Don’t Lose Sight of the Trees for the Forest: The Importance of Process-Oriented Goal Setting


Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution and failed to follow through? Don’t worry, I’ve been there too! Whether it’s been signing up for a gym membership and swearing that I’m going to lose 15 pounds only to slowly stop going a month or so later or telling myself that I’ll try not to take life so seriously only to break this goal 5 minutes later.

It’s clear that New Year’s Resolutions are hard to maintain! Putting it simply, the reason is that the focus is on the end result and not on how we’re going to get ourselves there.

We have a tendency to think too big, too often when it comes to goal setting. In order for us to improve our ability to follow through with our goals, we’ve got to aim our focus on becoming more process-oriented (“Aim small, miss small”—The Patriot). Otherwise, we’ll get too overwhelmed, discouraged, and/or frustrated with the lack of immediate gratification that we, as a culture, have become accustomed to. If we can narrow our focus, it’ll be easier for us to maintain our attention and we’ll constantly have access to achievement gratification.

Imagine yourself as a rock climber for a moment. Maybe you’re about to climb an indoor wall for the first time or about to tackle El Capitan in Yosemite. If you keep your focus on the end of the climb, it’s pretty easy to see how you might become overwhelmed and frustrated. After all, climbing is complex and in the case of El Capitan, can be very long and challenging. Narrowing your focus will significantly help you to avoid feeling these potentially performance-crushing responses. My first recommendation might be to pay attention to each hold specifically and only plan as far ahead as you need to. This recommendation, in essence, is to switch your focus from outcome to process in order to increase your performance.  Practicing mindfulness will help you to switch to this focus more easily…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll have a full blog entry on mindfulness soon!

OK, now that I’ve provided you with some information about goal-setting, I’ve got to come up with my own specific plan that will be heavily focused on the process rather than the outcome.  To do so, I’ll be breaking up my Ironman journey into parts that will represent a typical athletic season and creating process-oriented goals within each phase. For me, it’s going to be a lot like an NFL season since this is easiest for me (probably because of my obsession with fantasy football) and the NFL offseason feels almost as long as my 10 year offseason.

Here we go!

  • Phase One: Offseason (done and already outlined in blog entry one)
  • Phase Two: The Preseason (October-January)
  • Phase Three: The Regular Season (January-July)
  • Final Phase: Super Bowl (Full Ironman on July 30th, 2017; note this isn’t the result but the process of competing)

In today’s entry, I’ll put together some examples of my process-oriented goals for The Preseason. Also, I’ll set my outcome goal.  Without a point of reference, what am I working for?

My Outcome Goal:

  • Finish Ironman Canada in under 12 hours.

Process-Oriented Goals for the Preseason:

  • Throughout The Preseason, I’ll be developing base mileage for all three sports (i.e., swimming, biking, and running).
  • I’ve created a weekly training schedule that will focus on each discipline on a specific day, time, duration, and distance. At the beginning of each week, I’ll be putting together workouts for myself to keep me engaged, motivated, and to get accustomed to what the regular season will be like. I’ll also challenge myself to be flexible and to avoid getting bent out of shape when I need to adjust my training when other things in life come up.
  • During this phase, I’ll have a few specific process-oriented goals for each sport while I’m training. Not too many so that I don’t get overwhelmed and I might strike one from the list and replace it with something else down the road. Here are some examples:
    • Swimming—Narrow my focus on finishing my strokes and regulating my breathing.
    • Biking—Close attend to relaxing shoulders and making leg circles with evenly distributed power
    • Running—Narrow focus to regulate breathing and keep strides short
    • General—when experiencing mental (e.g., dreading a hill, experiencing lactic acid build-up that makes me want to quit) or environmental distraction (e.g., weather), I find it helpful to focus on my right leg technique or I imagine that my breath is pushing (exhale) and pulling (inhale) a small green ball.

All in all, I’ll be doing what I can over the next several months to avoid losing sight of the trees for the forest. The forest is just too big!

Until next time!


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