Determining Your Course: Goal Setting for 2013

By: Aimee C. Kimball, Ph.D.

Athletes and exercisers all have goals and no time is goal setting more prevalent than at the start of a new year.

As we all make our 2013 resolutions, we need to first remember that a resolution is, by definition, a firm statement of purpose. Therefore, whether your goal/resolution is to win races, achieve a personal best, or simply to work out twice a week, the goals you set will undoubtedly influence your performance.

Keep in mind that there is a lot more to goal setting than just stating what it is you ultimately want to achieve. To get the motivational support and performance boost that goals can provide, athletes and exercisers must set goals systematically. Here’s how they do it:

Step 1: Know where you are headed
One year from now, what do you want to be doing? Six months from now? At the end of January, what do you want to have achieved? All of these goals are important to write down because they give you something to commit to. It is also important to identify why you want to achieve these goals. This “why” should be something that is valuable to you more than it is to others. Once you identify your goals, close your eyes and picture yourself achieving them. Try to experience the feelings you expect to have when you achieve these goals. On a weekly basis, reexamine your end-of-year goal and adjust it to make it more challenging or more realistic based on your circumstance.
Step 2: Know how to get there
Ever get lost on the way somewhere? If you have, typically you knew where you were supposed to end up, you just didn’t have a very accurate map of how to get there. Having a path towards your long-term goals is extremely important because what you want to achieve weeks, months, or years from now can only happen if you take the opportunity each day to make progress towards your longer-term goals. Each day ask yourself, “What can I do today to get myself one step closer to where I want to be?”
Step 3: Identify milestones of success
Having intermediate markers of success can help enhance motivation. These markers serve as points on your goal route that are important to you and are achievements you will be proud of. These milestones let you know that your hard work is paying off and give you confidence, encouragement, and enhance your commitment.
Step 4: Identify obstacles
Look at your long term and short term goals and identify obstacles that may prevent you from reaching these goals. If it is something you do control, make a plan for dealing with it when it comes up. By identifying obstacles and being prepared to overcome them, you are helping to ensure obstacles do not become excuses.
Step 5: Create a system
Everyone is a little bit different in how they set goals. Some set daily goals while others focus on what they want to accomplish on a monthly basis. Create a system that you can stick to that allows you to set specific goals, measure progress and gain motivation. At a minimum, set weekly goals. At the end of the week, assess whether or not you achieved your goals. If you didn’t, make sure you honestly figure out why you fell short and try to control what you can in the future. If you did achieve even some of your goals, take a moment to reward yourself and feel proud that your hard work paid off.
Step 6: Set different types of goals
One of the biggest mistakes athletes make is setting goals focused only on the results of competition. While these outcome-oriented goals are important, they are often out of your control. Therefore, it is essential to set process and performance goals as well. This can be true for non-athletes, as well. For example, if your goal is to lose weight and get healthy, don’t focus on the big number you have to lose on the scale. Instead, set goals about walking more or drinking more water, both small attainable process goals that will help you reach your ultimate goal.