Challenge Yourself, Setting Goals

Feb 10, 2007 | February 2007, Mind & Body

Keep motivated by working toward a goal

By Shelley R. Probber, Psy.D.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. They are often discarded shortly after they are set down, and then most of us are left feeling as if we have failed. I do, however, believe in setting realistic, yet challenging, goals for myself. Goals are important, since they set the course for your training and athletic pursuits throughout the year. Goals can keep you focused and help maintain motivation during times when the eagerness to keep pushing wanes.

Many amateur athletes choose the goal of simply completing a race of a particular distance. Completing your first marathon or your first triathlon is an admirable and realistic goal for most. However, once you have succeeded in achieving such a goal, it is important to establish new goals. These goals should be challenging enough to push you just past the limit of what you have done in the past. In fact, it might be important to set some goals that you are just not sure you will attain. Yes, this is a risk. However, it also propels you to push yourself further and see what your body — and mind — will allow you to accomplish.

Setting performance goals will help you to analyze your performance and objectively identify ways to improve. While you want to set realistic goals for yourself, it is also important to set goals that are just a bit further than you are sure you will achieve. These goals must also be what you truly want to pursue and achieve. If you decide to pursue a goal that someone else has decided for you, it is likely that you will not stay with it, and you will have difficulty mustering the long-term motivation required to push through the more challenging parts of working toward the goal.

So how do you set realistic, yet challenging, goals for yourself? First, look back at the past year. Did you achieve the goals you set out for yourself last year? If not, why not? Examine the reasons why you didn’t reach those goals.

If you did achieve some of your goals, what is next for you? More distance? Faster times? Look back at your previous year’s races and/or accomplishments and examine each with an objective eye that does not pass judgment. Rather than become critical with yourself for failing, look dispassionately at your performance and study what you did or did not do that led to your not meeting the goal. Once you have been honest with yourself about your past achievements, you can set goals that will challenge you, while not overwhelming you.

Goal-setting requires many steps
First, establish a long-term goal for yourself. Perhaps you want to run a faster 5K or complete your first marathon. Maybe you want to ride your first century bike ride.

Once you have decided on a long-term goal, write it down. You won’t commit to your goal if you keep it a secret. Tell others. Make it real.

Deciding on a long-term goal means that your plans are specific and concrete. If your goal is to run a faster 5K, decide how much faster. If your best 5K time was twenty-seven minutes, perhaps you want to come in thirty seconds faster. If you want to complete your first marathon, choose one and register for it. Find a century ride and sign up. Once you have selected a long-term goal, you can now break this down into shorter goals. These short-term goals will allow you to focus your training and allow you to feel progress as you move toward the longer term goal.

As you identify your goals, remember that you are not the goal. Whether or not you achieve your goal or fall short, that outcome does not define who you are. Running faster or riding that century has little or nothing to do with your value as a human being or as an athlete. However, being willing to challenge yourself and risk confronting your fears may be important in allowing you to reach your potential as an athlete and as a person.

Shelley R. Probber is a licensed psychologist in private practice in San Antonio. Her practice encompasses children and adults, with a focus on athletes. 

South Texas Fitness & Health