We have many ways that we experience evaluation. I judge myself, other people judge me. But, against what? Do the metrics that I apply to myself or that others apply to me make any sense? To measure me with a number may have a value, but that does not mean that it is valuable. It is a harmful shortcut to measure myself with numbers: the goals will be arbitrary, the completion fleeting, the sense of journey likely missing.
Today is further experimentation in non-numerical goal setting. On the surface, this might look like another post on adventuring, but I’m only flagging it under work. I’ll return to goal setting in a framework for research science at the end, but hang with me for now. “Personal trial 10 km” appears on my exercise calendar for the day. Since I don’t run using speed or distance as feedback mechanisms, how do I approach this day in a way that challenges me mentally and physically?
I wrote in a recent post about making goal evaluations on the fly and responding to those evaluations. This morning I revisited that post to help me prepare a list of goals for today’s 10-km race taking place only in my head. The table below is as it appeared as I headed out the door for my run. What kind of non-numerical goals help you move through processes that are commonly made with numbers?
|Finish with a smile||Cool-down check in|
|Finish empty||Cool-down check in|
|On the fly effort evaluation||Checks and adjustments|
|Easy and light movement||Checks and adjustments|
|Thoughtful post-run report||After writing|
|Avoid checking numbers for 24 hours||Next-day evaluation|
|Prepare for next bout||Next-day evaluation|
There are many valid reasons to avoid making one or more numerical goals today. I mean, it’s a personal race of 10 km and that’s already a number, right? As I would do for a science experiment, I’ll interrupt with the following question before you begin the trial of measuring: Once you’ve made the measurement, what are you going to do with the number?
A typical reason to take careful note of times or speeds would be to compare to, let’s imagine, a similar run 2 months in the future. The winds play funny games here on the coast, and my route took me through two valleys and along the sea, so did I have a headwind or a tailwind? It was raining, but how hard? Did I sleep well and eat well the day before? Did I get a parade of inattentive drivers coming off the ferry who forced me off the road? To get a real evaluation using paces and times, I would need to do this trial regularly and, even so, a single measurement carries little weight.
I’m not saying it’s easy to give up making goals based on numbers. It takes practice, being aware of my internal dialogue, and responding to my own mistakes to make and evaluate goals without numbers. Today I intentionally negated two external, numerical measures: pace and distance.
- Pace. Easy for me these days. I use my watch, but it only shows me a breadcrumb map while I run. It is easy to ignore because it gives me no useful information during this run.
- Distance. This one took planning. How do you run 10 km without knowing the finish line? My method today was to blur out the finish line. Our main road has distance markers every 500 m, and I know them all by heart. I started, therefore, running down a few side spurs to confuse me on the exact placement of my 10-km finish line. In addition, I had my watch set to buzz on laps of 10 km. So hitting the “lap” button just after finishing my warm up gave me a buzz to mark a definite end inside my blurry finish zone.
Let’s fill out some of these evaluations. I’ll pick up “evaluating goals” as a theme for a future post, but notice how I make specific evaluations on non-numerical goals.
|Finish with a smile||Improving. Some sadness at missing a final sprint because of my fuzzy finish line.|
|Finish empty||Improving. I often finish before I’m tired because I pull back mid-run. Close to empty though with probably 500 m and one more upshift in speed available right as watch buzzed.|
|On the fly effort evaluation||Improving. Recognized earlier that I can push harder.|
|Easy and light movement||Constant. I want to feel more power moving through my quads and more loose above the waist.|
|Thoughtful post-run report||Improving.|
|Avoid checking numbers for 24 hours||(Next-day evaluation). I have hid myself from numerical feedback and plan to never check this run.|
|Prepare for next bout||(Next-day evaluation)|
Planning and evaluation in science have numerical goal setting as a common pitfall, too. I’ve been there, I’ve written them, I’ve felt trapped by them. I am learning to devalue, ignore, and avoid them.
- paper written by x day on calendar
- y of papers written by x day on calendar
- z conference presentations this year
- a pages/words written by x day on calendar
- grade b on an exam/course
- amount of money c earned per year
- specific measurement/study completed by x day on calendar
- …the list goes on and on
As with any measurement, my assessment of what it means has a longer-lasting effect than knowing simply what it is. Sure, there are deadlines, external evaluators who insist that numbers are how they will assess me. But, when I plot my course with non-numerical goals, I can help my evaluations have value.