Goal-setting: get SMART
Goal-setting is a simple, yet often-misused motivational technique which can provide some structure for your training and competition programme. Goals give a focus, and the key to effective goal-setting is the S.M.A.R.T principle.
1. First, goals must be Specific. Research has shown that specific goals work better than general `do-your-best` goals. For example, if you`re a runner, rather than professing a desire to reduce your 5K time, you should state: `I intend to knock 20 seconds off my 5K time over the next six months`.
2. Your training target ought to be Measurable, as in the above example. Simply saying that you want to trim your 5K time is insufficient; you need some accurate means of charting your progress. This means that continuous monitoring is needed, but this can become a bore. Thus I would recommend that you build into your training schedule a regular `measurement day` on which you test yourself in various disciplines. This can take place once a week or even once a month, but the idea of the day is to reduce your preoccupation with times and improvement. Certainly, the therapeutic benefits arising from a relaxed (non-timed) workout can help to alleviate stress, reduce symptoms of depression and leave you ready to proceed with an otherwise arduous training schedule.
3. Goals should also be Adjustable. Goal-setting is a dynamic process. If, for instance, you become injured during a competitive season, you should be able to lower your goals accordingly. On the other hand, you may make such rapid progress that you can raise them. Ultimately this means that they must conform to the first two criteria: being specific and measurable.
4. Goals must be Realistic. It`s all very well saying `I want to break Daniel Komen`s 5K record,` but unless you`re his (as yet, undiscovered) identical twin, then that doesn`t seem a realistic goal. This is an extreme example, but you also must recognise that your room for improvement shrinks as you get near your full potential, the well-known Law of Diminishing Returns. Conversely, goals should be difficult enough so that you`re not struck down by acute boredom because you`ve achieved them too easily.
5. Finally, your training targets ought to be Time-based. If you don`t give yourself a specific time frame in which the goal must be achieved, then the urgency for attainment is reduced. The previous example of trimming the 5K time by 20 seconds within six months satisfies this criterion. Try to resist the temptation to move these time constraints back to accommodate life events, such as minor injuries; the result is that the value of the time limit is negated. It is important to identify when this happens, and to set about designing new objectives with new time parameters. This way your goal-setting plan won`t lose its effectiveness.
Make no mistake about it, goal-setting is a skill that needs to be mastered just like any other. But by using the following model, you can make the process a little less taxing.