We all have goals on our mind at the beginning of the season. The world is our oyster, and we’re free to pick any race we want; set any goals we want; and dream as big as we can. I challenge my athletes at the beginning of every season to set systematic goals, which fall into three categories: outcome, performance, and process.
It’s easy to get excited about your outcome goals, which are the end results of your effort, like winning your age group, or qualifying for a world championship. The problem with only setting outcome goals is that you don’t have complete control over them. You might work your tush off, have the best race of your life, and still not achieve your outcome goals because someone else showed up that day and beat you.
So the next step is to set performance goals. You have much more control over your performance goals than you do over your outcome goals because they don’t rely on other people. How you perform is entirely individual. Examples of these goals are running 8:00 pace in a half marathon, finishing an ironman, or increasing your FTP (functional threshold power) to x watts.
To reach your performance goals, I have my athletes set process goals. You have complete control over your process goals because they are your actions; they are the day-to-day, week-to-week methods that allow you to create accountability for yourself.
So let’s say that you did your homework at the beginning of the year, and set appropriate goals. That was the easy part. Now that you’re about midway through your season, it’s time to review your goals and make adjustments. Even if you’ve somehow managed to avoid all life stresses and unpredictability, chances are there are still some things you can do to improve.
There are three general categories of progress that athletes fall into about this time of year:
1. You haven’t made as much progress towards the goals you outlined at the beginning of the season.
First of all, don’t stress. If you find yourself in this category, and you’ve followed through with your process goals, you simply either have to lower your outcome and performance goals, or increase/adjust your process goals. Add in an additional day of strength training per week. Bump yourself up into a faster lane in your masters group. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. The most important factor for this category is to be honest about what you’ve been doing that feels comfortable, and then get uncomfortable.
2. You’ve already exceeded your goals for the season.
Great job! It feels good to be ahead of schedule. The challenge for this group is to not get complacent. In order to have gotten yourself into this category, you either set appropriate goals given the information you had at the time and pushed yourself really hard, or your goals were too conservative.
No matter how you got here, making adjustments is the only way to keep making progress. Your process goals are working, so you need to set higher performance and outcome goals. If you have a tendency to set conservative, easily reachable goals, you may be holding yourself back. Don’t be afraid of failure. Challenge yourself to set your next round of goals 5-10% higher than where you would normally set them. Give yourself the opportunity to reach new limits.
3. You’re right on track to complete your goals as planned.
Congratulations! Not only did you set appropriate goals, but you’ve stayed committed to the process. If you’ve done everything right to get here, staying focused and committed is already something you’ve proven capable of, so your challenge is to keep going.
However, being right on track with your goals is not always an indication that you don’t need to make adjustments. This category can be the most challenging because it’s not clear what kind of adjustments you can make. You’re doing everything well, but what could you be doing better? There is always something to learn, whether it’s about training, new technology, or something about yourself. The most successful athletes in any sport are constantly trying to figure out how to get ahead of the game, rather than just following along.
In evaluating which category you’re in, be honest about whether or not you have been consistent with your process goals. It’s easy to look back and determine whether or not you’ve achieved your outcome goals—you either won the race or you didn’t. It’s also relatively straightforward to figure out if you’ve reached your performance goals. Did you run that 8:00 pace that you wanted? Did you fall short? or did you blow that out of the water and run a 7:30 instead?
Process goals, on the other hand, take a bit more digging, and a bit more humility to own up to. But it is impossible to determine their efficacy, and their alignment with your performance and outcome goals, if you only do them sometimes. Process goals are meant to be followed through on, all of the time.
So if you find yourself in a different category than you expected, and you haven’t consistently followed through with your process goals, that’s a great place to start. Practice your swim drills twice a week, get 8 hours of sleep every night, do your dynamic stretches before every run, or stay committed to strength training. Whatever your process goal is, make sure it’s every day, every week, every time. Once you’ve checked that box, you can then make an accurate assessment of whether or not these process goals are systematically leading you in right direction.