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Avoiding the late season slump

Did you know that at times we can subconsciously undermine goal achievement as we approach a major accomplishment? It’s true. You may be thinking that this is going to lead into a discussion on fear of success, but this is different. Fear of success is defined as a fear of achievement. The reduction in effort or “backing off” that can occur as we prepare for a major success has more to do with the way our brains work than our fears. Our brains are programmed to find more joy in the pursuit of goals than in the achievement of goals, and this can result in us subconsciously undermining performance when our brains perceive an outcome to be associated with an end, such as the end of the season. The joy that would come from reaching the goal is not as great as the pursuit, and our brain does not want that pursuit to end.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that goal achievement is not a joyful experience. We certainly do experience joy along with a mix of other powerful and positive thoughts and emotions, but this joy is often short-lived and can be followed by what is commonly known as the post-race blues. We work so hard to realize an outcome, and then we feel depressed a few days later. What is the deal with that???

The key lies in how we approach goal setting and the system, or lack of system, guiding us in setting and pursuing our goals. It is not enough to simply set goals. For sustained joy, our brain desires a system that allows for continuing pursuit from race to race, cycle to cycle, and season to season. We will investigate a framework for this in future clinics and articles, but for now, let’s simply take a quick look at how we can optimize our late season outcomes by looking ahead at what might come next.

If I am being honest with you, I need to admit that this was not always my end of season approach as an athlete or as a coach. I fell into the belief that we need to be entirely focused on our current task and not risk getting distracted by looking ahead at what comes next. There is some truth in this. We need to be focused on what we are doing today. However, to maximize our focus today we also need to give the brain what it truly desires, and that is an endless pursuit of goals. To put this plainly, you can optimize your late season outcomes by acknowledging your past progress and then looking ahead to outline your goals for the offseason and next year. Those goals do not need to be clearly defined right now. You can refine them later. Just get them in place so that your brain stays in the “pursuit of goals” mode. Then you can go crush your late-season races and enjoy the benefits of goal achievement knowing that your brain will continue to reward you through your continued goal pursuit.


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