“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
When setting goals, you always want to start with the future outcome you want to achieve, and then work backwards to outline the intermediary process goals you need to hit to reach that outcome.
Goal setting can reach as far into the future as you’re interested in planning for — or you can simply focus on the upcoming year or season. Even if you haven’t yet thought much about your athletic goals beyond the upcoming year, it can be helpful to consider where you want to be at least a few years down the road.
For long-term goal planning, you can start with an unspecified “someday” goal — a big, ambitious dream goal that you want to achieve more than 10 years into the future. Since this is further removed from the present, you don’t need to designate a specific end date yet; but you will need to develop intermediary goals with specific time frames that put you on the path to achieving your “someday” goal. As “someday” gets closer, you will assign a more specific timeframe for meeting it. You can also start with a 10-year goal or 5-year goal. Or, to develop your goals for the upcoming year or season, start with that time frame.
In setting goals for your upcoming year or season, you typically will have 1-3 main outcome goals (or objectives, if you’re using the OKR framework). These are your A-priority races that you design your training plan around. You may also have some races that are important to you but you plan to do without a full taper while working them around your most important races — these are your B-priority races. You might also decide to jump into some “training races” that effectively act as fun workouts or to practice race-specific skills in an authentic setting without the pressure to perform associated with a higher priority race — these are your C-priority races. With your A-priority race or races comprising your main outcome goal or goals, your B-priority and C-priority races, if any, provide some of the intermediary process goals that act as stepping stones to those main outcome goals.
Similar to B-priority and C-priority training races are other key milestones positioned at different points on your timeline. These process goals are key workouts or other actions you need to take in the lead-up to the main outcome goal. If your outcome goal is to finish a marathon, then this might be a particular long run mileage or duration you want to achieve by a certain date.
Finally, consider the monthly, weekly, and daily actions you want to achieve. These process goals are the regular actions that you want to become habits. As sports psychologist Bob Rotella emphasizes, “Success comes from patiently and persistently doing the right things over and over. Process goals are the ‘to-do lists’ of players striving for excellence. The process is what gives you a chance to find out how good you can be.”
Let’s return to the athlete looking to finish their first marathon. Recall that they wrote down a SMART goal statement that looks like this:
- Next year, I want to finish the Boulder Marathon.
Working backwards to connect that future outcome goal to the present via a chain of intermediary process goals, here’s what the athlete’s goal sheet might look like for the upcoming year:
Outcome Goal: Finish next year’s Boulder Marathon on September 22 (A-priority race)
Training Races/Key Milestones:
- Long run of 18-20 miles by August 25
- Rocky Mountain Half-Marathon on August 3 (C-priority)
- Bolder Boulder 10K on May 27 (B-priority)
- Talk with my coach about the past/upcoming months of training
- Get in for a bodywork session
- Do my long run each weekend
- Assess my training plan consistency at the end of each week to understand what barriers exist and how to address them in the upcoming week
- Start each day with a 20-minute mobility spin-up
- Consistently follow my training plan and record workouts in TrainingPeaks
- Sleep at least 8 hours each night
Everything below the main outcome goal (objective) are process goals (key results) that contribute something to achieving the main goal. They all represent realistic actions that this athlete can commit to doing. Notice that the goal sheet keeps things fairly simple. You can add as many process goals as you like, but no more than you can realistically commit to getting done. You can’t do everything — even if you’re a professional athlete that trains full-time. Prioritize what’s most important and consistently execute those actions to move yourself along the path of your goal-achievement journey.
As you progress along the path, keep your process goals visible and regularly evaluate your progress. The end destination (outcome goal) may be fixed, but you’re in control of the path you take (process goals) to get there. Adjust your process goals as needed to navigate around obstacles that come up and keep yourself on track to get to your final destination.