equipment (not likely).  I listed two rather distinct skill sets in this goal, so it may require two separate courses of instruction done at different times.
  • Countermeasures: I already have some funds set aside for training/education goals, so that really leaves the cost of ammunition (and travel) as the financial impediment. I need to try an set aside some funding each month to purchase the requisite ammunition. Regarding time off, If I can find a course that blends into a long weekend, that would be ideal. Otherwise, I will just have to eat the days off from work.
  • Process: I need to identify a suitable school and training course, identify the budget and gear requirements, register, and attend.


Goal #2: Locate, read, and practice at least one book on fieldcraft.

  • Deadline: July 1st, 2017
  • Possible Constraints: Time
  • Countermeasures: Audiobook or small reading sessions before bed spread over time.
  • Process: Do research, gather input, go read.

And that about wraps it up. Doing some quick research on the area, I fear I’m going to be disappointed with the availability of outdoor ranges in the Northern Virginia area. The range I was hoping to join, Peacemaker National Training Center (in West Virginia) is apparently not accepting new memberships until a pending civil lawsuit over noise complaints is worked out. The other outdoor range relatively close to me, the Fairfax Rod & Gun Club, requires two members to vouch for me, a $1500 – $3000 membership fee, and has a huge waiting list. Sadly, I think I was spoiled by living out west where I could join a club for $40 a year, no waiting lists, and good facilities.

Also of note, you may have seen that I’m switching up the layout here a bit. I thought it was time for a refresh after three years. I also started up an Instagram account, so go on over there and follow me. That will be where I put things that are just quick thoughts not long enough to warrant a full blog post.


The Competing Interests Model

Not long ago, I talked about the well known Time-Cost-Quality Paradigm, and how it applies to both firearms and training. I want to revisit that concept, because I’ve come across something else that I think is an even better way to look at it.

While working on a professional certification, I’ve been reading about another model used in project management called the “Competing Interests” paradigm. Whereas the old Time-Cost-Quality may be more appropriate for things, it is not as useful for people. People often have competing priorities and limited resources that affect how decisions are made.

The competing interests model has the previous time-cost-quality components, but adds a few more. In all, these include Time, Cost, Scope, Quality, Resources,  and Risk.

Project Constraints.png


So how do we apply these? Let’s look at the definition of each of these components, and how they apply to our marksmanship journey. These concepts are interrelated, and you will see some overlaps in definition. The takeaway is that changing one will affect the others.

Time: How much time is available? When does this project/evolution/skill need to be acquired by? More or less time pressure will affect how other resources are utilized.

Cost: How much does this cost in terms of dollars? How much does training, ammunition, or equipment cost in order to obtain the desired end result?

Scope: What is it that we are trying to accomplish? Are we working on a particular rifle skill, such as rifle marksmanship, or are we working on a variety of skills that include marksmanship as a component?

Quality: How good is the end result supposed to be? Do we need to maintain a 4 MOA standard, or a 2 MOA standard? Do we need to be able to do this under ideal conditions, or any condition?

Resources: These are things available to us that are not necessarily dollar related. What kind of people are available to us to help us? What kind of facilities do we have to practice? What kind of equipment do we have access to? How much time can we dedicate to our pursuits?

Risk: What would happen if we failed to reach the desired end result in the time allotted? If we prioritize other elements ahead of our practice, what “bad things” might happen?

Put it to Use

I like this model because it provides us more detail and a broader framework for understanding why we make the decisions that we do. I often read lamentations from the “serious” firearms user crowd that other folks around them really aren’t putting in enough time and effort into “serious” training. When asked what kind of training and practice they believe folks should be doing, they invariable talk about whatever their preferred brand of tactical/practical/go-fast method of shooting is. This often happens at the expense of other areas of skills that are just as valuable (if not more) depending on an individuals priorities and experiences. Not everyone perceives the same risks and needs as everyone else, nor are they preparing for the same kinds of events.

I recently saw a YouTube video of bushcrafter Dave Canterbury talking about priorities in the “prepper community.” He mentioned the guys out there who stockpile ammo forts of 40,000 rounds of ammunition and years worth of food, but have no other skills. His priority is to be proficient enough with weapons to use them when needed, but puts his efforts towards learning basic skills like woodworking and blacksmithing that will enable him to create tools and actively provide for himself and others. To him, the risk is that he finds himself in a situation where he may have weapons, but no way to find shelter or prepare food.

Others will put their efforts into weapons handling and small unit tactics. They envision roving gangs of no-goodniks looking to steal resources and harm communities. To them, the risk is that without proper equipment and training, there will be no safety to be had. They want to protect the lives if them and theirs, and keep their communities safe.

Yet many more are not concerned about either of these scenarios, and see risk as not winning a match or losing prestige in their chosen fields of competition.

No two people have the same priorities, and how we address the six competing interests will vary from person to person.

As an “Everyday” marksman, I find that my interests are fairly wide and varied. I want to be proficient with my rifle and pistol, but I am not necessarily preparing for TEOTWAKI. I simply wish to be a capable human being who can protect me and mine, while also possessing the knowledge and skills to provide and survive as well.


A Glance at METT-T

I was writing an entry detailing my “Fighting Load” within the the guidelines of Army regulation and my own needs. The post was growing excessively lengthy because of my description of the decision making process I’m using to prioritize the load. If I had that much to say about it, then it probably deserves to be its own post.

In the past, I have mentioned the importance of choosing the rifle configuration that best matches your actual use, and not your imagined use. Correlating to this, my second law of purchasing rifles and accessories is, “Let the mission dictate the configuration.” If you’re not sure what your need is, then it’s probably best to stick to a generalized configuration that does okay at a lot of things without being great at any one particular task (a summary of my recommendations for first time AR-15 buyers). This holds true for the rest of the equipment that can be brought along for a marksman’s mission.

Factors for a Fighting Load

As much as we would like to try, it is simply impossible to be ready for every possible contingency at the same time. It’s relatively easy to load up a vehicle with a ton of gear you might need for any given situation, but it’s another when you have to carry it all yourself. I made this mistake when hiking the Smokey Mountain leg of the Appalachian Trail several years ago. I packed too much food, clothing, and “extras” for the amount of time that we were actually on the trail and the conditions that we were actually backpacking in. The heavy pack combined with a heavy pair of “tactical boots” from a local surplus store, rather than purpose built hiking boots (another lesson learned), meant my knees were just about shot after the fourth day and I was all but out of commission by the seventh. I would have been better off carrying far less and relying on a resupply every few days, especially given the rather dramatic elevation changes and relatively difficult terrain on that section of the trail.

The Army has long struggled with this concept as well. There is a rather famous story about an officer during WWII, frustrated with the amount of equipment his men were being required to carry, walking into his commander’s officer wearing every item of “kit” that the brass wanted the enlisted men to hump. The load was extremely excessive and the bulk was laughable. The men were making active decisions to ditch much of the equipment at the risk of punishment for not following SOP. The officer made his point and the commander sought to provide more leeway. The most modern iteration of this is called METT-TC, which stands for Mission, Enemy, Terrain/Weather, Troops, Time, Civil considerations. I find that using this model (minus the C at the end, which takes it back to the METT-T model that has been around long before the GWOT) is very practical.

Mission: What is it that you are trying to accomplish? Figure out the who, what, where, when, and why of the mission. What will be required to complete that task? What constraints might limit me from accomplishing that task, and how will you overcome them?

Enemy: Who are your adversaries? What are their capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses? How will you counter their capabilities and strengths while taking advantage of their weaknesses?

Terrain/Weather: Where will you be performing this mission? Is the ground level or will there be elevation changes? What kind of cover/concealment is available? How available is fresh water? What will the climate be like (cold/heat/rain/etc)? How will you account for or take advantage of these factors?

Troops: What are your capabilities as far as equipment and training? What about your team (if present)? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you leverage strengths to reduce load? Will weaknesses cause you to require more resources?

Time: How much time do you have to prepare? Do you have time to improve your weaknesses (conditioning/capability)? How long will you be in the field without resupply?

Using these factors, you will be better prepared to prioritize what kind of items you should be carrying. If you are unconditioned or unused to carrying loads over terrain, for instance, then you will likely need to carry more water and move at a slower pace. If your enemy is a deer that won’t fight back or take cover, you probably don’t need to carry much extra ammunition. If it’s going to be warm and dry, then you don’t really need to bring rain gear and bulky insulated garments. If you need to “pack out” the carcass of an elk over rough terrain, then you should probably start with a lower equipment load so you have “room” for that task.

For defensive scenarios, it is really an exercise in risk management. Your average concealed carrier who is not likely to draw their weapon, much less get involved in a shootout, probably doesn’t need more than a couple magazines for their pistol. But if you are looking for trouble, or intend to cause trouble, then you will probably want to carry more ammunition as well as other supplies.

Similarly, as you analyze weaknesses of both yourself and your team, be honest about them as well as what you can do to either eliminate them or mitigate them. If your problem is fitness, then it is within your control to improve upon it. If you lack practice, then go to the range. If you lack training, then go out and get it. This is true for all things in life.