Do you want to be better, stronger, faster? Do you want to know what Olympic, Division I and other elite athletes do to raise their game?
You may think you know how to set goals. But are you fully applying the science and psychology of goal setting to truly elevate your performance at work and in life?
Goal setting for peak performance is not your father’s Oldsmobile. This is prime time, baby! You can achieve practically anything by adopting hardcore goal-setting principles.
Set specific goals. Specific goals generate higher performance than either saying, “do your best,” or setting no goals at all. If you want to get stronger, for example, it is not too helpful to set the goal of taking a weightlifting class. Identify the specific thing (say, increasing your bench press weight) by a specific amount (say, 20%) by a specific time frame (say, three months).
Set realistic but challenging goals. Goals should be challenging and difficult yet attainable if you really stretch yourself. If they are too easy — just showing up for work as scheduled or just doing enough to get by — you will not need to go all out. This results in mediocrity. Maybe you’re on the team (perhaps the vice unit, UC gang squad or SWAT team), but you will not reach your potential, and you will never be the “go-to” guy with such mediocre goals. Your teammates will never give you the ball just before the buzzer. If your goals are too difficult — you want to be chief within three years despite just completing recruit probation — you will most likely experience frustration and failure, ultimately resulting in a downward spiral of self-confidence and performance. The secret is to strike the right balance between failure and pushing oneself to success. If you are meeting all your goals, then you are not making them challenging enough.
Set both long- and short-term goals. Athletes, including law enforcement personnel, need both short-term and long-term goals to keep motivation and performance high over time. Short-term goals are important because they provide feedback toward the long-term goal, such as 60 pushups in 60 seconds for the Physical Fitness Qualifier (PFQ) at the Academy. Perhaps the recruit is only able to do 46 pushups in 60 seconds, and the PFQ is seven weeks away. The recruit can set short-term goals by dividing the remaining quantity (in this case, 14 more pushups still needed to hit 60 total) and the remaining time frame (in this case, seven weeks left until judgment day). This is two additional pushups each week until the PFQ. This could be broken down into smaller goals of one additional pushup every three-and-a-half days, and so on. Just keep breaking down your goals until they become bite-sized pieces that you can chew.
Set goals for practice and competition. Think about each work shift as your “practice” for the big “competition.” Yes, today could be just another training day. But, unlike elite athletes, police never know just when and where the competition will be held (such as the corner of Main Street and 1st Street at 2352 hours later today), the type of competition it will be (such as sprints, long-distance running, wrestling, boxing, high jumping, pistol, rifle or something else) and environmental variables (such as no lights or interfering bystanders), which sometimes simultaneously demand other professional skill sets during the competition (such as CPR, a tourniquet application or other tactical medicine).
How do you set goals for the shift when you never know exactly what the competition will be today? Examples of practice or shift goals include:
- Pre-game essentials (such as being present in the roll-call room, suited up, alert, warmed up and on your toes before the clock strikes)
- Giving positive reinforcement and encouragement to your partner and everyone on your shift (after all, you are on their team today)
- Displaying leadership behaviors (such as sharing knowledge)
- Achieving certain performance standards for specific skills (such as successfully completing quarterly firearms quals, practicing how to apply your department’s tactical disengagement strategies or door-knocking a certain number of businesses in your community if you are the senior lead officer in that area)
“Ink it, don’t think it.” Write down your goals. It is not enough to just have them in your head if you want to maximize your probability for success. Put them in a highly visible place where you can repeatedly see them during the day (such as the inside of your locker door, above your desk, on the refrigerator door or even on the bathroom mirror).
Develop goal-achievement strategies. Setting goals without also setting appropriate strategies for achieving these goals is like setting a goal to ride your bicycle in the Police Unity Tour without having a map to go from Florham Park, New Jersey, to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Let’s apply this principle to better shooting at the range. Let’s say the officer repeatedly just barely passes the pistols quals with the minimum score (say, 70%, or 175 out of 250 points), and he sets the specific performance goal for himself of 80% or 200 points. How is the officer going to achieve this goal? The officer might decide to change his stance to one of the three main types of stances — Isosceles, Weaver and Modified Weaver (Chapman). If the shooter is right-handed but left-eyed dominant like the author, he may want to consider the Chapman, which is geared toward that unique shooter’s approach. The officer may change his handgun grip. He could also identify what eye is dominant and focus on the front sight. Or he may need to re-evaluate trigger pull, breathing, trigger reset, etc.
Set performance goals. Set goals based on your performance as opposed to winning or losing. The winning will then usually take care of itself. If a squad meets its goals, for example, in the areas of foot speed, tactical de-escalation, tactical medicine, shooting accuracy and safety assessments, the chances of “winning” (i.e., going home safely, catching the bad guy, saving the day) go up dramatically. Focus on what you can control — your individual performance. Focus on how your performance compares with your past performance as opposed to focusing on other officers on your watch. If you are looking over your shoulder at someone else, then you are more likely to lose the race (aka get hurt or not get that promotion).
Set individual and team goals. You can set individual and team goals as long as the individual goals do not conflict with the team goals. If you want to execute a tactical deployment on the suicidal barricaded suspect with a gun (perhaps because of your individual goal as the SWAT OIC to cap personnel overtime and save money for the city), this could be in conflict with the team goals of tactical de-escalation.
Provide support for goals. When there are barriers to goal attainment, social support becomes all the more critical. Enlist the help of others — work partner, spouse, family, friends — to help you achieve your performance goals. This will get you to the “winning” sooner.
Provide for goal evaluation. This is often the most overlooked aspect of setting goals, but such evaluation should be ongoing in a rather continuous feedback loop. Many of your work statistics are readily available, so seek them out in periodic evaluation meetings (monthly or at least quarterly). Don’t wait for your annual performance evaluation. Adjust goals as needed to maintain your motivation and commitment.