As a former planning and marketing consultant, working with clients to identify, clarify and evaluate goals was a big part of my work. Virtually every project I was involved with began with a discussion about goals.
For some people – and I’m one of them – running is similar. I’m much more disciplined and focused when I have one or more goals to work towards.
Last year, I embarked on what I called my 25-in-25 experiment. My goal was to lose 25 pounds in 25 weeks. At the end of the 25 weeks, I came up short by a few pounds, but having this trusty little goal as my daily reminder really helped me stay on track. It was a beacon of sorts that kept me running in the right direction.
This year, in early spring, I had set a goal for my first race of the season to be in the top 10%, maybe even among the top 10 finishers. Alas, an injury messed up that goal, and I haven’t really taken the time to reset my goals. It seems like work and life have gotten in the way, but I notice the absence of a meaningful goal to work towards.
One of the reasons I like setting goals is that they help test me, maybe even scare me a bit and push me to achieve new heights (or distances or times…). Therefore, for me, goals are what life should be about – growth.
As important and valuable as goal-setting is, one thing that my work as a consultant and as a recreational runner has taught me is this: yes, set the goal(s), but don’t let them take over or take away from the process. It can be easy to get too focused on the goal so that you forget about the process, whether it’s the work along the way or the training runs in the woods that help nurture your mind and spirit as well as your body.
A commonly used analogy is the road trip: If planning a family trip, you might determine that you want to be in Holidayville by Friday. By being preoccupied with getting to the destination by a certain time, you risk missing out on the fun and interesting stuff along the way.
The way I look at it, goals should be what you’re shooting for or what you’re hoping to achieve. But if it becomes all about the result, then we may be missing out on the enjoyment piece. And our myopic focus can add to our stress and anxiety when, in fact, the running is supposed to help us reduce the stress and anxiety.
One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to make sure the goals are attainable. Challenging enough so that there’s growth, but not so challenging that we run the risk of setting ourselves up for failure.
Another way to prevent too much of an emphasis on the goal is to monitor change and growth along the way. If your goal is to run a certain distance or time within 3 months, check in to see how you’re doing at the end of the first month and see if you need to adjust. Same thing at the end of the second month. Remember, goals are not laws that dictate what you have to do, they’re benchmarks to strive towards and should be reviewed and adjusted when necessary (up or down).
Finally, practice being mindful and playful so that you enjoy the running (or whatever endeavour it is) and not just as a means to an end. Maybe even leave the watch at home occasionally and focus on how you feel vs what the device says about your pace.