Don’t Set Goals!

GoalsEveryone likes to set goals. Many of us, year after year, make a New Year’s resolution that we don’t stick to. Companies and departments set goals for sales or productivity. More times than not, we seem to fail. We get caught up in looking at the prize and not what it will take to get there.

Recently, Dave Schwartz posted an interesting link to his Facebook Group Page from James Clear‘s article entitled “Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead”. It made me stop and think about how I have been approaching my handicapping. How do Clear’s reasons for focusing on systems rather than goals apply to me? Am I chasing a goal or am I committed to my system of handicapping?

For the longest time, the purpose of my blog was to document my goal of qualifying for, and winning, the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) finals in Las Vegas. Given the small number of NHC events that I enter, coupled with chaos races and unpredictable race outcomes, the chances of me qualifying are rather low. My system of daily handicapping is my process of qualifying for the NHC by improving and refining my abilities.

Clear asks the question: “If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?” For me, the answer is yes. I have been a successful handicapper and profitable horseplayer for many years. While I don’t play the races as often as I did before increased responsibilities at my day job and at home, I still manage to get a night of handicapping and wagering in each week at Penn National.

James Clear offers up three great reasons why you goals often hurt rather than help:

  • Goals can reduce your current level of happiness.

The goal I had made of qualifying for the NHC several years ago remains unfulfilled, yet I have improved my process of handicapping and performed better in the limited qualifiers that I have entered.

Does this make me a failure?

The answer is no. I have enjoyed handicapping and improving my skills while still making a profit. It has inspired me to find content to write about each week for USRacing. Will I continue to work towards my goal of qualifying for the NHC Finals? Absolutely, but I am committed to continuing to work on my handicapping abilities and find new angles and ways to use the data that I have collected.

A positive that has developed from the reduced number of races I have time to handicap is that I can spend more time analyzing and learning from the results. I have been able to spend a little more time focusing on constructing and evaluating pace scenarios and tweaking my software. 

  • Goals often conflict with long-term progress.

In this case, what if I had qualified for the NHC Finals, would I still work as hard to qualify again? The key here is that I have continued my process of handicapping and trying to improve, regardless of my results. I know that the more I continue to handicap, analyze, and refine my process the more profitable I will be and the more likely it is that I will qualify for the NHC Finals.

There is no way to know exactly where we will be with our progress at any given time. I am always trying to improve my software’s output and the features, but trying to put a timeline on getting some of the quirkier figures and ratings just right requires time and a lot of feedback. Until I am confident in how the software performs, I manually create the figures and ratings just to be sure they are right.

Will my software ever think exactly the way that I do?

Probably not, but getting the results to be correct close to 95 percent of the time is taking longer than I thought. The upside of this is that I am able to revise and improve these figures prior to showing them publicly.

Clear concludes by noting that goals can help you plan what you want to do, yet it is the dedication to the system or process that makes the progress. I still would love to qualify for and win the NHC Finals. I am realistic in knowing the limitations of achieving that goal given everything else that I have going on in my life. Yet, I am enjoying the process of improving my handicapping and hope that all my readers are enjoying being along for the ride too!

Ray Wallin
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.

Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.

Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.

Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at

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