By Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D.
I’ve got big plans this year, including running the Boston Marathon in April. I have officially started training and have set multiple goals for the race—from being the best prepared I’ve ever been for a marathon to staying injury-free.
This is a fine balance for me, because I have experienced injuries while training for my last two marathons. I know, however, that if I focus on the process — working every day to prepare while listening to my body— I’ll run faster than I ever have before.
There are many benefits of setting goals. Goals direct your focus and attention. They help you remain persistent in the face of adversity. They increase your self-confidence and help you develop problem-solving strategies. They help you train smarter and harder. The bottom line is that when you set effective goals, they help you perform up to your potential.
Research conducted within sport psychology suggests that the world’s best athletes have clear, simple and targeted daily goals. They know what they want to accomplish each day and each workout. They know how their daily goals connect to their long-term goals, plans and dreams.
The start of the new year is a good time to think about what you want to accomplish.
Perhaps you have already committed to a New Year’s resolution, which is a good start at setting goals. But resolutions tend to be all or nothing. Black or white. We state them in a way that focuses on what we don’t want to do rather than what we do want to do. And we don’t usually plan out how we will sustain that resolution for a whole year. Perhaps that’s why only 8 percent of people who make a New Year’s resolution actually keep it.
Instead of resolutions, I suggest setting goals. If all of us dedicated the time and effort toward setting and evaluating our goals that successful athletes do, think of what we could accomplish.
How do we do that? Here are some tips to help you be all you can be:
- Set specific, slightly difficult goals. If your goals are detailed and measureable, they are more likely to improve your performance than vague or “do-your-best” goals. Also, to keep your motivation high, goals should be set that are just beyond your reach not far beyond your reach.
- Set multiple goals. An ideal number is three; more gives you too much to focus on, but only one can sometimes put too much pressure on you. A runner who only focuses on qualifying for the Boston Marathon, for example, or a basketball player who focuses only on winning the big game may feel too much pressure before and during the competition.
- Ink it, don’t just think it. People are more successful if they write down their goals. A study of Harvard alumni suggests that the 3 percent of Harvard alumni who wrote down their goals at graduation made more money combined 30 years later than the 97 percent who did not.
- Frame your goals positively instead of negatively. Rather than saying what you don’t want to do, write what you do what to do. Changing “I will avoid eating sweets this year” to “I will eat one small piece of chocolate once a week” has a dramatic impact on your focus and motivation. It allows you to think about the chocolate you can enjoy, not chocolate you can’t have.
- Plan out what you are going to do weekly or daily to accomplish your goals. This is incredibly important and a step that most people miss. We tend to think about our goals, but don’t write a plan that includes short-term daily or weekly goals. Someone who is trying to lose a certain amount of weight this year should break that total into smaller monthly goals.
- Include a plan to adjust your goals. Many of us think that when you set a goal you can’t change it. But life sometimes gets in the way. I may get injured training for Boston, and if I do, I will have to readjust my goals.
- Ask someone to sign your plan. This person can help hold you accountable for your goals and support you in the process. Think carefully about who you choose. It should be someone who will be honest with you when the going gets tough.Spend some time reflecting on what you want to accomplish today. Use this opportunity to reflect on what you accomplished last year and look toward the next. Then set goals instead of making resolutions. This will increase your chance for success and keep you motivated and focused for the year to come.