Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Why Fencers Should Set Process Focused New Year’s Resolutions for 2023

Why Fencers Should Set Process Focused New Year’s Resolutions for 2023

Every January 1st we come around to the tried and true tradition of setting New Year’s resolutions that we may or may not keep. Too often, we don’t keep them – they’re more of a joke than anything else. 

Setting New Year’s goals that don’t come true might be a running gag, but for kids especially it can be a negative experience to set their sights on something only to fall short. When 80% of resolutions set in January (per data from US News) are abandoned within weeks, what’s the point? 

None of this is a big secret – everyone kind of collectively agrees that this is a tradition in the same way that we all support kids’ belief in Santa Claus. The resolution might as well be as fictional as the jolly guy in the red suit who, according to astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, would have to visit 25,000 homes a second in order to accomplish his Christmas Eve mission.

Despite everyone’s knowledge that resolutions don’t work, we still continue to make them year after year. There’s always a lot of talk about how to set good New Year’s resolutions, and we’ve written about it before right here. This year, we wanted to offer our readers something a little different in order to support those New Year’s goals.

Process over product New Year’s Resolutions

Usually when we set a goal for the New Year, we say something like “I will lose 10 pounds” or “I will learn a new language” or, for fencers, “I’m going to qualify for Summer Nationals.” These goals are outcome oriented, which means that they are essentially out of your control.

You can’t actually control if you make it to Fencing Summer Nationals. Sure, you can plan and make an attempt, but there could be another fencer who bests you in a direct elimination round at the qualifying competition that you need, or you could (hopefully not!) get an injury that knocks you out. 

The same thing goes for losing weight or learning a new language. There are lots of factors that contribute to the ability to lose weight, including your metabolism and your stress level, that are hard to control. You might not have a predisposition to learning a new language, because of your age or any other factor. Some people pick it up quickly and others don’t.

What you can do is set a goal that relies heavily on the work that you put in. For example, you could commit to going to the gym a certain number of times a week or cutting sugar out of your diet for a specified number of days each week. Maybe you load a language app on your phone and devote fifteen minutes, five days a week to practicing your language. For fencers, this could mean that you commit to a certain number of training sessions each week or a certain number of competitions before the end of the season.

Because these kinds of goals focus on the process, which you can control, rather than the outcome, which you cannot totally control, they are much more attainable. By setting your resolutions around what you are able to do, you are less likely to get discouraged when you don’t reach the goals that you want to achieve. The process is what you are trying to achieve!

Why process goals work

Process goals work because they are habit building ventures. You are changing the way that you interact with your environment and with whatever it is you’re doing.

Often we are not able to see the progress that we are making because we are so in the process that we’re doing. It’s like you’re walking down a trail and you can’t see the forest for the trees. While you’re in the woods, you see the trunk of each tree as you walk past it, you look down at the ground and see the dirt beneath your feet, and you see your feet as they move one after the other. Even if you look up, you’re still only seeing the tree leaves that are right above you. It’s not until you get off the trail and out of the trees that you can look back and see the whole forest and appreciate it. 

In this scenario, if you were only concerned about the end product of seeing the forest on the other side, then you’d never get through it. What if you got a few hundred feet onto the trail and gave up because you couldn’t see the whole forest? You’d never get anywhere if you expected to be at the finish right after you start.

When you put all of the emphasis on the outcome, you aren’t putting it on where the changes actually take place – in your daily life. This can lead to a lot of frustration because the only time that you are actually getting a reward is at the very end – when you reach the goal. Along the way, that’s the hard part and that’s where you need the support. 

We are all so focused on the outcome, whether it’s the social media post or the piece of paper at the end of a degree, that it’s easy to miss the value of the journey. Walking down a wooded path is undoubtedly enjoyable and enriching in and of itself, even if you did turn back and didn’t finish the whole trail. It’s the same thing with fencing – even if you don’t make it to whatever that ideal end goal is, you can still appreciate where you’ve come along the way if your goal is to do the things along the way.

Moving your fencing goals to be process oriented rather than being outcome oriented will give you a positive boost all along the way. That’s why it’s easier to keep those New Year’s fencing resolutions if you’re seeing the process itself as the achievement, then you’re valuing the journey.

This is true for school, too. Rather than setting the goal to get straight A’s, set the goal to turn in each piece of work to the best of your ability. This is a huge way to take the pressure off of kids as they navigate school.

Consistent routines that we can build through process-oriented goals are better for long-term success and for preventing burnout. 

New Years is a good time for fencing goals

One of the great things about New Year’s resolutions for fencers is the timing. January 1 falls smack in the middle of our season. This means that we have a moment of reflection to recalibrate over the holiday break and figure out where we want to go next with the remainder of the season.

If you are aiming for Fencing Summer Nationals, then the qualification path ahead has plenty of time left to grow and pivot so that you can make it there in June. Fencers have long ago chosen the path that they want to pursue, whether it’s national or regional points, divisional qualification, or whatever it might be. Now you just have to follow through with the remaining pieces to put into place. 

If you are focusing on process over product in your New Year’s fencing resolutions, then this is a great opportunity for you to make changes that will help support whatever bigger goal you have. You might incorporate cross-training one day a week, add an additional private lesson, or whatever it might be. If you’ve already set fencing goals at the beginning of the fencing season back in August, then you’re well placed to use this time to work on your sport from a different angle. It’s a perfect way to enter the new year in a way that supports your long-term fencing goals and happiness in the sport.

Think of your resolutions now not as something that is wholly new, but as a pivot point in the middle of the season that will help you get where you want to go. 

Look at your own forest

We are coming out of the most joyful time of the year, and it should be a happy one that is full of life and feelings of promise. Rather than being bogged down by big goals that seem unattainable, put your attention to the day-to-day joy that is being in this sport.

The connection with fellow fencers and coaches make this sport so worthwhile to do. Going to the club should feel good, like it’s helping you to become a better person right within every moment that you are there. Holding the sword, bouting against casual opponents in the club or against major opponents in the tournament, these are all those moments that we do it all for. The pride and joy in fencing is what is so wonderful, whether you get a medal or you miss the podium. No one can take that away from you, and it’s always going to be waiting there for you.

There is so much more that we get out of fencing that is not about the end goal. The way our bodies feel physically from doing these robust exercises and the way our minds are stimulated by the work that we do. Concentrate on how grateful you are for being a part of something, rather than getting hung up on what outcome does or doesn’t come through. 

Don’t forget to take stock in how far you’ve come this year. Wherever your fencing was in December of 2021, it’s much better now a year later! This is a time that you can look back as you’ve come through the path you walked all year long and see your own forest. Your process has gotten you this far, so ground yourself in the positive process for the new year.


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  1. Alan Buchwald

    As usual, lots of great advice here – AB

  2. R

    Using your lesson in your subsequent practice bouting rather than focusing on scoring is an achievable resolution that has long-term impact on process leading to goal satisfaction.

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