How to Use Goals to Achieve Desired Results
“The longest journey begins with a single step.”
Although the start of the new year is associated with new year’s resolutions, the goal setting process involves much more than simply resolving to finish in the top ten of that target race next season. Yet when properly implemented, goal setting can play a central role in helping an athlete achieve desired race results. So how does one go about setting goals for the season ahead? Below are ten guidelines to help you make the most of goal setting.
1. Keep records and evaluate progress. Write down your goals, and schedule dates for their evaluation. Feedback is an essential component of the goal setting process. Without feedback, it is common to veer off course. With regular feedback, you can make necessary adjustments to stay on target.
2. Set long-term and short-term goals. If you think of the goal setting process as a painting, it’s good to first step back to gain an overall perspective of that painting from a distance. Then, you can gradually move closer to focus your gaze on the brush strokes and other fine-level details.
With this in mind, as you sit down to write out your goals for the season ahead, first reflect on your longer term goals that look 2, 5 or even 10 or more years down the road. Most of these goals will be less specific than the goals you set for the upcoming season. They can also include a dream goal—a feat that would be inconceivable to achieve in the near-term but a motivating target for the long-term (e.g. finishing the Ironman World Championships for someone who just completed their first sprint triathlon).
As you think about your long-term goals, consider what you enjoy most about the sport, what keeps you motivated, and what you want to accomplish in the years ahead. For younger and older athletes alike, taking time to think about the big picture is a vital step to successful long-term development. Moreover, those long-term developmental objectives will help shape the goals and training plan for the coming year.
Once you’ve examined the big picture, then focus on establishing your goals for the season ahead. What do you want to accomplish this season? What are your top priority races and what do you want to accomplish at these races? What abilities do you want to improve? What performances do you want to achieve?
Finally, once you’ve set your goals for the season, you will want to incorporate intermediate goals into your training cycles as well as short-term goals in your daily and weekly activities. These intermediate and shorter-term goals will help you zero in on the ultimate target.
Think of the goal setting process like climbing a mountain. Your ultimate goal is the summit; but to reach the summit, you break the climb into segments (intermediate goals) and then divide those segments into individual steps (short-term goals). The feedback you gain along the way will allow you to readjust your short-term and intermediate goals to stay on course for the long-term one.
3. Set goals for both training and racing. Goals are not just for races. It is equally important to include goals in your training. Benchmark goals can help you monitor your progress on a regular basis, and daily or weekly training goals can help you stay focused on the training objectives of the moment, especially when life’s other exigencies make it difficult to see the forest for the trees.
4. Set goals that are difficult yet realistic. Goals should be challenging. After all, if you can easily do something, there’s little need to set a goal for it. Yet goals also need to be grounded in reality. Goals too far removed from an honest assessment of one’s abilities can be discouraging in the long run. Goals should keep you motivated. They should challenge you to step up to that next level of performance. You may not always reach a particular goal, but that’s part of the process. It’s better to reach high and progress than to aim low and never really test your capabilities.
5. Devise goals that are specific. Specific goals, rather than vague ones, will provide precision to your training program. Instead of saying, I want to improve my marathon time (vague), specify, I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon next year (specific).
6. Devise goals that are measurable. Devising specific goals goes hand in hand with devising goals that are measurable. If you want to qualify for the Boston Marathon, then you have a way to measure that goal—namely, by how you run in comparison to qualifying times. Measurable goals often involve time targets, e.g. I want to run a sub-3:40 marathon.
7. State goals in the positive. Keep your eyes on where you want to go rather than where you don’t want to go. Instead of saying, I don’t want to run slower than 40 minutes in the Memorial Day 10K (negative), state, I want to break 40 minutes for the Memorial Day 10K (positive).
8. Keep goals under your control. As much as possible, set goals that you have control over. This means focusing more on performance and process goals than outcome goals.
Outcome goals have to do with placement in a race (e.g. taking first overall, finishing top three).
Performance goals have to do with achieving a certain time (e.g. breaking 10 hours in the Ironman, running a 40 minute 10K).
Process goals have to do with how you compete (e.g. keep my cadence high during the last half of the run).
We have the most control over process goals and the least control over outcome goals.
While outcome goals provide long-term motivation and many long-term goals take this form, performance and process goals help us focus on what we need to do now and in the immediate future, such as in the moment of the race.
9. Own your goals. Devise and write down goals that are agreeable to you, that you will commit to, and that you are willing to accept as your own. After all, these are your goals and should represent what you want to achieve, not what you think others want you to accomplish.
10. Involve a support system. Let supporters (e.g. friends, family, training partners) know what your goals are so that they can help you stay accountable to those goals.
Like a map and compass in the hands of a trekker, goals can help guide an athlete toward a desired destination. They are an integral part of any training plan and allow athletes of all levels to achieve what they seek in the multisport journey.
This article also appeared in the Colorado Triathlete.