Mike Ditka on How to Set Goals

Mike DitkaGoal-setting is an essential part of any success program. If you don’t have a clear vision of where you want to go, how can you ever expect to get there?

There are two approaches when it comes to setting goals.

One approach is set small, manageable, and “realistic” goals so that you’ll build your confidence and avoid disappointment. The other approach is to set big, crazy, and “unreasonable” goals so that even if you fall short of your goals, you’ll still be achieving much greater things than if you had aimed lower.

Highly-successful people follow the latter approach.

Mike Ditka is a member of both the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s also one of only two people in history to win the Super Bowl as a player, as an assistant coach, and as a head coach.

Here’s how Iron Mike advises people to set goals…


People (have to) make up their own minds about what they are going for, (regardless of whether) they’re going to get there. If they shoot to be exceptional and don’t make it, they sure are going to feel a lot better about themselves than if they shoot to be average and don’t make it.

Go ahead and take a shot at being the best. Be the best golfer. Be the best basketball player. Be the best player you can be. You may not make it, but then the disappointment that follows will never be as severe as the guy who says, “I’m not good enough. I just want to make the team,” and then he doesn’t make the team. Now what is he going to do? Then it becomes a greater setback.

I believe in goal-setting. People say you have to set realistic and reasonable goals. What is a realistic and reasonable goal?

(Fifty) years ago, to pole vault 19 feet (was considered) impossible. But somebody is doing (over 20 feet) now.

I don’t think there is any such thing as a realistic and reasonable goal. I think the mind is a great thing and I think the will is a great thing. I think if you will something—I didn’t say wish for it—if you will it and you’re willing to work for it, there’s a good chance to make something good happen.


— Mike Ditka, from his book Ditka: An Autobiography

I wrote about this principle extensively in the Herb Brooks section of my book, Think Like a Warrior.

In one of my favorite parts of the book, Brooks asks our struggling coach, “Do you realize how many great things have never been accomplished because somebody decided he needed to be more realistic? Do you know how many businesses were never launched, books never written, relationships never started, diseases never cured, and dreams never followed because someone decided he had to be more logical?”

I believe you owe it to the world to set big goals. It’s the only way to reach your full potential. And if you fail to reach your potential, you’re not only letting yourself down, but also everyone else who might’ve benefited from you doing so.

It takes courage to dream big. If you set big goals, you’ll have no trouble finding naysayers telling you to be more realistic. They may be well-meaning, but they represent the voices of fear and cynicism. Don’t listen to them!

As Herb Brooks says in Think Like a Warrior, “If you don’t set big, crazy, unreasonable goals, you’ll never know how far you could’ve gone.”