Under Commit, Over Deliver?

I have never been one for mushy ra-ra type goal chatter. Perhaps it’s the overly, sometimes faulty pragmatic side of me, but I believe that blanket cheerleading for goals does very little help, because the most influential denominator is left out.

The emotional drivers of the individual.

Anyone who has ever worked in customer service, sales, or obligations to people has no doubt been told that under committing and over delivering is the Golden Rule for pleasing customers. I won’t argue for or against that here today, I’ll simply ask you to shift your thinking and filter your own physical goals through that lens. Are you most satisfied through reaching smaller, easily attainable checkpoints? Or do you thrive when you are staring down Goliath with just a slingshot?

Goals that are too small (Under Committing)

  • For the tenacious, these will result in not being challenged enough, no urgency, and a loss of interest.
  • For the passive, these will result in frequent checkpoints of success and maintained, steady interest. Over delivery typically occurs and an ongoing state of internal approval.

Goals that are too big (Over Committing)

  • For the tenacious, these will light a fire and create hyper focus and buy-in, all but guaranteeing at least a certain level of success. Under delivery may occur, but the result will still be major progress.
  • For the passive, these will create too much challenge, overload the emotional motherboard, and result in a loss of interest. Under delivery occurs with no progress whatsoever.

The key with picking the right goal is that it must align with your emotional volatility and where exactly it is you thrive. If your pull-up PR is 10 and your goal is 11, you are under committing and setting yourself up for over delivery. If you hit twelve or thirteen, you’ve knocked it out of the park. However, if your pull-up PR is zero and your goal is seven, you are over committing and setting yourself up for massive under delivery and viewing through a failure lens. If you hit two, you may see it as a letdown. It’s why I have a very hard time numerically assigning reasonable goals for people when they ask me. Anyone can suggest a percentage-based goals based on relativity, but if that were the case then every person who has been training for a given amount of time would share nearly identical plots on the progress graph. And as we know, that’s not real life.

Under Commit, Over Deliver?

I am not here to tell you whether or not you should over or under commit, I am urging you to consider how you react to varying levels of delivery. The most important variable in your goal equation is you and your emotional volatility. If you spook from goals easily, get easily distracted by shiny object syndrome, or just plain don’t work that hard, you need to honestly assess and realize that about yourself and understand that you are probably best suited for under commitment and over delivery (small, all but guaranteed goals set frequently). It doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you better aligned for the joy of over delivery.

However, if you are tenacious and thrive on extreme challenges, you will likely be bored by goals that are too small and ask you to under commit.  You are likely better suited for over committing, understanding that your ultimate execution may very well be likely one of of under delivery but still resulting in major progress made. For the aforementioned avatar with ten pull-ups under her belt, this scenario might have goal setting at fifteen or sixteen. If under delivery occurs, the end-game results in fourteen which is substantially greater than the eleven a more conservative emotional buy-in produced.

The key is how you react to under-delivery. If you see all under delivery as failure, aggressive goal setting is not for you. If you see it as victory, yet still remain motivated by the carrot on the stick, it may be just the strategy for you. I have observed both. Many times. And nothing is more frustrating than seeing someone disappointed in a twenty pound gain because their goal was twenty five. You must be honest with yourself and realize where you are most successful. Is it over-the-top, huge goals where failure might still equate to huge progress? Or is it small, attainable goals where you get emotional re-assurance at more frequent check points?

Only you can figure that out.

-Dave Thomas