Meaningful Goals in the Middle of COVID-19

Taz Coaching, Covid-19

Before COVID-19, when we talked with coaches about helping their people set meaningful goals, the conversations were around intrinsic motivation and digging down to the root of why people wanted more fitness in their lives.

Our first concern was the “motivation problem.” That is, Why are so many people so unmotivated to do something that would improve their lives? When people lack motivation, does that mean their goals lack significance or meaning to them?

So we started looking into motivation. Turns out, there’s some shadowy stuff at play here.

Here’s what we dug up:

  1. Intrinsic Motivation: This comes through the inherent enjoyment of the activity itself. “I train because I like it and it’s fun!”
  2. Integrated Motivation: Acts that are in alignment with personal goals and values. (Notice how “Integrated” and “Integrity” share the same root.) “I train to inspire others.”
  3. Identified Motivation: Based on the value people see in the doing of the thing or the results. “I train because I find the benefits of physical activities important.”
  4. Injected Motivation: Self-imposed pressure in the form of contingent self-esteem, guilt, shame and the urge to external valuation. This is wrapped up in how you want to be perceived. It’s the pressure you put on yourself in order to keep up appearances or maintain labels. “If I don’t exercise, I feel guilty” based on the belief that “Good people workout, bad/lazy/worthless people don’t.”
  5. External/Extrinsic Motivation: Compliance of external pressure or rewards. “I train because my husband/wife/father/mother thinks I need to lose weight” or “because I’ll get more likes on Instagram.”

There are many other motivational models. This is just one. But it got us thinking…

If a goal is rooted in Ego, does that make it a “bad” goal? Do ego-driven goals lead to ego-driven training?

If a goal is dependent on external validation, does that make it an inappropriate goal? Does the goal need to carry personal significance, or can it be for someone else and still keep you motivated?

The answers to those questions are nuanced and situational and worth exploring.

We started asking ourselves those kinds of questions because our objective with WUWO is resiliency. And to make humans more resilient, we need to first shift mindsets around working on weaknesses and create an environment where people can drop external validation and ego-driven goals at the door.

For us, some simple solutions to the goal-setting problem were:⁣

  • CrossFit/GPP/Fitness-biased programming⁣ to continually push up against those thresholds
  • Encouraging members to get clear on what they want from fitness
  • Building culture around more meaningful goals⁣ and tracking the results so that people get the transformations they need

To do all this, we had to think deeply about how our behaviors and systems:⁣⠀⠀

  • Discourage members from cherry-picking workouts so they only train their strengths⁣
  • Help members set meaningful goals and track progress⁣
  • Give coaches tools for providing education around GPP

To be completely honest, we started speaking about intrinsic motivation because we noticed a trend in the fitness industry to gamify goals and reward little wins along the way. A lot of it seemed gimmicky to us.

We kept thinking: If it’s genuinely a meaningful goal to someone, shouldn’t progress be the reward? Or is that too limiting? If progress is not enough, do we need to dig deeper to discover what someone really wants?

How can we guide clients and members through the goal-setting process so that they create goals in alignment with their vision of the life they want to live, the things they want to do, the experiences they want to have?⠀

Fitnessing for Them

Goal setting is tricky business. Shame and identity can muddy the waters when trying to get clear on what it is you want and why you want it — is it something you actually want, or something the world told you to want?!?

Ohhhhh that’s some mind-bending goodness right there. Just keeping it light and fuzzy around here. 😬⁣

In our experiences with goal-setting, issues of identity can surface. This is where you get into interesting territory: Setting goals that are more about external validation and pleasing other people than truly satisfying a real want or need.

Extrinsic motivation is often rooted in hustling for worthiness and winning the approval of others.

This doesn’t have to be a “bad” or “wrong” thing, maybe a more useful way to put it is that if our mission is to keep clients fit for decades, we need to help them set sustainable goals that are appropriate for their level of commitment.

It’s not about what’s “bad or good” or “right or wrong” — it’s about what’s effective.

Extrinsic motivation — in the form of an event, a hurtful comment, a request from your spouse/partner, a reality check from the doc or from the pain of not being strong/fit enough to do something you enjoy — can be a powerful spark. But if we want a long-burning fire (again, decades of fitness!), we need more than just a spark. We need to tap into goals that are meaningful to us, goals that feel “worth” all the sweat and hard work.⠀

Be thankful for what got ’em in front of you but help them transform that energy into something that could give them what they want (not what others want for/from them).

There’s a lot of data out there that says the more autonomous and free people feel in their goal setting, the better.

If we’re going to create a culture of self-aware adults who take responsibility for themselves and are comfortable getting uncomfortable (qualities that mesh real well with a GPP or CrossFit program, btw), then we have to walk the talk.

We have to consider how our goals might be rooted in fears of being voted off the island because we’re not attractive enough, funny enough, cool enough, blahbidy, blibbidy, bloobidy.⁣

Personal Inquiry:

Scribble down 10-20 thoughts on these statements:⁣

  • I want to be perceived as…⁣
  • I don’t want to be perceived as…⁣

How did you come by these beliefs about who you should and shouldn’t be? (Or couldn’t be.)⁣

Now think about why you workout, what you hope to get from fitness, how you expect fitness to improve your life.

Ask yourself: How is fitness going to help me live my best life?

Give some awareness to how these underlying beliefs about how you want to be perceived could heavily influence your goals and your why for fitnessing.⁣

Are your goals even your goals?

Or are they echoes of other people’s words and expectations? (Are you being haunted?!?)⁣

Are your answers based on beliefs dumped onto you by the external world? All the “you should…” messages.⁣

Or are they tapped into the good stuff? The stuff that makes you feel turned up, more alive, and ready to keep rockin on.

Be real with yourself.

In our interview with Adee Cazayouz who runs Working Against Gravity, she commented on how people often come to her with goals that dramatically shift after a little inquiry. Someone’s goal might be to look like Brooke Ence, but when they’re given a better picture of what it’s going to take, how much work and sacrifice and time are required, they realize it’s not actually what they want. In Adee’s words, it’s incredibly freeing to let go of goals you don’t want to achieve. (You can jump to that specific spot in our conversation here.)

Yet another reminder of how we can give our whole life to working and striving for something we don’t even want.

Have Goals Changed Because of COVID-19?

Things are different now.

The weird, strange beauty of it all might be that people get more real than ever about who they are and what they want.

External validation might not be a problem at all today.

Regardless, every single member came to your gym because you offered a solution to a problem.

With the world all topsy turvy, they have new problems.

Which means they need a new why, new meaningful goals.

We don’t know when this is going to be over. So don’t wait to check-in with your people to find out why they’re still working out. At home. Amidst the kids and the dogs and their jobs and the chaos of now.

We’re living in a different reality than last year.

What was a priority before COVID-19 might not be a priority now.

It’s time for a goal check-in.

It’s time for you to ask your people how they need you to show up and serve today, right now.

Stop looking in the rearview mirror.

Additional Resources:

What is a “Bad” Goal?

What Are They Buying Now? That thing you used to sell isn’t what people are buying online.


Wanna see a session plan?

Take a look at the plan for July 4, 2020

1-Day Preview

Get 2 Free Weeks of Session Plans

To see if we're a good fit for you. No strings attached.

About the Author


I’m the one you love to hate — I am the session planner here at WUWO. #Sorrynotsorry. I’m also a CrossFit coach, an outnumbered mamma (3 boys) and wife to Pat. My other true loves are the ocean and cooking tasty meals inspired by our travels.

Read more posts by Taz