I talk a LOT about goals on this blog. Perhaps because they are the driving force behind what keeps me running. When I don't have a goal in mind, I still run, but the motivation to improve isn't really there. That's why when anyone asks me how to become a more consistent runner, I tell them to sign up for a goal race.
I used to be terrified of big goals because I didn't know where to start. Nowadays, when I set big running goals, I do not fear them as much as I used to because I have a pretty good system in place to accomplish them. So here's my 8 step process for achieving goals in a nutshell.
This process does not only apply to running goals. However, I approach it from a runner's perspective.
1. Choose your BIG goal. Follow your heart.
This step is a lot harder than it seems on the surface. There are so many options out there, it can be overwhelming to choose what you want to accomplish. I find that my definition of BIG usually changes with the more I do. For example, last year my BIG goal was to run a 50 miler, and in 2014 & 2015 my BIG goal is to qualify for the 2016 Boston Marathon (sub-3:35).
Discovering a big goal is a bit like falling in love. You get a certain indescribable feeling that is intimately yours, and you can't seem to stop thinking about it. It's that butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling that scares you and excites you all at the same time.
Whatever your big goal is, make sure your heart is in it. if it isn't, you probably won't put in the work to achieve your goal. It's easy to pick goals that seem "right" because your peers are doing it, but that will never be a good motivator while you're training. Your BIG goal should also scare you a little bit. If it doesn't, you may want to set the bar higher.
2. Publicly admit your goal.
To be honest, I've wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon for a long time. I never could admit to myself or anyone else that I actually WANTED to run Boston because I always thought I was too slow and couldn't get faster. After realizing early 2014 that I WAS getting faster, I finally admitted to myself that I truly wanted to BQ. Then I publicly admitted this on my blog, where friends, family, and the running community could see it. Now, I have a REAL goal, not just something floating around in my head that no one else knows about.
Once we publicly acknowledge our goals, they become real, and we learn to hold ourselves accountable.
3. Put your goal in your face. EVERYDAY.
This is really one of the easiest, yet most important steps in the whole process. I am a visual person and need consistent, visual reminders throughout the day. Last year, I wore my Erica Sara Designs "Say it, Do it" bracelet for the whole year without taking it off. Each day I woke up, I saw my goal on my wrist. I'm buying another one for my new goal and highly recommend "wearing" your goal. That way you have a constant visual reminder of what you are working towards.
My other visual strategies for my BQ goal involve my iPhone, a constant companion (ahem, addiction) for me. I set my morning running alarms with goal-related titles and set my phone background with my BQ time goal:
These small, but consistent visual cues reinforce your brain to make choices in the present that will positively impact your future goals.
4. Create a PLAN to achieve your goal.
Goal setting may seem lofty and idealistic, but at the root of it, goal setting is very precise. Realistically, you can't sign up for your first marathon, run a few times before the race, and then show up and accomplish your goal on race day. You must put a plan in motion to achieve it.
While training for a specific race, I believe in using a training plan 100%. They give consistency and show progress along the way to achieving your goal. There are millions of training resources on the internet and in books, so there's no excuse not to plan your training when trying to achieve a big goal.
5. Make your goal a priority.
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of goal setting, then forget about it when a last minute happy hour pops up or when it's pouring outside. While flexibility is important while training, consistent training is more important. Obviously some events take precedence over training, but it may be necessary to skip some social outings in order to accomplish your goal.
6. Track your progress towards your goal.
I started this blog in 2013 as a way to track my progress towards running my first 50k and 50 mile races. It managed to hold me accountable in the best ways possible. I could also look back and see how far I had come during the year in terms of mileage and distance. I also use an annual Google spreadsheet to track EVERY run during each year.
To track your progress, you don't need to create a blog or use a Google spreadsheet, but you need some way of keeping tabs on where you've been and where you are going. I recommend Google spreadsheets because they are so easy and accessible from any computer or smartphone, but if you enjoy pen and paper or a big desk calendar, have at it!
7. Execute your goal.
If you've put in the work in steps 1-6, executing your goal should be a no brainer. I'm not saying it will be easy, but by this point, you should be aware of the effort it will take to achieve your goal. A lot of people say that your goal race is like the "victory lap" of your training, and I like to treat it as such. This is not the day for negative thoughts or doubts. This is the time for you to celebrate all the hard work you've put in over the past months/years and enjoy the ride.
8. Review and recover
That's it! Hopefully you have accomplished your goal and are basking in the glory of self-achievement. If not, there's always next time. But it's important to look back and realize what you did right and wrong during your training and race day. This is where tracking your progress (step 6) comes in handy. It's important to take time to reflect on your accomplishments or failures, so you can recognize what to do next time.
I also put together a quick and handy infographic of the process, so pin it, save it, print it, tape it to your mirror, whatever! Hopefully this will help you with your next BIG goal!
Do you have a specific process for goal setting?
Do you use visual cues to help you accomplish your goals?