It’s hard to talk about goals without it sounding like a commencement speech. I’ll due my best, but no promises. Goals can give us focus. They can give us something to strive for. They can help move us in the right direction. This goes for running as well as for anything in life.
For example, registering for a race can provide additional (and sometimes necessary) motivation to create a training plan and stick to it. When writing, establishing a words per day goal can provide the necessary motivation to get your butt in a chair. Establishing a budget can provide the necessary discipline to get out of debt, save for retirement, or purchase that boat you’ve been dreaming about.
Even if we don’t achieve all our goals, they serve as learning experiences and motivation for improvement. And often, the simple fact of having the goal helps us achieve more than we would have otherwise.
In my view, when setting goals, its helpful to think in terms of these five points.
- Define the Goal
- Set a Due Date
- Establish Accountability
- Define and Measure Progress
- Handle Setbacks.
1. Define the Goal
This may seem obvious, but the first part in achieving a goal is to define the goal. What is it that you want to achieve? Do you want to run a 5K or marathon? Do you want to publish a book? Do you want to be debt free? Do you want to fix that broken thing that has been broken awhile? Regardless of what it is, you have to be specific. (Imagine I was more specific with that last example.) In general, it is hard to hit a target if you don’t know what you are aiming for.
2. Set a Due Date
The second part in achieving a goal is to set a due date. I think one mistake many people make is that they come up with the what but don’t set the when. The due date is a key piece because it serves to bound the goal.
For example, say you have a goal to run a 5K. Without a date, you can tell (or lie to) yourself that you are still on track. You can constantly put the goal off in your mind. You can tell yourself “I’ll start training next week” or “I’ll start running after Thanksgiving” or “There’s always next year.” Well, the hard truth is that there are and always will be excuses to put something off.
A due date is an important psychological component to any goal. As a Project Manager, I’ve learned that if you assign someone a task — no matter how big or small — but don’t assign a due date, the task is less likely to get done. People will put it at the bottom of their priority list and/or forget about it completely.
Not all goals need to be big. Making a simple To Do list for the day, week, or month is also a form of making goals. This list is more than just reminders, it is a list of goals. However, if you make a To Do list and don’t attach a date to the items, you are missing out on a key part of the equation.
3. Establish Accountability
Besides defining the goal and setting a due date, it is also important to establish accountability. This can be accountability to yourself and to others.
One way to establish accountability to yourself is to write the goal down or even say it out loud. Doing this may not seem important, but it takes something abstract and makes it concrete. Many people are visual. Having the goal written so you can see it gives it a sense of importance and permanence. If you aren’t visual, even saying the goal out loud takes it from being just a notional idea and makes it something real.
Sharing the goal with others also serves to make the goal more concrete, but it also helps establish accountability. Sharing a goal with others is not just about having someone to make you feel bad for not achieving your goal or making progress. That other person or people can also help provide motivation and support.
Unfortunately, some people may avoid doing these two parts for fear of feeling or looking bad if they don’t succeed. The fear of failure often prevents people from even establishing a goal in the first place, much less writing it down and sharing it with others. The point of setting a goal and establishing accountability is not about making you feel bad if you don’t succeed. As I mentioned before, even if you don’t succeed, there are often tiny successes that you did achieve assuming you tried.
4. Define and Measure Progress
An important point in helping you achieve a goal is to define and measure progress. How do you know if you are on track? This is especially true for large or long-term goals.
Again, in my experience, it is helpful to break large or long-term goals up into smaller steps or smaller goals. Smaller short term goals allow you to measure progress and adjust course if needed.
There is also a psychological component to this as well. Defining smaller steps that allow you to measure progress, also takes something intimidating that may seem unachievable and far-off and breaks it down into manageable pieces. These more manageable pieces are something that can be easily achieved and measured, but are also progress toward the larger goal.
For example, say you want to run a marathon. The smaller steps may be running a 5K and half marathon within a certain time limit. Say you want to write a book. The first step may be creating the outline.
5. Handle Setbacks
Setbacks are inevitable. For example, when you’re writing that book, you will likely get discouraged at some point. You’ll think what you wrote isn’t any good. Or maybe when you’re trying to get out of debt, save for retirement, or save for that boat, an unplanned expense comes up. When you’re training for that big race, you may get injured.
In 2013, I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon. Unfortunately, about a month before the race, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed. After months of training, I now had to miss the race, and stop running for three months.
Setbacks can and will happen. The key is how you respond. It’s okay to be disappointed, but you can’t let that derail you completely. And as much as possible, you should plan for them and be prepared. You can make that book better. Sit down and fix what you don’t like. Set some money aside and plan for the unexpected expenses. Expect them. And when the setbacks happen, learn from them.
As Thomas Edison said when creating the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
After my stress fracture, I took three months off running. But I came back the next year. I ramped up my training slowly. In 2014, I ran the Marine Corp Marathon and set a personal record at the time.
My Running Goals for 2015/2016
Following my own advice, I’ll conclude by sharing my personal running and race goals for this year and next.
- My large goal is to complete a 100 mile race in 2016. There are several 100 mile races in April through June of 2016 that I have my eye on. To accomplish this, I’ve also created the two following goals to help me define and measure my progress along the way.
- In November 2015, my goal is to complete the JFK 50 miler in under 8.5 hours.
- In early 2016, my goal is to complete a 100K. Tentatively I would like to run the Thomas Jefferson 100K in March 2016.
I hope this post was helpful for you. If not, at least now you know my running goals. I’ve written them down and shared them with all who manage to read this far.
Keep checking back for other posts on these races and updates on my goals.
As always, comments are appreciated. Thanks for reading.