Last week, in my post about Running Goals, I wrote about setting my running goal for the next two years. For me, goal setting has always been a natural and important process, but it is also one of those skills that I am always trying to refine and improve. Goals drive me to complete tasks, motivate me to achieve more with my life, and give me a sense of accomplishment when they are completed.
While there are many ways to write goals, I have settled on two main ideas that I use as a framework:
- Make SMART goals
- Write your goals down where you can see them
The concept of SMART goals has been around for decades with a few variations on the acronym. I found a good history of the idea at Project Smart; you can read about it here.
The idea is to make your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. To illustrate why it is important to make sure your goals have these five elements, I will use my current goal “Break 1:45:00 in the Half Marathon by the end of 2020” as an example.
A goal needs to be specific so that you know what you are working towards and if you have accomplished what you set out to do. It is the first part of defining your aim.
An unspecific goal would be something like, “run a race”. By just saying “race,” I haven’t defined what distance I plan to run and I don’t know what I am actually going to improve on or achieve.
Setting a goal for the Half Marathon is specific – I have defined my distance. (If you are not a runner – a Half Marathon is always 21.1 KM / 13.1 Miles.) This could be to finish the race, or to do it in a certain time. But, I will know when I cross the finish line that I have completed a Half Marathon.
Making a goal measurable is the second part of defining your aim. This is how you gauge how successful you were in your efforts.
For example, if I were to say “run a fast Half Marathon” this would not be a measurable goal because “fast” is relative to an individual’s point of view. What is “fast” to me, might be slow to you. In fact, what is “fast” to me on Tuesday, might feel slow on Friday. It’s not measurable, so I won’t know if I have accomplished this.
“Break 1:45:00 in the Half Marathon” is measurable. I have a particular time I want to run over a specific distance. This makes clear the pace I need to run during the race (4:59 mins/km) and the distance I need to be able to maintain that pace. I either accomplish the goal, or I don’t.
This part is about belief. Quite simply, if you don’t believe you can do something, you probably won’t. You need to believe you can achieve the goal, or it’s not set properly.
My current personal best (PB) in the Half is 1:46:19 and I have run close to this time multiple times. This means to achieve my goal of 1:45:00, I need to run 3 seconds per km faster than my best time. This is a reasonable increase and to me seems achievable. I believe I can do this.
Now, for example, if the goal was to run the Half in 1:30:00 – this would be a huge jump in speed (46 seconds per km faster than my best time).
Achievable goals should still be a stretch. After all, the point of a goal is to push to you improve. But, it shouldn’t be something you laugh off as so ridiculous you see no point in trying.
Remember when you were a kid and your parents would tell you to clean your room? You probably didn’t bother or did a poor job because you didn’t really care if your room was clean. It wasn’t relevant to you. This was important to your parents – they wanted a clean house and probably didn’t want to look at your pile of clothes on the floor.
Now, when they told you to clean your room or you wouldn’t get to [insert your favourite activity here] suddenly, you felt it necessary to complete the task – it became relevant to you.
We need to set our own goals, and they need to be something that we care about, or affect something we care about. When they are important to us, they will motivate us to action. Without that motivation, it’s just a nice thought that might impress someone else.
This is the last part to defining your goal; it sets when you will achieve your goal by. This is the part that keeps you accountable and working towards your aim.
If we go back to my current goal to “Break 1:45:00 in the Half Marathon” we now have a nice aim, but no deadline. I can keep training with no need to push hard for the next race because it is something I will accomplish in the vague future. I have the permission to keep putting it off.
When I say, “Break 1:45:00 in the Half Marathon by the end of 2020,” I have given myself a clearly defined deadline. I now have the motivation to train hard and find good training programs because there is a point by which I am expected to have completed this goal. Again, I either accomplish the goal, or I don’t.
Write your goals down
I have always thought that it is really important to write your goals down. The act of writing them out establishes a goal and makes it real. It also really helps to put your goal somewhere you will see it often. Creating a frequent reminder of what you want to achieve helps to keep you accountable because it becomes difficult to forget or ignore.
One of my tricks is a bit of dry-erase film on the inside of my closet door. I open this door and see the back of it every day, but it is also my private closet so I’m the only one that sees it. This is where I write my goals and any positive phrases I want to remember. And, because they are written with dry-erase marker, I can change my goals when the last one has been achieved.
An extension of writing your goal down is telling others about it. This is a step that really solidifies the goal because you are more accountable for achieving something when others know about it. For example, I have now told everyone who reads my blog my Half Marathon goal. If I don’t achieve this, you will all know about it. I don’t think this is always a necessary step, but if you are really wanting to accomplish something, it does help. If the idea of heaps of people knowing your goal makes your worried about failure, you can always tell just one close friend who will help keep you on task.
What is your trick for writing and achieving your goals?