The ABC Goal System
Today at a Glance
- In preparation for my first marathon, I spoke to a legendary American marathoner, who offered one piece of advice: "Make sure you have three goals: An A Goal, a B Goal, and a C Goal." Soon after the race, I realized that the core principle behind the system applied well-beyond running.
- For any arena of life, you can create an A Goal, B Goal, and C Goal. On days when you feel great, you hit your A Goal. On days when you feel ok (most days!), you hit your B Goal. On days when you feel bad, you hit your C Goal.
- The ABC Goal System removes any intimidation or guilt: As long as you hit your C Goal, you're making forward progress.
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Last week, I co-hosted a small retreat for a group of successful entrepreneurs and creators in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
The three-day event was filled with rich conversations and experience shares to help everyone navigate challenges in their personal and professional lives.
During one long morning conversation with my friend Ali Abdaal, a prolific YouTuber with over 5 million subscribers, he asked about my system for staying on track with my health and fitness while on the road.
I shared with him my new (and to date, secret) ABC Goal System, which has been tremendously impactful across all areas of my life.
Here's how it works (and how it will change how you think about progress, goals, and staying on track)...
The Origin Of My ABC Goals
The origin of my ABC Goal System was my marathon on September 10.
In preparation for the race, I spoke to a legendary American marathoner who offered one key piece of advice:
"Make sure you have three goals: An A Goal, a B Goal, and a C Goal."
In the context of the marathon:
- A Goal: Hit your aggressive, optimal time goal.
- B Goal: Hit your realistic, base case time goal.
- C Goal: Finish the race.
The idea is simple, yet profound:
During the race, if you start to struggle, people who only have an A Goal (most people!) are likely to fall completely off track. Once their only goal is out of sight, they have nothing to drive them forward.
If you have a B Goal and a C Goal, you always have something to keep you pushing—to keep you in the game.
I took the advice and it worked like a charm:
- A Goal: 2:55:00
- B Goal: 2:59:59
- C Goal: Finish the race
As my legs cramped up in the 90% humidity around Mile 22, I realized that I was unlikely to be able to hold on and hit my A Goal. My mind reset to achieving my B Goal, focusing entirely on accomplishing that. Fortunately, I had enough buffer and was able to hold on (for dear life) and get that done, finishing in 2:57:31.
Without the B and C Goal backing up my A Goal, I might have felt discouraged and taken my foot off the gas, but with them in place, I was able to shift my focus and stay in the game.
Soon after the race, I realized that the core principle behind the system applied well-beyond running.
So it was that my ABC Goal System was born...
ABC Goals for Every Arena
The generalized version of the ABC Goal System:
- A Goal: Most ambitious, perfect case.
- B Goal: Middle ground, base case.
- C Goal: Minimum viable level, anything above zero compounds.
On days when you feel great, you hit your A Goal. On days when you feel ok (most days!), you hit your B Goal. On days when you feel bad, you hit your C Goal.
The ABC Goal System removes any intimidation or guilt: As long as you hit your C Goal, you're making forward progress.
The system prevents optimal (A Goal) from getting in the way of beneficial (C Goal) and gives you the flexibility to make progress while allowing the inevitable vagaries of life to enter.
Here are a few examples of how this might look in your life...
- A Goal: Full lift and cardio (approximately 90 minutes).
- B Goal: Full lift or cardio (approximately 60 minutes).
- C Goal: 30 minutes of movement (walk, dance, etc.).
When I travel, I know I'm not going to be able to hit my normal fitness routines. The ABC Goal System keeps me on track. Even if my movement for the day is walking around an airport for 30 minutes before a flight, I can check the box on my C Goal and move forward.
- A Goal: Dinner date and long walk together.
- B Goal: Short walk together.
- C Goal: One call or FaceTime chat.
When work or travel get crazy, having a system to maintain and foster feelings of connection and support in your relationships (romantic or otherwise) can go a long way. Hearing the person's voice, or seeing their face, can work wonders.
- A Goal: Two long focus work blocks, batched management time.
- B Goal: One long focus work block, batched management time.
- C Goal: One short focus work sprint.
The perfect work day might have two long blocks of focus work (120 minutes each) and a time block for general management activities (email, meetings, etc.). On days where the chaos of life enters the chat, it's important to remember that you can make forward progress with a single focus work sprint (60-120 minutes).
- A Goal: 30-minute technology-free walk, cold plunge and sauna.
- B Goal: 30-minute technology-free walk.
- C Goal: 5-minute morning walk, 1-1-1 evening journal.
Having a clear system for creating space in your life is crucial for staying in the game. When life gets in the way of the perfect mental health day, sticking to your C Goal and making sure you find that slowness is key.
Create Your ABC Goal System
To get started with your ABC Goal System, choose an area of life where you find yourself struggling with motivation or discipline.
For a lot of people, that's health and fitness, so it might make sense to start there.
Establish your ABC Goals. Write them down so you can track which goal you hit on a daily basis.
Note: You can use this free Google Sheet to populate and track your performance if you find it useful.
My ABC Goal System is designed to help you stay the course and avoid the stagnation that comes from allowing optimal to get in the way of beneficial.
Give it a shot and let me know what you think.
Remember: Small things become big things. Anything above zero compounds.