Most of us have set goals and then not achieved them. Those who say otherwise are either annoying overachievers or liars. The best of intentions are no match for the surprises life can throw at us - family commitments, work pressures or, simply, injury. Be assured, you are not alone.
World-class triathlete Richard Stannard (10 times the fastest swimmer in the London Triathlon) was gearing up for a great 2009 season when, at the end of May, he was hit by a car while training on his bike. The accident left him with a shattered wrist and a wrecked (new) bike. He was, of course, shocked by the experience, but quickly found the positive angle: it could have been a lot worse.
Like all athletes, elite and otherwise, Stannard is driven to achieve and improve, but he also knows that accidents and injuries are out of his control and that sometimes goals have to be set aside to allow the body to recover. He did so and was back in action less than six weeks later, coming second in the Great Big Open Water swim at Dorney Lake.
Why set goals?
The key to achieving your goals is to use a process that involves a clear starting point, a map and a focus for your efforts. Having clearly defined goals helps to keep you on track.
Stannard's goals provide him with the motivation to train day in and day out so he can achieve the results he wants. And when things don't go the way they're supposed to, he knows that plans can, and must, be altered to suit new circumstances.
Setting a goal is a process that must begin with careful consideration of what you want to achieve, assessing your chances and then working as hard as you can. Wanting something is easy - ask any red-faced two-year-old in a supermarket - working hard to get what you want is the tough part and it's best to do it without kicking over the sweet stand when you don't see immediate results.
The first step in the goal-setting process is determining the outcome you want. It's important to set realistic, achievable goals, particularly when coming back from injury. But don't aim too low, because, hard as you might try to block out the niggling thought, you'll know deep down that you're not stretching yourself.
One effective way to set your goal is to use the SMART formula:
- Specific - What specifically do you want to achieve?
- Measurable - How will you know when you've achieved it? What will you see, hear and feel?
- Achievable - Where and when do you want it? Do you have the skills and abilities? Can you develop them?
- Realistic/Resources - Is the goal realistic for you? What resources do you need?Do you need to make arrangements to minimise any change in your daily schedule or routine?
- Timed - When do you want to achieve your goal? Is the time scale realistic?
Motivation is the spark that makes you do what you do. Find out what motivates you because your level of motivation will influence your level of commitment to do the training. You're asking yourself "Why am I doing what I'm doing?":
- What will it mean to you to achieve the goal? What is its significance?
- What will happen when you achieve it? What will it look like? How will it feel? What will you see or hear?
- How will achieving this goal affect other aspects of your life?
- What will happen if you do not achieve your goal?
Once you've identified your goal and worked out your motivation, it's time to make that plan.
Plan Of Action
You need to break down the overall goal into smaller chunks with smaller milestone goals along the way. You'll find your confidence growing as you achieve each of these midterm results.
For example, your goal might be to run 10K in under 45 minutes by the end of the season. If this is the case, you should be asking yourself what improvements are needed to take you from a 50-minute pace to a 45-minute pace.
To help you identify the steps in your plan, you might consider the following:
- Imagine yourself having achieved your goal. Look back, what did you do (step by step) to get you where you are?
- Is there anyone else involved in helping you to achieve your outcome and are they available? Do you need to book sessions in advance with a personal trainer, arrange child-care or work coverage?
- What resources do you need to start, such as equipment or facilities, and are they readily available?
Once you've answered these questions you're out of excuses: it's time to begin
the hard work.
We can all experience setbacks on the way to achieving our goal. Stannard, for example, developed pneumonia when coaching his girlfriend, Emma Davis, during the Olympic Games in Beijing. As a result he could not race at the top level for nine months. And then he was training one day at the end of May...
It is, of course, frustrating that your fitness level and abilities may be reduced, and that you cannot train or compete at the same level as you were before the injury or illness or whatever it is that so rudely impeded your progress. However, with patience and persistence, you will regain your fitness.
When you are ready to return to your training, Stannard suggests you take stock of your new situation and your possibly reduced capabilities. You need to set realistic goals, both long- and short-term. When you're returning from injury the focus should be on the short-term goals. As you achieve them, you'll become stronger mentally and physically.
After his cycling accident, Stannard regularly assessed his progress when he began training again. He found that if he could swim a little faster each week, he was pleased with his results.
Following a structured goal-setting process using the SMART formula and identifying the reasons why achieving that goal is worthwhile will help you along the way to achieving your goal. But you have to begin with that detailed plan and once you have spent time and energy working out what you're going to do and how you're going to do, the next step should be a little easier. Not easy, just easier.