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After the emotional, physical, and mental grind of 2020, we all may need something to set our sights on for a fresh, fit, and focused start to 2021. Since research abounds on the increased negative effects that the pandemic has had on those who struggle with mental health disorders, it can be helpful to take steps to create a bit more control and positive outcomes in our lives. In my work with athletes from novices to elites, several successful goal setting guidelines stand out that have proven helpful for establishing ways to run (and live) with intention and to find inspiration in difficult times. The best part? You can pick and choose here what appeals to your goal setting interests and then make it gloriously all your own.

> Bottom Line: With purpose comes strength, direction and optimism. You in? Let’s go.

Establish a Vision or Mission Statement

Start here by thinking about your personal beliefs relative to running (or other aspects of your life). Recognize your incentive (the singular motivating factor that you’ll rely on when things get tough) and know what it is that you want to accomplish. Think about the role that running plays in your life (with or without racing) and what it really means to you. This ‘Mission Statement’ guides your actions by giving you a vision of WHY you run/walk/train/compete, even if there are no race finish lines involved.

Balance your Goals with the Other Important Areas of your Life

Balanced goals give equal time, energy, and effort toward a multidimensional lifestyle and help to keep things fresh. (Several areas may need to be compatible with each other, such as athletics, academics, family, health, recreation, work, friends, spirituality, and relationships).

Try this if you need some direction with integrating goals in a balanced way: Make a list of the various roles that you play in your life – (Several, student, family member, friend, professional, employee etc.). Then prioritize the list, putting the most important roles at the top. Then establish goals that align with the order of this list for best outcomes (This will change often over time).

Be specific; Write out your Goals

Actually writing out goals can help you to focus on and commit to them. Placing written goals in visible and prominent places (car, locker, training log, kitchen, etc.) can help you to retain your goal focus, and frequently viewing goals can aid in making goal enhancing behaviors routine. It’s helpful to both state goals in the positive and to set moderately difficult goals; ones that stretch you, yet are also realistic and possible to attain.

Focus on setting your own goals in this step since you internalize goals that are your own more strongly than those imposed upon you. If the word ‘should’ appears often in your goal planning, you may want to rethink the origin of the goal.

  1. Set goals that are measurable: Get a baseline (time trial or distance or enjoyment level, for example) to monitor progress.

  2. Create a way to record and measure improvement (This might include a training Log, personal journal, videotape, task analysis of skills, Race Outcomes).

  3. Keep Goals Flexible: Trust your instincts. Roadblocks, obstacles, distractions happen (poor weather illness, injury, mental health status). Adjust goals to ward off frustration…Take 1 step backward before taking 2 steps forward.

  4. Time is on your side: Set initial timeframes but don’t limit your goal progression by adhering to unrealistic timelines for goal attainment, or forced urgency. You can always carry goals over to the next season, year, or decade.

  5. Keep in Mind the Performance Paradox of Sport: The better you get, the more you may fail, and as you approach your performance ceiling for a season, the smaller the increments of improvement. This ceiling could then be the floor /entry-level for the next year’s season.

  6. Leave Goals Open-Ended and include a Range: Avoid absolute terms by adding the two words “Or Better” to your outcome goal. This gives you permission to go beyond the self-limiting barriers we sometimes put on ourselves.

  7. Set Goals Outside of Sport: Set goals in a variety of life domains. By stepping out of sport-specific goals only, you’ll be better positioned to remain in balance and to avoid staleness, overtraining, or burnout.

  8. Rest, Relax as part of your Goal: Quality training sessions also need quality rest sessions. Restoration will re-energize, so build in structured “down” time.

  9. Use Time Management Skills to Help you to Realize your Goals: Time management is closely linked to an athlete’s ability to balance and prioritize goals. Many athletes fail to realize their goals not because they lack ability but because they ran out of time. Map out daily tasks in relation to your priorities and demands.

Find a Mentor

Connect with someone who’s already navigated a similar journey. His/her advice can be invaluable in helping to attain your goals.

Celebrate Success:

When you’ve reached a hard-earned goal take time to celebrate your achievement before moving on to the next goal challenge.

Evaluate the Results of your Efforts:

Take time to assess the effects that your goal attainment efforts have had on your life as a whole…Perhaps you want to stay at the same level of competition, or go with a more recreational or social approach or vice versa?

Reset your Goals

Reset your goals to ‘correct and redirect’ as needed or to branch out to achieve a new level of accomplishment.

As you consider what goals may serve you well in the coming year, my hope is that you’ll also give some thought to Eleanor Roosevelt’s timeless words that hold great promise for each of us even in uncertain times…

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt ~

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