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Now what? Adjusting your goals when things don’t go as planned

Let’s face it: things don’t always go as planned or as we had hoped they might. Most of us have been there. If you haven’t been there, just stay in the sport a bit longer – it’s bound to happen. So what do we do when we are unsure if our goals are still aligned with what’s possible? It all comes down to how we structured our goals in the first place. Let’s take a quick look at this.

Did you know that goal setting is a foundational part of performance psychology training? It is true. Goal setting can influence key components of psychological performance, such as motivation, emotion and attention. So whether you call it mental skills or performance psychology, goal setting as a skill is a key component of most mental skills training programs. After all, how do we know that we’ve succeeded if we don’t know what it is that we are trying to achieve?

As a mental skill, goal setting goes beyond simply setting goals in training and racing. Goal setting is about how we structure our goals. When we structure our goals properly, we can see how each goal is connected to the next, all leading to the desired outcome on race day. Often, we tend to start with the race goals and move backward from there. This can lead to too many outcome-based race goals (like hitting a certain time or placement), and not enough process goals (like being consistent in following my training plan, or properly warming up before each workout). These process goals have the greatest impact on our performance goals, and hitting our performance goals – like improving my mile split time on key marker sets – have a direct impact on what is possible come race day. In addition to this, we don’t always look at where we are starting from, which is one of the single most important contributors in determining whether our goals are challenging enough and achievable.

So what does all of this have to do with how to adjust when things haven’t gone the way we would have liked? Well, when life happens – be it family events, work demands or physical setbacks – it is important to first objectively evaluate where we are in that moment. This self-awareness (which is another foundational component of performance psychology) is the key to determining where we can go. Looking at where we would have been had this happened, or where we could have been had this not happened is not useful, although our brains love to do it – and we might need to allow ourselves some time to process that before we can objectively evaluate where we truly are in that moment.

Now that we know where we are, we can start to look at where we can go. We start this by reevaluating our short-term process goals. What timelines are we on in terms of our foundational training elements and technique development? Once we have a grasp of those, we can look at the performance goals that we have set. Do we need to adjust those timelines? Do we need to adjust those goals entirely, based on the time we have left before our event? The answers to these questions, and the newly evaluated process and performance goals, often show us a clear picture of what our race day process, performance and outcome goals need to be.

So, what are the keys to all of this? Goal setting structure, self-awareness and honest evaluation of our current position are the foundation for adjustment. We are where we are, and we are always looking to move forward from there. Only from knowing where we are can we set appropriately challenging and achievable new goals.


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