Goal Setting and PlanningDonovan van Gelder
Everyone has read the T-shirt slogan, “A goal is a dream with a plan.” January is generally the time when we all look to the fresh new year and dream about the conquering all the lofty challenges that we aspire to. Sadly for many, this burst of motivation and excitement isn’t always enough to sustain things for long enough to actually achieve these ‘dreams’. Looking from the starting point of our training, towards a distant target can be overwhelming and many never really get their training off the ground because the task just seems too big. Just like climbing a mountain, don’t look at the top. Rather take a more short-term view and focus on the first section to the foothills. Complete that and then look beyond to the next. Seeing as we started this discussion with a cliché, here is another, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
OK enough fortune cookie wisdom. How do we go about turning our dreams into an achievable goal? First step – map out the timeline. Our starting point is the day that we begin, and the end is the day of our goal. Obviously! Calculate how many months, weeks and days in between and we have the framework of our plan. In between we will need some intermediate goals. Smaller achievements that we can focus on along the way so that we are not trying to deal with the whole challenge all at once. If our goal is a long time off, it can be easy to goof off and skip the odd training session because well, “we have plenty of time.” If we have a more immediate, smaller challenge to tick off, it certainly helps get us out of bed in the morning.
These milestones will also allow us to gauge our progress and the information that we glean from accomplishing these smaller targets, will assist in adapting and adjusting the training plan going forward from there. No plan is going to run smoothly, as scheduled, from start to finish. Especially if our goal is big and a sizeable length of time away. Progress may be faster or slower than expected. Life happens and throws a spanner in the best laid plans. So having smaller, minor goals at regular intervals along our timeline allow us to reassess and readjust to keep our plan as efficient as possible.
So now we have a nice, linear timeline running from our starting point to our ultimate goal with a number of smaller, measurable challenges at regular intervals in between. This is like the skeleton of the body. We now need to add the flesh to the bones. This will be our training schedule. Before we begin with that we need to assess where we are at the start. What sort of shape we are in and what are the areas that need the most, immediate attention? This will be the foundation phase. Here we do the less glamorous stuff that will set up the more interesting work to follow. Here is where we condition the body for the work to come, we are not concentrating specifically on what we need to do to achieve our major goal that will come later. This is normally a good time to assess our strengths and weaknesses and work on improving our weak points. Once we have everything at nice, consistent levels, we can then start working on perfecting our strong points and working on developing the strengths and skill we will need to achieve our ultimate goal for the year.
A very good idea when building that initial timeline is to try to incorporate those minor goals or milestones that specifically target areas that we plan to work on in the preceding period. Using a triathlete as an example – if our swim is our weaker discipline and part of the reason for that is that we have poor stroke mechanics. We decide that a major focus of our initial training period is going to be on improving this, then we should try to schedule an open water race as one of our first minor goals.
By now we will be adding the body to our timeline and, if we know what we need to achieve in each segment of our plan, we will be able to add specific workouts that target these areas. We will be able to build up a plan that stretches from start to finish with each new phase building on what has been done in the one before but always keeping one eye on the what we are ultimately trying to achieve. Nothing should be carved in stone though. If you are as obsessive as I am, you will most probably find it extremely satisfying to stick to a well laid out plan. That is all very well when things run smoothly but when they don’t, we can often lose the plot. A good example is when we get hit by the inevitable cold or flu. The danger then is that we are so tied into our masterpiece of a plan, that we don’t want to ruin it by having to make adjustments and changes. The inevitable result is over-training and injury, or more serious illness. So stay flexible. Both physically and mentally.
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Probably the most important and neglected component of a successful, goal-orientated plan, is record keeping. We need information to look back on in order to plan the road ahead. Yes, when we lie exhausted next to our Concept 2 Bike Erg, marvelling at our new, improved ‘Functional Power Threshold’ number, we think that we will remember all the details of the workout in the weeks to come. We’ll probably remember the number, but will we remember that we thought we may have started a bit too gently and probably could have squeezed out a few more watts had we begun the test a bit more aggressively?
We are helped a lot by technology today, which downloads and saves all our workouts and variables to the various training platforms, but it can also make us lazy. Add words to your downloads. Explain to your future self how the effort felt, how you felt when you started and when you finished. That, combined with the data, will help us be even more specific with our planning and enable us to aim even higher in January 2021.