Do you set goals? I’ve set many many of them – life goals, work goals, running goals. In fact, I love setting goals. That’s partly because I enjoy the satisfaction of reaching them – doesn’t it feel good when you do that?. But also because they add structure to my life. Without goals I think I’d be drifting around not really getting anywhere. Not being sure why I’m getting out of bed or feeling any accomplishment at the end of the day. I don’t think I’d have achieved half of what I have without setting specific goals that I’ve worked towards. Goals have been a fundamental part of my running journey and running has taught me so much about how to set goals and be successful.
But, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve set many goals that I haven’t reached. I’m sure you can think of a goal you haven’t nailed. On countless occasions I’ve lost my way somewhere, sometimes early on, often half way through and never reached my intended destination. It’s taken a lot of setting bad goals to hit some great ones. I wanted to share what I’ve learnt along the way to help you set your own goals.
I know there are robust systems to guide effective goal setting. SMART goals is one of them. Can you remember what the letters stand for? I never can and always have to look it up!
Here’s the process I go through when I set my goals. These are the questions I ask myself:
How big is the goal? Is this a huge, life changing, monster of a goal such as writing a book or running your first marathon or is it something smaller like always remembering to charge your running watch? All goals are not equal. What kind of goal are you talking about? You’re going to have to tame the beast so be aware how big, spiny and ferocious it is.
Am I in a good place to take on this goal? Honesty is important. It’s not wrong to set big goals, in fact I would actively encourage it but there are better times in life than others to put pressure on yourself. Working towards a goal takes energy, time and action. Just check-in with yourself whether you’re being realistic with the resources you have. You can always adapt a goal or set a smaller goal as your first step towards the bigger one.
Why do I want to achieve this goal? This is crucial. You need to work out what this goal really means to you. You’re going to have to put in hard work, often when don’t feel like, it to reach the goal so it has to be really meaningful to you. How will you feel when you succeed? What will be better when you’ve done it? Is it to prove something to yourself or to others? Will you be healthier, happier, more financially stable? If you find this hard then simply turn it around and ask yourself how you will feel if you don’t reach the goal and look at the opposite of that.
When will I reach this goal? Always have an end-point in mind, whether it’s by this time next year or in six months from now. Don’t just have an, ‘I’ll get there one day’ attitude. You need a time frame to push you forwards. Again, think of your situation and resources and be realistic but also be bold, confident and challenge yourself. Most people set too long for their goals and with very little pressure they drift along and don’t reach them. Throw down the gauntlet for yourself.
How can I map out this goal? Big goals can feel overwhelming and unachievable so you’ll have to break it down, eat the elephant one chunk at a time as they say. Make a rough overview of any important milestones that you feel might help you. For example, if you’re writing a book then knowing how many chapters or words you need to do each month. Or if you’re training for a marathon, working out when you need to do a half marathon. You need to get to know your goal pretty well to do this. You might have to do a bit of research. Don’t stress over it but have some kind of idea of the big plan.
What do I need to do next? Getting to any goal requires simply taking lots of next steps over and over again. Those steps don’t need to be big but you do need to know what they are. This is a great exercise when you feel you might be taking on too much or are a bit scared by your goal. Just keep working things backwards until you can’t go any further. For example, if you want to run a marathon you’ll have to look for a training plan. Other than googling ‘marathon training plans’ and feeling intimidated by the number and variety, how could you do that? You could contact a friend who has done one and see if they can recommend any? That’s the next step – send a message to your friend. The goal has gone from running a marathon to messaging a friend, much easier to digest. You get your plan and find yourself looking at week 12 of 14 where you have to run 20 miles. Don’t. Work it backwards, what’s the first thing you have to do? Week 1, run 1, a 30 minute easy jog. Work it backwards further – when are you going to do it? Before work tomorrow. What’s your next step? Get your running kit out ready for the morning. Running 20 miles has turned into finding your running socks! Lots of tiny small steps. Just keep working goals backwards until you get to an manageable action – there always is one, even if it’s asking for help. Do the first step now!
Who can I tell about my goal? Of course you can keep goals entirely private but it can be really helpful to be accountable to someone. Figure out how much support and motivation you might need from others. A very public announcement on social media and daily update postings might be your thing. Equally, a private journal or a check-in with a friend from time to time could be more your style.
How can I celebrate my goal? Journeys to goals can be tough. The success of reaching your goal might be enough but you deserve to celebrate and enjoy the glory. A carrot is better than a stick so think about planning something special for when you reach the summit of your mountain.
These tips have served me well over the last few years. I hope they help you too. I’m currently creating my goals for this year. I haven’t quite got them perfected yet but I’ll keep you posted. I’d love to hear what yours are. Share them in the comments or on my social media. I’d also love to hear any of your goal setting tips too. What questions should I add to this list?