You've just completed the "BIG RACE." So what now? The next race isn't for another few weeks. Back to training. But how can you stay motivated, maintain that sense of self- confidence you had before the last race? A systematic program of setting goals and working toward achieving the goals is a highly effective way to maintain self-confidence and increase competence in running. Research and practice alike have consistently shown goal setting to be extremely helpful in the development of both physical and psychological skills.
Among the benefits of setting goals are:
Set short-term, not long-term goals. Long- term goals are really just objectives, something in the future to shoot for, such as competing in an upcoming marathon a few months away. Such an objective alone won't keep you motivated as much as will short-term goals (weekly or even daily). There are too many outside variables that can interfere when the amount of time between the present and the goal is greater. Short-term goals will enable you to check progress and get feedback as to what directions or actions you need to take to stay on track for your long-term objective.
Set performance goals, not outcome goals. You have control over your own performance and nothing else. You cannot control the weather on race day, the other competitor's training or performance. To set an outcome goal ("to win the race") is merely to set the stage for feelings of failure if you happen not to win. It does not make sense to evaluate yourself and your achievements on the basis of attaining or not attaining goals over which you did not have complete control.
Instead, an appropriate goal would be a particular overall performance time or times on a mile-by-mile basis. Or if you have particular difficulty on sections of a course, hills for example, focus a goal on performance on hills alone. The goal should cover any aspects you can control completely and nothing else. This is the same for competition and training alike. Success should mean you have exceeded your own performance goals, not the performance of other people.
Set challenging, not easy goals. Research has shown that if the goals are too easy or too difficult, motivation drops dramatically. Therefore, goals should not be so easy that they can be achieved without additional effort; they should not be so difficult that you have trouble taking them seriously or that you still cannot achieve them after repeated effort. When you cannot reach a goal that is too difficult in the first place, you may feel you are a failure and your self-worth will be threatened.
The best way to determine how challenging your goals should be is to use your most recent performances as a baseline, then set a goal slightly above those, an approach termed the "staircase" method. Continue to set small goals as steps on the staircase where the "top step" is a great improvement from the "bottom step." By the time you reach the "top," you will have frequent opportunities to achieve and build self-confidence and motivation. Each step should cover approximately one week of training. If you find it difficult to reach the next step, reconsider the difficulty of the goal, and divide it into smaller steps. Or check to see if you are using an appropriate training strategy.
Set realistic, not unrealistic goals. Don't confuse who you are with who you wish to be. Set goals that are realistic enough for you at the present time (with a little training) to achieve. Don't be afraid to modify a goal that proves to be too much for your present skills.
Set specific, not general goals. To "do the best you can" is a positive goal, but difficult to achieve or exceed. Why? Well, how do you know exactly what your "best" is? This goal is much too vague, although it is difficult to fail at, for you can always say you did your best. A specific goal is much more effective because it will direct you to a specific criterion by which you measure your success. You will receive a clear expectation of a quantifiable goal and a specific time period or precise event. Take, for example, "I will run the 1500-meter race on Sunday in 3:57." This goal defines a specific time (3:57) by a specific date (Sunday).
Goals are not easy to set, as they do take a lot of work on your part. But the rewards you will get, the sense of self-worth and increased motivation will make all your efforts worthwhile, and in the long run improve your performance. Good luck!!
Originally written by Christie (Wells) Marshall April 2000 for the Washington Running Report
Articles for Athletes
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