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Lifelong Endurance Blog

The Psychology of Setting Goals

Goals are more than a hope or resolution for change, they are a way to bring monumental growth to our lives and foster excitement for life. They help us realize the best versions of ourselves and strive to reach our full potential. People always want to to know more, work harder, run faster, be more kind, enjoy life to the fullest. However, when asked how they plan to reach such goals, many struggle. Vague goals do not yield results nor help us in the quest to feel successful or fulfilled. While the tactic of setting goals is important in all of life, in running it is the main source of motivation. It helps us get out of bed on those cold mornings and get out for a run; it helps us feel inspired and excited to grow in the sport-finding success in a full and balanced life.

That being said, there is also danger in setting the wrong goals. When we reach to high, we set ourselves up for failure or become frustrated and give up the pursuit. If a goal does not challenge an individual enough, there is a lack of growth and apathy can seek its way in. Setting appropriate goals requires self-reflection and specificity.

The Psychology of Setting Goals

There has been extensive research in the area of setting goals. Much of a person’s  ability to achieve a goal hinges on their emotional connection and drive.

Making your goals public

While you might feel that announcing a goals to friends and families, or posting on social media would give a person more of an incentive to reach it, the opposite is true. According to a study done by New York University, making your goals publicly known, and receiving praise for working towards them, creates a premature sense of completeness (Gollwitzer 2008.) Especially living in such a social-media-driven world, there is a sense of accomplishment for receiving “likes” (Instagram, Facebook) or “kudos” (Strava.) While there is nothing hard with sharing your accomplishments, in fact, I highly encourage it, sharing your goals will statistically make them less achievable.

Accountability Partners

While sharing goals with the general public may not help, having a few good accountability partners has the opposite effect (Morano 2016.) Finding someone else who is also training for the same, or similar race can help you find some inspiration. Similarly, having a family member, friend, or partner who can encourage you continue working when you hit a wall can be the perfect extra motivation. Joining a running club, or having a training partner can be one greatest tools in not only staying consistent in training, but also keeping workouts fun.

Putting your goal in writing

Having a visual manifestation of your goal is especially powerful in having it come to fruition (Morano 2016.) This can be anything as creative as a Vision Board, to writing in your training log what your running goals are, to putting a memo in your phone. It should be something you can see daily and have easy access to. If needed, your goal can change (you realize you are faster than you thought, or you suffered an injury or illness that set you back) but it should stay fairly consistent. Try to be detailed in writing down your goal used the previous SMART acronym that will be discussed below.  By actively engaging with a goal, it will become more of a reality.

How to set Goals

SMART GOALS

As mentioned previously, one of the most difficult aspects of setting goals, is making them structured enough to yield results. Using the acronym SMART is the best way to create a reasonable plan to work towards a goal. SMART is an acronym that can guide the goal-setter to laying out a plan for the goal

S: Specific: What is your specific goal? When do you want to achieve it by? Think in detail about the race or event where you would like to see your goal realized.

M: Measurable and Meaningful: While setting a goal like, “I want to run fast” or “I want to finish in the top three for my age group” feels realistic, it is far more useful to have a quantified goal based off of time or pace. “Running fast” has no start or end point (all times are fast or slow compared to someone else) and finishing in a certain place is not controllable. Keep your goal something that you can control and see growth.

A: Attainable: Do not set yourself up for failure. Set a goal that is something you can achieve with appropriate training. If this is difficult for you, talk with a fellow athlete, coach, or other professional about your abilities and time commitment. Significant others or family members are not always a realistic sounding board.

R: (W)Ritten : Numerous studies have found that putting a goal in writing helps a person achieve. Not only is it helpful to write your goal down, but journaling (or keeping a training log in the process) helps the athlete see the concrete steps that they are taking.

T: Timely It is better to give your self an end date with a goal. If one said, “I would like to run a marathon under four hours someday” there would be no pressure to work towards that goal. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time, mark your calendar, and start your training.

Setting your own goals

If you are feeling ready to start training, take a moment, or go for a reflective run to think about what you would like to achieve with running. Make it personal and practical. Share with a friend or coach what the goal is and brainstorm everything that will need to be done to achieve it; what workouts and paces you will need to run, lifestyle changes, and rearrangement of other commitments. Also think about what obstacles you might encounter; your work schedule, previous injuries, family and relationship obligations. Be mindful of your abilities, but remain optimistic. You are capable of whatever your goal is as long as you give yourself the power to achieve it.

Sources

Gollwitzer, P.M (2008) When Intentions Go Public: Does Social-Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap, Psychological Science Vol. 20

Morano, H. (2016) The Goals that Guide Us, Psychology Today

Lexi Miller

Lexi Miller

Community Manager and Running Coach at Lifelong Endurance

Lexi is the Community Manger and Running Coach at Lifelong Endurance. Lexi works with athletes of all ages and ability levels to help them build confidence and strength. She believes that running is best approached from a holistic perspective and encourages athletes to grow in all aspects of their lives.