Dr Rob Bell: Make goals, not deals

Sport Psychology coach Dr. Rob Bell is our guest expert for this article. Rob has PGA Tour credentials as a Sport Psychology consultant, has coached winners on the PGA Tour and caddied on Tour. He is the author of three books: The Hinge: The Importance of Mental Toughness  &  Mental Toughness Training for Golf. The latest NO FEAR: A Simple Guide to Mental Toughness.

Rob is also a triathlete and runner with a marathon PR of 3.23.

At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Billy Mills would make history with his iconic sprint to win the gold medal in the 10,000 meters. He was so unknown, that a Japanese reporter asked him after his win “who are you?” He is still the last American to win the Gold medal in the 10,000 meters.

However, he was going to quit.

Before the last lap, he knew he had third place locked up, so he was going to pull up and let the battle be decided by the other two runners, Ron Clarke and Mohammed Gammoudi. He knew it was “safe” to pull up, but as he looked into the stands, he saw his wife crying… He couldn’t give up. NO DEAL!

A runner/cyclist friend of mine was an athlete who admitted that he could just “show up.” He was skilled enough to compete in basically anything he did.

However, he told me that his game changed once he quit making deals with himself.

During a race or competition, he used to say to himself, “Keep up with [that guy] until this point and then let him go.” He admitted he wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be mentally. Now, during a race or practice, he’ll set goals, he’ll just say, “Catch that guy.”

How often do we make deals instead of goals? 

With our children, “Honey, if you pick up your toys, you can get a snack.” With God, “lord, if you get me through this, I will never…” With ourselves, “If you [do this] then you can [do this].”

Making deals is just like a coach who uses sprints as the only means of discipline. It works, but only for a short while, the athletes soon grow to tolerate it, and not learn from it. Making deals is effective, but only for the short-term. It gets the job done, but it is not sustainable and it causes really bad habits.


"Good athletes practice until they get
it right, great one’s practice until they
can’t get it wrong.”


When we make deals, we are limiting how good we can become. Deals do not build mental toughness. Our motivation and focus has changed. We are doing something to gain an immediate result, not long-term success. Making deals also gives us an “out”, a reason not to push further when it gets really tough…

Setting goals means having a plan of action without a fallback. It’s stating, “I will do this”, instead of“do this, so you can.” It means keeping the focus on the immediate task at hand instead of focusing on the outcome.

Athletes don’t train for the trophy; they train for the feeling of holding the trophy. The only way to do that is to make goals, not deals.

Dr. Rob Bell

"Athletes don't train for the trophy, they train for the feeling of holding the trophy. The only way to do that is to make goals, not deals."

Dr. Rob Bell

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