21. Mastery over performance

May 14, 2020

Performance goals are a lot like outcome goals but they are usually associated with external validation. This is especially true today with social media and comparison culture conveniently tucked into our pockets. You may be shooting for a specific performance like a personal best lift or faster time to complete a workout/run. 

Mastery goals are about learning, developing skills, and the value we derive from becoming good at something or understanding it deeply. 

Performance goals have too many limitations to be reliable for more than short chunks of time. There are dozens of processes out of our control that affect our performance. Weather, getting sick or injured, and pandemics are in the waiting to derail your best performance intentions. Performance goals can push you to be your best but they can become demotivating if you don't achieve them. 

Chasing performance goals is not the best way to motivate yourself to workout. It's like chasing the dangling carrot. As soon as you get one there is another replaced to keep you moving. Psychologists refer to this as the hedonic treadmill and it can lead to some pretty mad mental states surrounding your fitness. 

Chasing mastery goals is a better idea because it almost always leads indirectly to better performance, without the mind games. It's about continuous skill development and focusing on the joy of learning which makes us feel good regardless of our workout time. 

In practice it looks like breaking your goal of setting a personal marathon record into the skills needed to reach it. In this instance it could be running four times per week to sharpen that skill and doing yoga twice more to counter stress. This process makes the goal about your behavior and mastering those instead of the arbitrary record. 

Try breaking down your performance objective into the most basic skills needed to achieve it. By doing so you can forget a lot of overly complex advice about how to practice those skills (this workout style versus that one).

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