Enjoy Your Personal Journey

Self-set goals make the road to success manageable



Instead of the final outcome, it is actually those valleys, bumps, and obstacles that we learn from in life. I am also a strong believer in the adage that we learn more from failing than succeeding.  Then why do we call it failure? I suppose it is the notion that we should continually be improving ourselves. In striving to be better, I propose that you learn to enjoy and value the process.

Besides helping you reach your desired outcome, goal setting can help to develop focus, discipline, and a strong sense of self-worth. Goal setting allows an athlete to focus on the process rather than just the result. An outcome-focused approach (“I will place third in that meet”) often leads to frustration, disappointment, and in many cases, giving up.

Dr. Kieran Kingston, a noted sport psychology professor and author, outlined three types of goals.

Outcome: This is a goal based on what happens. This includes goals such as winning, being ranked No. 1, getting a 4.0. All are great aspirations but, unfortunately, you can’t control the outcome. Someone may just be faster, better, or your professor might grade really tough.

Performance: What will you do? Some examples: swim a 0:59 Ironman split, break 13 hours in the Ironman, or squat body weight. These types of goals can dramatically affect the attainment of outcome goals. They are specific, measurable, and action oriented. The key is that they are based on your own personal level of performance and not contingent on how others perform.

Process: Goals of this type are based on what you need to do. These are actions to perform in pursuit of attaining your goal. Using a small six beat kick, riding a cadence of 90, keeping core engaged while squatting—these are all examples of process goals.

Whether athletes are beginners or world class, I have found that the greatest success utilizes all three types of goals because they each influence the other. You need process goals to achieve performance goals, which will, hopefully, get you closer to those outcome goals.

I like to use Dan Kirschenbaum’s acronym SMARTS when helping my athletes design an effective goal-setting regimen. If you apply Kirschenbaum’s principles, you will find your goals much more manageable, achievable, and enjoyable.

Specific: Be very clear about what you want to accomplish; write it down and look at it often. I encourage you to share this with others so that they can encourage and help hold you accountable.

Example: I will achieve a personal best time in my Ironman swim split this season.

Measureable: Be sure that you can objectively track your progress. This criterion is often combined with “specific.”

Example: I will swim a 0:59 or faster on my 2.4-mile swim.

Action-Oriented: Establish things to do that directly affect the outcome of the goal that you can commit to.

Example: Besides my regular master’s swim workouts, I will have an open water 1500m time trial at Quarry Lake once every two weeks. I will also track my performance (measureable) with these action-oriented goals. I will hold 1:15s on my set of 30 x 100s on 1:30.

Realistic: Know what you can handle and develop steps along the way to get there. Your long-term goal may be just out of reach, but the everyday steps (process goals) should be achievable.

Example: If I have never broken 1:10 in an Ironman swim, going under one hour may be too challenging an objective for this season. Though I can still have that as a long-term goal (maybe 2015), for now, I should scale back to a more realistic time of 1:05.

Timely: Set dates for reaching your goal. This will keep you on task and disciplined.

Example: I will swim a 0:59 Ironman split by Ironman Cozumel (Nov. 30, 2014).

Self-Determined: Your goals should be made by you and for you. While a coach can help you come up with realistic goals, you have to believe in and own them in order to really invest hard work and energy into achieving them.

Create a plan that will help you build toward your goal. Make a list identifying all the areas where you need to improve  to put yourself in a position for success: If I need a stronger kick, I need stronger legs; I need to learn how to tactically swim in open water, so I will sign up for a clinic.

Recognize potential setbacks and obstacles and come up with a plan for dealing with those, if possible. Unfortunately, goals can be affected by the course, weather, illness, and injury, all of which are out of our control. I need to be aware that, as I set my goals and take care of my body during training, things happen. Being mentally prepared for setbacks helps promote levelheaded responses as they arise.

Although there is much hype and reward for the result in sport, it is truly the process that should matter the most for athletes. Reflecting back on what knowledge was gained, new relationships created, sights seen, and challenges overcome along the way—all are valuable pieces to the journey.  

When I reflect with my collegiate athletes, their strongest memories aren’t of NCAA titles or Olympic medals; their stories invariably go back to their teammates and the fun they had on the way—or, better yet, to the crazy hard sets they endured.

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