THE POWER OF GOAL SETTING
I am currently preparing a talk on Goal Setting for a school presentation so decided to tease out my ideas on the topic by putting them down in writing - I hope you find something here that will help fire you up for your next challenge or project : ).
AN EARLY TASTE
I will never forget the eve of 2003. The roof of our trusty family tent fought against the howling winds as my parents, two siblings and I sat huddled around a deck of cards. Muffled voices of excitable party-goers in the Marion Bay caravan park could be heard between gusts and whilst there was a mild temptation to join them for the midnight fireworks, my warm sleeping bag was calling. After one final and highly competitive round of “Warlords and Scumbags”, Dad sensed our heavy eye lids and enthusiastically turned over the scoring sheet to fire up a new activity.
With the new year almost upon us, he suggested that we go around the circle and share what we would like to achieve at school, in sport and outside of school/sport for the year ahead. This was a casual New Year’s Eve family tradition that Dad liked to spring on us when the opportunity arose. I’m not sure whether it was a work conference or a book that sparked his passion for goal-setting but I loved it. We went around the circle and each shared what we hoped to experience in 2003. On the sporting front, Jack (at the ripe age of eleven) shared his desire to make the state football and cricket teams, whilst Abbie hoped to don the state netball bodysuit in Winter. I was embarking on my first year at Boarding School in Adelaide and set one goal of trying Pole Vault – I did end up attempting it once : ). I also shared my dream of being selected for the World Schools Cross Country Championships to be held in France the following year.
Whilst I didn’t acknowledge the important role of goal setting in my younger years, I realise now that it helped me to establish & define what I wanted to get out of each new year. It also enabled me to approach all areas of life with purpose and by learning what my family members wanted to achieve I was better able to support them in their aspirations. Throughout my senior schooling and early University years, I continued to set challenges and work out what I needed to do to give myself the best chance of achieving them but it wasn’t until 2008 that formal goal-setting resurfaced.
A HELPFUL NUDGE FROM ADAM
Having witnessed my siblings reach their sporting goals in Australian Rules Football (Jack) and Rowing (Abbie) through hard-work and persistence, I had the belief that I could progress further in a chosen sport if I applied the same commitment and focus. Whilst netball had been a big part of my life, I felt that I had more potential to improve and to control my outcome in the sport of running. At the end of the 2008 netball season I met with Adam Didyk (my new running coach) on a Saturday morning to learn what my training would now look like, without the distraction of other sports. I will never forget Adam telling me that I would get to know every stick and stone on the 2.2km Uni loop over the coming months – I was mildly horrified. Adam asked me to complete a goal setting template (pictured below) and learnt that my long term goal was to represent South Australia. He asked me whether this was my ultimate dream and I reluctantly exclaimed that “I had always wanted to make the Olympics… but that’s a bit far-fetched. Didn’t lots of people dream of that?” Adam was new to coaching and had every reason to settle with that response but dared me to write down the bit ‘out-there’ goal that I had shared with him. He said that he thought I would run Marathons one day but that it would take patience and a number of years to build up to that. I gulped and listened. To this day I am grateful for that goal-setting exercise in 2008.
FROM NUDGE TO NAGOYA
In 2012 I was very grateful to run my first Marathon in the Japanese city of Nagoya with the goal of achieving a time below the Olympic Qualifying standard of 2 hours and 32 minutes. I felt that I had nothing to lose (other than a few toe nails) and aside from being hit with a few waves of panic in the fortnight leading up to the race, I was excited to take on a new challenge. My focus to this point had been on continuous improvement in my training times, training volume, nutrition balance and approach to recovery. I felt that the outcome would take care of itself if it was meant to be. Little did I realise just how much mental fatigue and discomfort would need to be overcome to get me to the finish line but there’s nothing quite like first-hand experience to learn. By focusing on hydration at each of the 5km check points and consuming gels at three dedicated points throughout the race, I was able to break the Marathon into smaller segments. It wasn’t until the final 5 kilometres that my brain switched out of process mode and the realisation of a childhood dream unfolding started to swell inside.
FROM PB GOALS TO PUNCHING A BOXING BAG – FOCUS ON THE PROCESS
Goal setting seemed pretty straight forward to this point and I loved the satisfaction that came with ticking a box, reflecting on how to improve and ultimately raising the bar. It wasn’t until 2014 that my approach was notably challenged. The Glasgow Commonwealth Games were on the horizon and I was full of motivation. I had run four Marathons in total and my training structure had followed the same general pattern for each one – run hard, eat, work, jog, recover, repeat. Under the guidance of Adam, I had been gradually building fitness layers and progressing my mileage over a few years and I looked forward to putting in a big Marathon preparation for the Games in July. What I hadn’t contemplated, was my first major injury disruption in the form of a stress fracture. Suddenly the daily training required to maintain my fitness and strength looked very different to what I had previously known. From being able to satisfy my running appetite almost daily, suddenly I was faced with a month off my natural routine and a blend of solo rowing ergo sessions, Elliptical training, boxing and arm-burning rope drills.
I am aware that injuries in sport affect many and from my own experiences I can very much relate to the frustration, fear, fluctuating motivation, confusion and the emotional roller coaster that may ensue. During one of my ‘emotional days’ Adam encouraged me to create a collage of all of my favourite running memories and told me to include a quote stating what it will feel like “when”I cross the Marathon finish line in Glasgow. At a similar time, I spoke to my brother Jack who had spent the past year rehabilitating his own foot injury. Jack's strategy involved focusing on what he could each day to make himself stronger for the next, rather than thinking too far ahead. With the support and positive boost from my family, coach and squad I was able to pull myself out of a teary lull and decided to map out the ten weeks leading into the games, with a fresh piece of paper for each week. I stopped overwhelming myself with the daunting prospect of running a Marathon in July and decided to take a leaf out of Jack’s book.
For every day of the week I set:
- a fitness goal i.e. get my heart rate to >175bpm on the Elliptical trainer for "x " minutes
- a rehab goal i.e. complete home exercises / do a Yoga class / organise a podiatrist or physio consult
- a non-running goal i.e. catch up with Uni friends for dinner / get 9 hours of sleep
I also included a weekly motivational quote.
My attention shifted from the big goal of running a Marathon PB at the Commonwealth Games (which at this point seemed unrealistic in my mind) to gaining satisfaction from ticking smaller boxes every day. Before long I was back combining running with cross training and in July, I jetted off to the Australian pre-Games camp in England with optimism and an open mind about what I might be able to achieve. I knew that I had prepared in a different way but that I had worked hard and perhaps the new strengths gained from cross training would have their benefits? The ticks next to my daily goals reassured me that I had prepared as well as I could have given the scenario.
When faced with challenges in sport and other areas of life I often reflect on this period in 2014 and the power of mindset. Long term goals can provide incredible direction and motivation but if the path starts to crumble they can also be the source of great angst. I am a big believer in taking satisfaction from the smaller accomplishments and processes in life that if performed consistently can lead one to his or her long term goal without it necessarily being the ‘daily’ focus. Process goals are empowering and help us to not only feel in control but to stay present. My understanding of the role that goal-setting can play in life has evolved over the years and will continue to do so. For now, let’s get out there and make the most of every day!