I recently typed in “how to…” into Google and the first thing to pop up was “How to set goals” followed by “How to achieve goals”. As a self proclaimed goal lover, I have always enjoyed the process of setting and working towards goals, but I have discovered that my love of setting goals that scare the pants off of me and working towards them is not a love shared by many, which has led people to ask me “how do you set your goals?”
As a runner, I constantly find myself setting goals to tackle new distances, paces, workouts and races, which makes my ability to understand how to set successful goals for myself instrumental in keeping myself motivated. I have found through my experience of setting and working towards goals, that the thing that has been instrumental in my ability to set and tackle goals is positive self talk. The two go hand in hand, and my ability to talk myself through the times where I struggle with my action items to achieve my goals is really what keeps me going and motivated to put one foot in front of the other.
To start, I set a SMART goal.
This tool isn’t just for getting projects at your day-job completed. It is a great tool for setting and achieving your athletic goals! What does SMART stand for, you ask?
Specific: When setting your goal, make it specific. Use positive language, clearly defined language, and state it in the positive. Rather than saying “oh, I think I will try to PR my half marathon time,” state it clearly and with commitment. “My goal is to PR my half marathon time.”
Measurable: Make it measurable, and define how you will measure it. Is your goal measured through time? Is it measured by distance? Is it measured by doing something by a certain date?
Achievable: In order to be successful with a goal, set one that is within the means that you are capable of. Don’t set a goal that is so far out of your reach that you will burn yourself out trying to get there, or that you already feel it is unattainable before you even begin working towards it.
Relevant: How is this goal part of your life? Is it in your routine to achieve this goal? What gives it meaning for you?
Time Bound: When do you want to achieve this goal? This helps to align your timeline when working towards your goal.
Second, I focus on the process and deciding why I’m working towards this.
After setting a SMART goal, I think about what steps are going to be necessary to get there. If my goal is to PR my half marathon time (which it currently is my goal!), I consider the action items that I will need to take to get there. I know that I cannot achieve my goal without an action plan. For this particular goal I know my action items are doing a variety of runs and activities so my entire body is strengthened, work towards increasing my speed through speed drills and hill training so my overall pace picks up, dropping a little weight so I can be faster, eating right so that I am fueled properly, and staying consistent in my running. Those are the items I can focus on in order to get to my goal. Thinking about the overall goal can be intimidating, but focusing on the small steps to get there will lead to my success.
It is also important to know why I am working towards this goal. This allows me headspace to refocus when things get hard and I get frustrated. A few years ago I set a goal to run my first marathon, and the reason I set that goal was because I wanted to celebrate how strong my body was after losing 90 pounds. During the runs when things were hard and I wanted to give up, I kept my why close by, and reminded myself why I had set that goal to begin with. In those moments, focusing on my “why” for working towards my goal brought me out of my emotions and back to my action plan, and helped me to move forward during the rough patches of training.
Next, I allow myself to celebrate my small achievements along the way.
It is important to enjoy my progress along the way. Constant pats on the back, acknowledging when I achieve my action items, rewards through the process and celebrating milestones along the way keeps working towards my goals exciting and fun, rather than a daunting chore.
Lastly, I speak to myself as I would a friend and utilize positive self talk
To keep myself motivated while working towards my goal, I use very specific language to talk to myself. I would never tell a friend they did horribly on their run if they didn’t have a successful workout, so why do I allow myself to think that way? I lift myself up with positive language and think about how I would phrase a positive message to a friend who is working towards a goal, but struggling. The messages I think are the ones that will play on repeat in my head, so it is important to me to have my thoughts be positive and encouraging ones to myself so I can be my own cheerleader.
In my many goals I have set for myself, I have accomplished many and fallen short on some. On the ones I don’t meet, I take some time to feel disappointed. Then I brush myself off, and use that as an opportunity to learn from my experience so that if I choose to set that goal again, I’m a little wiser on the next go-around. This in turn means I am more likely to see success when I try again! Even if you don’t achieve the goal you set for yourself, you’ve likely learned something along the way, and that is always worth celebrating.
So go out and set some goals, work towards them, crush them and celebrate every step of the way.