Sunday, May 11, 2014

Planning, Goal Setting, Motivation, Measurement – The Keys to Endurance Sports Success

When I begin working with new clients, I have them fill out a detailed questionnaire containing a lot of information including personal background, medical history/conditions, previous experience, strengths, areas for improvement, training plans, etc. This information helps me get a feel for where the individual is current at in terms physical and training shape which helps me build a plan that meets the specific needs of each client.

Interestingly enough, there is one section that always has the most incomplete information or raises the most questions and that section relates to planning, goal setting, motivation and measurement.   Not surprisingly, this is the same information that a lot of people struggle with in their personal and professional lives.  As a Human Resources professional, I have been trained to help people set goals as a means to improve their performance and grow their careers.

I have always been a big fan of the planning and goal setting process so I thought it would be helpful to outline the various components and steps so you can apply them to help you meet your fitness and endurance goals.

Goal Setting – The SMART Method

A goal is nothing more than a short or long term target you wish to achieve.  It sounds easy enough but it’s amazing how difficult this can be for most people. If done correctly it is the key to unleashing your true potential and will make for a much more rewarding experience.

The SMART goal setting method is simple and effective and like many things today SMART is an acronym:

S- Specific
M – Measureable
A - Attainable (there is a second A – Adjustable)
R – Realistic
T – Time specific

Let’s take a look at each one individually.  While each of the components listed below will make up one goal, they will provide a framework for you to use to build a strong plan to help you achieve each goal.

Goals must be specific in nature to be effective.  The more specific or targeted, the more information you have that will direct your overall efforts towards goal attainment.

A key buzz word today is “metrics” which is nothing more than measurements.  One of my favorite sayings is “What Gets Measured Gets Results.”  You must be able to measure progress towards your goals. As noted above, the more specific your goal, the easier it will be to identify measurements.  If you cannot answer the question “how will I measure my goal?” then you need to more clearly define your goal. Setting dates, distances and times not only provide for easy measurements, they provide targets and move you to action.

Your goals must be attainable to be effective.  I also like to have different levels of goals from easy to stretch goals, meaning you have to work hard to achieve them.  Many times you have one major goal with many small goals in support of your main goal.

A second “A” I like to add is adjustable. As with all things in life, things change so you need to be able to adjust your goals based on circumstances in life. For example one of my goals was to complete my first half Ironman the summer of 2012.  Unfortunately I broke a rib and could not train for the 8 weeks before my event. I adjusted this goal to completing my first half Ironman the summer of 2013.

This can be hard for people, but goals must be realistic. As I mentioned above, I believe that folks must have easy goals but also have stretch goals that challenge one to new levels of performance and confidence. This is part of the fun.  However, goals must be realistic or they can act as a deterrent and frustrate you. For example, a goal of running a marathon one month after beginning an exercise program is not realistic and will only set you up for failure.

Time Specific
Goals must be time specific in order to measure your progress and to know what to shoot for. They also help you identify plans and resources. A goal to run a marathon without a target date is nothing more than a wish, not an actionable goal.

Short Term and Long Term Goals
I like to break goals down into short term and long term. Short term goals are those goals that are one year or less in duration where long term goals are 1-5 years and 5-10 years.  By setting short and long term goals you have a solid action plan to help you achieve new heights. What you will find is you will have many short term goals under each of your long term goals.

Let’s take a look at examples of a short term and long term goals using the SMART goal setting system.

Short Term Goals

“I want to start walking one mile a day, three days per week beginning May 12”

This is a simple SMART goal that would be a good first step for someone new to exercise.

“I will run the Governor’s Cup Half Marathon on November 11, 2014, running the entire distance and finish in under three hours.”

This is an even better example of a SMART goal in that it is very specific, it’s measureable (did you run the marathon on the date and in the time allotted and did you actually run it) attainable and realistic. For some it may also be a stretch goal.

“I will complete my first Olympic Distance Triathlon at the REV3 event in Anderson, SC on October 19 with a swim time under an hour, a bike time under 2 hours and a run time under one hour and 30 minutes.”

“I will run the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon at an average pace of 10:00 per mile”

Long Term Goals

“I will complete my first IRONMAN triathlon in Arizona in November, 2017 with a swim time under 2 hours, a bike time less than 7 hours and a marathon time under 6 hours”

It may seem simple but goal setting helps you identify what you want to do and serves as the top of the pyramid with the next sections describe how to plan and measurements your goals.

Visual Support
For goals to be effective they MUST be written down and reviewed daily. I use two methods for my goals.

Mole Skin
The first thing I do is take some time to prayerfully think about my goals.  What do I want to accomplish and more importantly why. I recommend you do this initial phase in private.  Think past what you have done and stretch your sights to embrace something that may be a challenge or difficult to attain.  Dream, commit and do!  Be careful who you share this process with.  Not everyone will embrace your ideas nor will they be supporting. Goals mean change and many people are not comfortable with change and when uncomfortable they can laugh or ridicule you. (Personally if someone laughs at one of my goals or tells me I can’t do that, it just fuels my passion and determination to make it happen. I am just praying someone tells me I am not capable of completing the 2015 Leadville 100, it may be just what I need to fuel my drive to do it. )  However there is power in sharing your goals with others that share your interests and you know will be supportive and hold you accountable to achieving your goals.

Once you have your goals or ides, get a Mole Skin or other nice note book, a nice pen and commit your goals to paper!  There is something powerful about writing your own goals in your own handwriting.  It will stimulate your brain and subconscious to work on your goals at all times. It’s amazing how many things I commitment to paper and never look at for weeks and find that I have achieved the task at hand.  This notebook will also sever as a place to capture ideas, new goals, etc.  I like to commit a small investment in a nice notebook and pen as you will be using it daily. 

Power Point Slides, Business Cards and MyRoadID Bracelets

The next thing I like to do is print my goals on business cards and on individual PPT slides.  (I have attached some of these tools in the shared folder).  I place these goal sheets everywhere and I do mean everywhere. I have them next to my bed, on my mirror, on my wall at work, in my notebooks at work, in my goal notebooks, etc.  The idea here is to make them visible so you are looking at them all the time. I even place them on the floor in front of my face when I am doing pushups to keep me motivated and to remind myself what I am doing this for.  Visual support is key.

I also have my main goals printed on business cards for two reasons. One I use them as book marks.  Two I use them when talking to friends that I know will be supportive of my goal.  This is a bit interesting in that I am not so much looking for their support as I am publically committing to a goal as a way to hold myself accountable to meeting the goal. After all we all like to do what we say we will do. A good example is my public commitment to complete and Ironman triathlon when I could not swim and was afraid of the water.  I wrestled with my inability to swim for years so I needed to make my goal public as a way to hold myself accountable to achieving the goal or looking like a fool.

One other unique tactic I like to use is called MyRoadID.  First, ANYONE that runs, bikes, swims or does any activity needs to go to and purchase one of these bracelets or anklets. They are designed to contain your personal information like medical allergies, contact information, etc. in case you have an accident and are non-responsive. I prefer the Velcro ankle strap.

I also use MyRoadID as a vehicle for my main goal. Using their Elite bracelet, I simply type in my main goal information and wear it as a bracelet at all times.  On days I don’t feel like working out, I look at my goal on my wrist and boom, I work out. It also serves as excellent conversation pieces that can help you share your goals with others which, as discussed can serve as an accountability tool.  It is also a good way to start conversations with others about fitness and faith.

Planning and Priorities

I love the goal setting process and find it stimulating, fun and rewarding. If done right over time you will find yourself with numerous goals. When looking at race goals you need to have A, B and C races. Let’s take a look at each of these.

You will want to have one or two “A” races each year.  This is your ultimate goal you have and everything leads up to that race.  You will then have “B” and “C” races that serve as support races for your main race.  Although you will compete in your “B” and “C” races, you will use these as training events and not compete in them at your maximum effort.

For example, my “A” race this year is Ironman Coeur D’ Alene. This is what I am building to have a max effort in. My “B” race is REV3 Knoxville Half Iron distance race and my “C” race was the Palmetto Half Marathon.  You use your “B” and “C” races as nothing more than training events and NOT max effort. It also provides you an opportunity to practice new techniques, strategies, etc.

What’s Next?

There is one issue that I want you to be aware of and that is post-race depression.  Most people set a goal of competing in a large race.  They spend months or even years planning for it and all their energy, passion, training and focus go into this event.  The event finally arrives and you have a great time then it’s over.

For many folks this leaves a huge void that can be very depressing and can zap your motivation to train.  You spent so much time and energy going into this even that once it is done you are left with emptiness, almost like suffering a loss of some sort.

This is a real issue and can affect folks in different ways with different severity. One way to combat this is to ALWAYS have your next big event (long term goal) lined up ahead of time.  That way when one event is done you can reflect on how much fun it was training for and competing in the event and then turn your attentions to doing the same for your next endeavor. Having your next event in mind will help limit post-race depression and get you back to training once you have had adequate recovering time.

Personal Mission and Motto

For some folks having a personal mission statement and motto for their athletic pursuits can help build a platform for their goals, training, plans, etc.  It serves as your guiding principle and as a reference point for your activity.  Here is a sample of my personal mission statement for my endurance purists:

“To be the best I can be in all my pursuits, challenging myself and others to do extraordinary things, experience personal growth through helping others grow and to glorify God with all I do!”

You can print your mission on the back of the business cards that contain your goals or simply make mission statement cards.  Building on mission statements, I also find it helpful to have a “Motto” or a phrase you can use when you need to be motivated. It is something short that can be repeated to yourself or included on all your goals.  I have two that work well to keep me motivated and driven, especially when striving for stretch goals and in the middle of a tough competition:

“How Bad Do You Want It?”
And this one I borrowed and adapted from Ann Prince:

“Pain is temporary, accomplishment and Jesus are forever!”

Positive Affirmations

Another tool is the use of positive affirmations.  This is in essence writing your goals as if they have already happened. This can have a powerful effect on the mind. The mind only knows what you tell it so if you tell it you do something or are something, it will take it as fact.  I used this technique a lot when I was learning to swim. A few sample affirmations I used include:

“I swim freestyle fluidly, effortlessly and with perfect form”

“I swim freestyle easily and comfortably over 1.2 miles in open water”

“I tread water for minutes on end with ease”

One thing you need to be careful of is negative affirmations.  A good example is “I’m not afraid of the water” or “I don’t sink in the water.” Your mind can easily translate this to, oh, “I’m afraid of the water or I sink” What happens when I say “Don’t think of pink elephants?”  Hard not to think of, well, pink elephants.

What positive affirmations do for you is help train your mind (hey we train our bodies right, why not the mind) to make what you are trying to achieve a reality.  For me in my IRONMAN training in my mind I am already an IRONMAN and have completed the full distance.  When I show up on race day, although I will still have nervous energy, my mind will take over and say “Hey we have done this, it’s just another race, let’s roll!”

Your Training Plan

Once you have set your goals, decided what you want to do and have a training plan for your race, the next step is to commit this training plan to paper. For all my plans I utilize the two page per day calendar system from Levenger. I take my plan and I write each day’s work out on the corresponding day in green or orange. These are positive colors and stick out. For example Monday may say, “Bike 120 minutes and run 40 minutes.”

This way you have a detailed plan of what I need to do each day. In effect it is a mini goal for the day.  Why two pages per day?  First I can book my workout(s) by the associated hour and add any other training related items like strength training, a nap, etc.  I cannot over emphasize the power of writing you plan in your own hand writing.  On the other page I write any notes about the workout that I need to do such as –“ 10 minutes of hill drills every 20 minutes on the bike and run three 2:00 intervals during the run.”  Then once the day is complete and before I go to bed I write down how my workout went, how I felt, did I achieve my goal or not and why.  If I know I have to write how I felt and did on the workout, it helps me hold myself accountable to actually doing the workout. If I miss a workout due to no other reason than just not doing it, I don’t want to leave the page blank. It’s all about planning your work, working your plan and holding yourself accountable.

I hope this information is helpful to you in setting goals and building your plans for success.  Our minds are extremely powerful and they respond to what we tell them. I have heard people say, “I really want to run but could never run 6 miles!”  Well guess what you never will. Even though you may really want to run 6 miles, you have told your mind, “nope can’t do it” and so you have closed off many opportunities. Be careful of you self-talk.  It just as easy to be positive as it is negative so make it a new habit.

Good luck and here is to a lifetime of successful goal and endurance pursuit accomplishments!