New Year, New You: Setting Goals

If you find yourself picking - and then failing to achieve - the same goals year after year, it's time to master the art of effective goal-setting


Posted: 1 January 2010
by Alice Palmer

Sports psychologists often divide objectives into three different types:

  • Technical process goals relate to the technique of your sport (for example running a negative split, or mastering forefoot striking).
  • Outcome goals reflect your overall placing in a specific event (such as winning your age category in a race).
  • Performance goals relate to a certain level of achievement (for example, a sub-40:00 10K).

Setting different targets means you're more likely to focus on the positive outcomes of your performance. In the 2009 Berlin World Championships for example, Tyson Gay finished second to Usain Bolt in the 100m. If his sole objective had been to beat Bolt (an outcome goal), he would have come away disappointed. However, Gay did run a new US record (9.71 seconds) - the third-fastest 100m time in history - and thus nevertheless achieved a different aim: a sub-9.75 time (performance goal).

If you're working towards long-term change (for example, weight loss), set yourself intermediate goals along the way.

"It's hard to be motivated about something that's too far away to get excited about or too big to believe in," explains cognitive hypnotherapist Trevor Silvester (questinstitute.co.uk), also a keen sportsman.

Set smaller goals, and you'll feel proud and freshly motivated with every step you make towards your end goal.

Setting realistic time targets also helps. If you fancy losing a stone "one day", you'll find it easy to keep making excuses. Instead, start a weight-loss plan now with the aim of dropping that stone by say, Easter, and you'll be much more likely to make it happen.


Here are some examples of common running goals, along with tips on how to achieve them. We've more inspirational ideas crammed into these 20 Running Resolutions too.

Ready To Race

Entering a race will focus your training efforts, keep you motivated and give you huge sense of achievement when you cross the finish line. Set yourself different types of targets, for example:

  • Outcome goal:  if it's your first race, this could be simply to finish
  • Technical process goal: not taking any walking breaks
  • Performance goal: finishing in a certain time

Vary Your Training

Everyone has sessions they dislike more than others - hill repeats, long runs in marathon training, speedwork. But these dreaded sessions are hard for a reason, and if you skip them on a regular basis, you could also miss out on the rewards they'll help you reap.

You can crack tricky training sessions without even lacing up your trainers. Silvester suggests, "Spend time creating a picture of what you want to achieve. The more real it feels, the more motivated you'll be in achieving it." Picture yourself charging up a hill, or looking at a suitably fast split time on your watch. Once you've already 'done' it in your mind, it'll be much easier to achieve in real life.

Come Back From Injury

Rather than immediately setting your sights on finishing a race, first focus on some basic intermediate steps. Aim to run shorter distances without discomfort, for example, or gradually add in some faster bursts.

Concentrate on what you can do to minimise your risk of injury - whether that's a professional biomechanical assessment or spending more time strengthening your core. The key is to be patient: take things slowly now, and you're more likely to manage a triumphant return to racing later in the year.

Rediscover Your Running Mojo

If it's been a long time since you hit that 'runner's high', it could be time to dig yourself out of a running trough. There are plenty of ways to give yourself a kick, from joining a running club to keeping a training diary.

Be careful not to put your blinkers on (remember, obsession with a single goal can lead to frustration or failure) and don't punish yourself if you don't return to form instantly.

"Anything more than nothing is success," says Silvester. "Success comes to the most consistent - you'll achieve more if you do something every day, rather than not bother at all because you couldn't do everything you wanted."


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