Search
  • Scott Francis

Nested Goals




Recently, I contrasted two mornings which contained the same series of events, but which held radically different value. The events were mundane: kids dragging their feet getting ready in the morning, traffic clogging the highway, an accident blocking my usual route.


On the first day, I felt a sense of mounting frustration, snapping at my kids, cursing other drivers under my breath, feeling like a victim, and resenting all of it.


On the second day, I was confronted with the same apparent obstacles, but responded differently. I gave my kids the opportunity to practice picking their own clothes & shoes (even though it took longer), we talked about being grateful when other drivers let us change lanes, and the accident scene prompted two discussions - about paying attention & about how to navigate.


The second day was a much better day - my kids had the opportunity to learn, and my stress levels were much more reasonable. I walked into the rest of my day better able to teach & coach. What allowed the drastic shift in perspective from one day to the next?


Awareness of progress toward more appropriate goals.


Our goals are nested within each other like Russian dolls. They are all always there for us to find opportunity & work towards. But our focus can either be fluid, allowing this shift, or rigid - resisting it. If stuck on one goal, we miss opportunities for a more important, but longer-term goal.


What allowed the drastic shift in perspective from one day to the next?


We can shift focus to the most-important goal right now, and do our best work. This requires awareness of the variety of goals we hold AND their relative importance. We must practice paying attention, practice shifting attention, and practice judging the shift. Was it appropriate? Did it allow us to pursue a more meaningful goal now?


The kind of awareness that can focus on a particular goal, yet remain open to shifting if an opportunity presents itself, is difficult. It takes practice on both the focus and the broad-band “listening”; then practice integrating the two.


I see clients practice this on a micro-scale with some of the more complicated barbell lifts I teach. They are required to think about foot position, balancing their weight, moving in sequence, and moving explosively at the same time - all in a lift that takes about a second!


On the second day, I was confronted with the same apparent obstacles but responded differently. I gave my kids the opportunity to practice picking their own clothes & shoes (even though it took longer), we talked about being grateful when other drivers let us change lanes, and the accident scene prompted two discussions - about paying attention & about how to navigate.


In the gym, I see this when people integrate the movements of different body parts with the different systems that sense balance, and those that coordinate their breathing. Being able to switch focus to the most important of several goals right now, results in better performance. When they find the goal that needs their focus, the lift goes well.


Athletes bring it to the next level when they integrate their work in the gym with other physical influences and processes out side the gym - recovery, nutrition, sleep, stretching, posture awareness. As they see their attention to movement improve their health, they notice other opportunities to focus on and improve their health.


The great athletes integrate on an additional layer - aligning their sport with their social world, their intellectual pursuits, their work on developing their character. That’s when they take off, overcoming challenges they didn’t even think of when they first stepped into the gym.


We all have the opportunity to harness the same power within us. If we recognize the nested nature of our goals, we can find opportunity where others (with less focus, less awareness, less practice) see only obstacles.


Aim up, then get your head on a swivel. Check your aim, but also check that you’re aiming at the right target right now. With any practice, there will be mistakes, setbacks, and missed opportunities. But it’s how we learn.


Frustrated, resentful, angry? Ask if you’re aiming at the most valuable thing you can be doing right now. If not, aim a little higher, widen your scope. Find the way you can improve things right here, right now.



In the gym, I see this when people integrate the movements of different body parts with the different systems that sense balance and those that coordinate their breathing. Being able to switch focus to the most important of several goals right now, results in better performance. When they find the goal that needs their focus, the lift goes well.


12 views