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COVID-19 in 2021: 5 Ways to Stay Goal-Oriented

BY Jim Afremow

As 2020 comes to a close (finally!) we start to think about the reality of 2021, what it will bring to endurance racing and what realistic goals look like.

As endurance athletes and coaches, it’s likely that 2020 was a wash for you in terms of competing and goal achievement. Whether your athletes were aiming to finish their first Ironman, trying to qualify for a major marathon, or determined to set a new PR in a local 5K, the chances are that the event was postponed or canceled. This likely left your goals for them this year in disarray and made you uncertain about what the future holds. In this article, I’ll reveal some mental skills tactics that might help you and your athletes gain a new perspective and find new motivation as you look ahead to the rest of this year and the start of 2021. 

1. Reframing A Problem as an Opportunity

While it’s tempting to feel bummed out about how 2020 turned out, or to simply dismiss the entire year as a loss, try to find some good in what happened. Perhaps you’d been racing too much for too long and needed a break. Or maybe you were struggling with a chronic injury that healed because you didn’t come back to competition too soon. Champions learn to find nuggets of gold in the mud, so take a few minutes to list all the pluses that came out of the past few months. 

Try to apply a similarly positive mindset as you look to the future. Yes, it can be hard to set an ambitious goal when you’re not sure which races will be held and when. So maybe you use this as the opportunity to broaden your thinking and set several goals not tied to specific events and your desired outcomes for them. Look at the uncertainty about what might happen over the next few months as a chance to rethink how you define progress and success. 

2. Going for Gold, Silver, or Bronze

One way to shake up your approach to goal setting and give yourself a little more leeway with your goals is to establish three different standards. If you’ve decided to set your sights on a marathon as your big goal for 2021, consider what’s realistic and achievable yet still ambitious for each of the medal positions on your own personal podium. Perhaps gold would be a 3:45 finish time, silver anything under four hours, and bronze just finishing the race. 

Such multi-step targets remove the pressure from simple, binary goal. It’s all too easy to set a lofty goal and then get down on yourself or view the performance as a failure if you don’t hit the bullseye. Whereas breaking down a big aim into gold, silver, and bronze levels allows you to celebrate a win even if you don’t quite hit the highest mark you’re aiming for. 

3. Embrace Uncertainty

It’s possible that the race you’d decided to work toward this year will be postponed or canceled again next year if the pandemic continues. None of us can say what’s going to transpire with any degree of certainty, but you still need to make a commitment based on the information that’s currently available. From a goal-setting perspective, it would be much better to be overprepared mentally and physically than underprepared if the event goes ahead. So set your goal as if it will happen, identify the steps you need to take to get there and work backward from race day to establish some smaller process or milestone goals along the way.

If worse comes to worst and the event ends up being canceled, again make an effort to focus on the positives. You’ll have proven to yourself that you can show up every day and push yourself in an effort to get achieve a greater goal. Plus, you’ll have all that mileage and fitness under your belt that you can apply to another race in the future. So, prepare for your events as if they’re happening and if they don’t, recalibrate your goals as needed. You don’t want to be caught off guard when opportunity taps you on the shoulder. 

4. Do Something Different 

Although I just shared a couple of tried and true goal setting methods that have proven to be effective for the athletes I work with, sometimes what’s needed is a change. If you’re someone who usually shares their goals with the world on social media, consider setting a couple that you keep to yourself and use the pursuit of them as your own secret weapon. Conversely, if you typically hold onto your goals, reveal your 2021 targets to a friend, family member, or training partner and ask them to be your accountability buddy. 

Another powerful tactic is to write your goals down and refer to them regularly. All too often, we come up with something that we think is a great goal to aim for but let our drive wane as time moves on. That’s why I share this saying with the athletes and teams I work with: “Ink it, don’t just think it.” Then once you’ve written down your dream goal on an index card, jot down your process goals below it. Put the card on your desk, fridge, bathroom mirror, or somewhere else where you’ll see it every morning. Then commit to getting one day closer to achieving your aim. From a physical standpoint, the index card could describe how it feels to crush the kind of session you usually dread. On the mindset side, it might be working on a skill like self-talk, visualization, or mental toughness, all of which are covered in the Champion’s Mind app

5. Embrace Gratitude to Get Through the Grind

Goals can undoubtedly be powerful, but even the Olympians and world champions I’ve teamed up with still find ways to make pursuing them fun. In fact, sometimes the highest achievers actually experience the most joy in their daily process. Why? Because they choose to feel too blessed to be stressed. Similarly, your dream goal should be a motivating “want to” that gets you up in the morning and makes you excited to train, not a burdensome “have to” that weighs you down. 

So, feel grateful to pursue your goals. Start a daily gratitude practice by naming three things you were thankful for every day. And remember that while wins, PRs, and other quantifiable outcomes matter, they’re not everything. It’s who you become and how you grow along the way that’s most important.

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About Jim Afremow

Dr. Jim Afremow is a much sought-after mental skills coach, licensed professional counselor, co-founder of the Champion’s Mind app, and the author of the bestselling books The Champion’s MindThe Champion’s Comeback, and The Young Champion’s Mind. For over 20 years, Dr. Afremow has assisted numerous high school, collegiate, recreational, and professional athletes. Major sports represented include MLB, NBA, WNBA, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, NHL, NFL, and the UFC. In addition, he has mentally trained several U.S. and international Olympic competitors. He has been the staff mental coach for two international Olympic teams – the Greek Olympic softball team and India’s Olympic field hockey team. Jim also served as a senior staff member with Counseling Services and Sports Medicine at Arizona State University and as a Mental Skills Coach and the Peak Performance Coordinator with the San Francisco Giants.