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Goal Setting Part Two- Stefan Timms

The Power to Choose Your Goals

By Stefan Timms
In today’s highly competitive athletic world, professional triathletes are seeking performance advantages in the fields of aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, physiology, nutrition and sports medicine.  Each of these areas offers only one piece of the performance puzzle.  The next piece of the puzzle involves mental training for increased performance.  The underlying principle behind a sound mental training plan is the belief that your mental attitude will determine your physical achievements or failures.  You’ve probably been introduced to this concept before, but most people don’t fully understand the real power of the mind/body relationship.  Take for example, commitment — if you don’t strongly commit to do what is necessary to be successful in your training, then chances are you won’t follow through with your training program.
Everyone handles the stresses of intense competition in their own fashion, but the one aspect shared by all competitors is a dedication and passion to improve performance.  You too can achieve your full athletic potential and realize your training goals.  Practicing good mental habits, identifying areas for improvement, and coming up with strategies to cope with the day-to-day stresses of the demands of training for three sports means developing a stronger mental athlete come competition time.  Using your workouts to rehearse and reinforce your mental strength and skills greatly enhances your opportunity for success.
Most people have the desire to do their best, to excel, to attain the highest standards of performance.  I have seen first-hand the desire top athletes have for athletic excellence and how it has led to a high level of success in their chosen field.  These are worthy human ambitions.  This desire to excel leads to increasingly higher standards of personal achievement and enhanced self worth.  A lack of concern for quality, creativity, or success would turn our society into a bleak, gray and spiritless world.  Achievement, success and the pursuit of excellence in athletics or any profession does not come without a strong commitment to do everything necessary.  The road is rocky and perilous, with numerous pitfalls to overcome.  Achieving excellence in triathlon or any profession requires a great commitment to doing whatever is necessary to be successful.  Many times this demands lifestyle changes or sacrifices that can be difficult for everyone involved.  Often the most difficult barriers you face in achieving success are those you impose upon yourself, sometimes unknowingly.  Psychological barriers can become our toughest opponents to achieving success. Success starts with a belief – a dream – that you can achieve. This dream gives birth to reality.
Perhaps the best example of how success starts with belief in yourself is the Lance Armstrong story.  Diagnosed with cancer, Armstrong battled for his life.  Throughout long and difficult bouts of chemotherapy Armstrong kept one goal in mind: racing successfully again at the international level.  Without his strong commitment to reaching his desired goals he never would have come close to racing again.  Athletic performance is not a science.  There is no cookbook for success.  If steps A, B, and C are completed, they do not automatically lead to a World Championship title!  We are all individuals and are governed by different rules that shape our bodies and motivate our minds.  There is no single way to do something.  You help forge the rules about the right way or wrong way to get to where you want to go.
Every person on the start line of a triathlon, whether it is a local sprint event or a world cup, has a goal that they are looking to achieve.  For some it may just be to finish the race and have fun, others may want to finish feeling strong or in a certain time, and still others will be looking for a top placing.  Before you can chase your dreams, you must know exactly what they are and where you are in relation to them.  You must also have the courage to make your own rules and not allow yourself to be governed by perceived or imposed limitations.  Training is what we do to get ourselves ready to reach our personal athletic goals.  Achieving a goal, whether it be winning the Gold Medal or finishing a sprint triathlon, makes us successful.

Goals Require Commitment
Commitment to improving your performance is something you must establish for yourself.  No one can tell you what is important in your life – that is your decision.  It is clear that successful athletes are highly committed to excellence.  There is no way to achieve a high level of excellence in your training without a high level of commitment.
However, sometimes the commitment you want to make and the commitment that is realistic are not the same.  Many of the daily duties of life limit us from having enough time to devote a majority of our time to only training.  There is only so much time in a day and it must be shared between work, family or relationship obligations, training, and rest.  The key to successful is to commit to excellence in everything that you do; if you strive for excellence in everything you do, your training will be successful as well.  Excellence is not a part time commitment.

Goal Setting—Putting it all Together
In triathlon, outstanding performances involve the whole person: mind and body.  Establishing goals is the first step in mental preparation.  The next step in mental preparation is to develop a strong strategy as to how you will achieve the goals.

Be Specific
The more specific your goals, the better they are at your directing training positively.  Broad, general goals are not reliable in directing training.  Many times long-term, far-off goals or dream goals do not focus enough energy on the present.  My coaching experience indicates that an athlete should use dream-term goals to motivate and stretch personal limits, but mid-term and micro-goals to reach the desired larger goal.
Reassess your goals often as you work towards them.  If you have set a goal too easy, then make it harder, or vice versa.  A goal is supposed to challenge, so review it as necessary.
Give yourself a realistic timeline to achieve that goal.  A sense of completion will be pressed upon you as the time you had set out approaches.  Also, a greater sense of pride will be felt if you achieve your goal ahead of schedule.

Stay in Control
There are many aspects to competition that are out of your control, including mechanical failures, competitors and climate conditions.  You will increase your opportunity for success when your energy is focused on the performance aspects of triathlon that are within your control.  I like to emphasize training goals, or process goals, rather than race results for short-term goals to measure progress.  Race success is greatly increased if an athlete is in good condition and ready to race, so stay focused on what you can control – your training, conditioning and workouts.  At times athletes become embattled with outside factors and lose commitment to the very core aspects that will create success.  Stay in control and maintain focus.
You should establish process goals to ensure that your training is focused on developing your energy systems correctly.  You will need to ask yourself what you expect to achieve from your training program. Do you expect to improve your efficiency, your speed, your power, your endurance, or all of these things?  Establishing process goals ensures that you have a training program that leads you to these goals.  You will find that your process goals help motivate you while training alone, creating a sense of personal satisfaction from the workouts

Dream Goals
At the top end of the goal spectrum are dream goals, or ultimate goals that push the limits of possibility.  These are the goals that you work toward for most of your racing career.  Dream goals go hand in hand with the physical process of peaking for your season’s most important competition.  They are a great motivating factor as your body is beginning to enter peak conditioning to achieve new heights of excellence.  They can help you through tough times and also serve as food for fantasy on long rides and runs.  Dream, but be realistic with those dreams.  Reaching goals that are realistic gives you a great sense of achievement and a renewed sense of inspiration.

Confidence Building Goals
Mid-term goals will often be the end-points of a training cycle.  Before tackling these goals, you should have sufficiently developed important physical qualities that will make you competitive in races.  A mid-term goal focuses your efforts on achieving something realistic but ambitious.  For instance, someone whose dream goal is to complete an Ironman event may have the successful completion of a marathon as one of his or her mid-term goals.  Reaching this goal would give that person a confidence boost that allows them to push through difficult periods coming later in their training.

Action/Process Goals
On a daily or weekly basis, it’s important to have micro goals, which create focus for each workout or week of training.  These micro goals create a common thread that ties together daily workouts and mid-term goals.  They provide a daily link to your dream goals.  It is the constant effort of trying to reach these action goals that builds the foundation for achieving your dream goal.  It is the details of your daily training that become your micro goals.
Many athletes are very good at establishing dream goals, but they get sidetracked and never reach these goals because they have turned goal setting into a static process.  Daily evaluation of your action goals should be integrated into your training program.  Many factors make it necessary to change daily workouts.  Planning is always an ongoing, fluid endeavor.  Things change on a daily basis: races get canceled, weather affects training, or you could get sick or injured.  The only way to stay on top of the variables is to change along with them.
Although you are probably not chasing an Olympic medal, having an idea of what you want to get out of a specific workout will keep you motivated and interested in the process rather than just the outcome.

Implementing your new goals into training
Now that you have chosen your dream goals, decided what the mid-term goals are that you want to achieve, and come up with the daily micro-goals, it is now necessary to begin the implementation phase of goal setting.  This is the part in which you put all this thinking in practice.
First off, write down your goals.  At the beginning of the season, or even better – during your off season, sit down and spend 15 minutes writing out your goals.  I recommend writing out your dream goal, your race goals this season (rank the importance of each race), and the steps you need to take in each sport in order to achieve your goals.
Make sure you refer back to these written words to maintain your focus and commitment.  Simon Whitfield began writing a separate training log for his goals in his lead up to Sydney.  In the very front he listed his dream goals, then his confidence building goals, and each week he updated it with his action goals for the week and for specific workouts within that week.  Reading through his log you would see that most of his action goals are small things such remembering to drink lots of fluids on the bike, or keeping his head down while he swims.  It is the repetition of these small details that lead to good habits, and as he is often quoted, victory is in the details.
Secondly, you should share your goals.  Don’t be afraid to tell the people close to you what you want to achieve.  A social support system can help you stay on track when times get tough.  Many times when an athlete is struggling with their training or racing, a coach, friend or parent can help them remain calm and maintain their training commitment.
Finally, visualize your goals.  See yourself achieving everything you have written down.  You want to visualize every detail of your racing performance being perfect.  Small technical details such as start position in the water, proper transitions, pedal cadence on the bike, and relaxed arms while running, should appear vividly.  These details will help translate visualization into reality.  This imagery engages your thoughts, emotions and feelings and more importantly, blends your daily workouts into your goals.
Blending visualization and mental preparation into physical training helps encompass all aspects that affect triathlon performance and molds a holistic approach for managing the real-life training and racing scenarios faced by every athlete.

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