Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Goal Setting: Runner Style!

"If you go to work on your goals, your goals will go to work on you. If you go to work on your plan, your plan will go to work on you. Whatever good things we build end up building us." - Jim Rohn

"An athlete who tells you the training is always easy and always fun simply hasn't been there. Goals can be elusive which makes the difficult journey all the more rewarding." - Alberto Salazar

"Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success." - Pablo Picasso
 
Tomorrow is December 1st, we will be one month away from the New Year. January 1, for many, is a time for setting resolutions for the coming year. I guess that's okay, at least it's a harmless tradition linked to sending out the old and bringing in the new (it's also a great way to deal with the guilt of holiday overindulgence).
And while I suppose resolutions are nice, anyone really trying to plan improvements for their lives for the coming year and beyond is carefully setting goals NOW (many are in this process throughout the year). The biggest difference between a goal and a resolution is this: we intend to achieve your goals. Resolutions are meant to be broken. What follows is my handy, dandy procedure for goal setting. It works in my personal life, my business life and is completely applicable to my running life.

First, let's get some things straight about goals. Some folks say that you should set achievable goals, ones that are not too difficult. Others say you should shoot for the moon (after all, what if you want to take a minute off your 10K time and only drop it 53 seconds - that's not too bad). I believe both. You should probably have goals that are easy, difficult, short term and long term. So let's start with the list. A list? Yes. Write them down!

While studies vary on the effectiveness of written goals (including the classic Harvard study of 1953 which has since been found to be questionable at best in its reliability), one thing is clear: writing down goals help imprint them on the brain and gives you a place to go to remind, focus, and renew yourself. It also makes them mobile (which is not to say that your mind isn't mobile). Also, by writing down goals, you can complete some other important goal-achievement activities.

I begin by writing down everything I want (need, desire, want to attract). I like to sticky note them with one goal per note. Basically I divide my goals into areas of my life. My categories are: Family,  Physical (here's where my running goals go), Business/Work, Social, Financial, Emotional/Psychological, and Spiritual. Some goals overlap, but mostly the system works for me. During this time of goal writing, two things are important: 1) that you set a flexible timeframe for your writing and do nothing but write what you want (I like 10-15 minutes according to how long it's been since I last did this task) and 2) that you believe there are no limits.

The list, and the process I offer that follows will lead to goal clarity. "Goal clarity," Ron Willingham wrote in The Inner Game of Selling, "is having clear, specific, written descriptions of what you want to happen in your future." Willingham also believes that goal clarity releases what he calls achievement drive, an energy we all possess but seldom use to its capacity. Achievement drive creates focus. A workout that is part of a plan toward a goal is more effective than one done to simply be done. I see this big time in my own training.

Once the list is finished, give each goal a timeframe. Because these are real live goals, not resolutions, your timeframes could be any length. Some will fall nicely in the 12 months or less group. Some will not. Having said that, once you examine your goals, you will find that some are more short term in their nature, some long. Here are my classifications:  less than 3 months, 3-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-36 months and 3 years +.

Next, prioritize your goals. Which are most important? Take 6-12 high priority goals (or more if you are an overachiever) and write a paragraph about WHY you will achieve each. Not how, why. The why is the benefit for you, the answer to the question "what's in it for me?". At this point, we're not concerned with the HOW of our list. As Tony Robbins says, "get a big enough WHY and you'll figure out HOW." Also, make sure your goals are written in the positive, and as many experts maintain, in the present tense (I am, I do, I weigh, I earn…).

Most goal/resolution projects end here, if they even get this far, but I ask a bit more from myself (so I will request it of you). Make a list of the resources you have to help you accomplish your goal. Who can help, whether it's encouragement, participation, accountability or financial. It's easier to achieve a goal when you have the support and/or input of others. Be careful here. You must be extremely selective about with whom you share your goals. The last thing you need is someone who will offer only negativity to your process (and execution). We can and will generate enough of our own self-defeating thoughts, we certainly don't need any outside assistance.

Look for models (no, not THAT kind of models). Identify other runners that are models of the runner you will be once you have achieved your goal. Ask yourself how they got to be who they are and what you could learn through modeling them. Maybe meet and chat with a model or better yet, run together and observe how they do what they do.

Then, let's list our potential obstacles. I teach that behavior is predictable. I know that also means MY behavior is predictable. Generally I know what gets in my way. If I examine potential obstacles early, I can create strategies to avoid or overcome them. One huge obstacle for runners is injury. So plan breaks in training, incorporate injury prevention protocol in your daily/weekly routine.

Finally, for each goal, create an achievement plan. What do you do to make it happen? Or maybe, how do you STOP doing what you do that sabotages your efforts? Log miles, write about workouts in as much detail as you can stand. Your log/plan becomes a daily, weekly and monthly checks and balances system that keeps you firmly targeted to your outcome. I like to look at my goals weekly and refer to parts of my plan daily. It's like your weight, if you check it only once a month, you may be in for some bad surprises. Check it daily and you can halt problems long before they actually become problems. The great thing about running is that it lends itself perfectly for monitoring goals.

You know you better than anyone, so institute a plan that you can make work. Whether it's affirmations, a buddy who holds you accountable or self floggings – stay on the plan (knowing that the beauty of any good plan is your ability to be a little flexible).

So, now we're ready. We're lean, mean goal machines. All that's left is taking some time and beginning the process, developing your goal mindset and achieving your dreams. Have fun, be brave, accomplish great things!

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