Goal Setting – Done Right

Goal Setting is one of the best known of all mental skills – but we have come a very long way since the good old days of S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Goal Setting
Have you set any goals for this year – and written them down?

There are just over 5000 separate searches for the term ‘goal setting’ every 24 hours around the world. This is almost exactly the same number of searches for the term ‘sport psychology’ which suggests that athletes, coaches, students, bored teenagers and performers are just as interested in mental skills as they are in the field in which they belong.

One important starting point before getting into specific mental skills is to understand the difference between the processes (methods) and their intended outcomes. In other areas of sports science, these are much easier to separate. For example, skipping using a skipping rope is the process (method) with one of the intended outcomes being to improve cardio fitness (and one’s skipping ability, of course).

The same framework can and should be applied to mental training but rarely is. Goal setting is the method, the process but what are the intended areas we’re trying to influence when we do some goal setting?

Most sports psychologists will tell you that goal setting is all about improving motivation but I would argue that it’s much broader than that. In fact, if done properly, goal setting can become the entire foundation of your personal and sporting/performance endeavours.

At the very heart of the way we – at Condor Performance – do goal setting is helping our clients to have a better understanding of the amount of influence, they have on what they’re setting and doing. This is turn helps to inform their values. What is really important versus what is only partially valuable.

Although we don’t actually label it as ‘goal setting’ as such our ‘let’s do this’ procedures revolve around long terms outcome goals that we have the least amount of influence on due to them being future-based and results-based. This is not to say they we have only a little influence over these – rather we have the least amount of influence over them compared with the other elements of our goal setting. Some clients choose only sporting goals (“to win one professional golf tournament”) whilst others pick less sporting life aims (“to be happily retired by 2025”). On some occasions, the two get combined (“to be happily retired by 2025 having won one professional golf tournament”).

The scientific data suggests that for most people this forecasting is a useful process and I often use the analogy of planning a trip to explain why this is an important step. When planning a trip we typically start with the destination and then work out how we’re going to get there. 

Your long term outcome goals are your intended destination – there is no guarantee you’ll get there but they can act as a very useful guiding light along the way.

The best way to have a ‘red hot go’ is through the combination of monthly checks and weekly effort that have been described in varying degrees in many of the editions of the Mental Toughness Digest (use the search bar at the bottom of this page to read more about these by pasting in ‘monthly checks’ and ‘weekly effort’.

But in short they work like this. Monthly Checks are typically performance aims and indicators that we have more influence on compared with our long terms outcome goals. And although we have zero influence on the month that has just ended we have a fair bit on the month that is about to start. How well we influence this upcoming month is, in part, down to how effectively we can measure a number of KPIs and use the numbers to improve our intentions moving forward.

For example, maybe you have decided to measure the amount of sleep you get before training and correlate this with the quality of your training. A high correlation between these might see you prioritise your sleep as a non-negotiable.

This leaves us finally with the piece of the goal setting puzzle that we have by far the most amount of influence on – how we decide to spend our time (the part where we get to decide) this week (not quite the present moment but close enough).

Remember you and those you’ll need to beat in order to achieve your long term sporting goals start every single week with 168 hours available. Who is going to make the most of them, you or them? 

If you’d like some assistance in it being ‘you’ then get in touch by using the Contact Us form by clicking here.

Author: Gareth J. Mole

Gareth J. Mole is an endorsed Sport and Exercise Psychologist. He is the founder of Condor Performance and co-creator of Metuf™. He lives between Canberra and Sydney (Australia) with his wife, their two children and their fourteen chickens.