Goal Setting: Old Dog, New Tricks.

Goals, should reach way beyond realistic!

Quick Quiz, in terms of goal setting: – 1. What does SMART stand for? Bonus prize for SMARTER. Pretty quick quiz indeed, but I reckon most folk will know most of:


I’m aiming for this to be my shortest post yet, so best not waste words telling you that. It is more of a question than anything else.

The question is; Should the goal be Realistic? one problem is it would mess up a long lived acronym for a start, but lets put that aside.

As a sportsman and previously a PE Teacher and coach I have taught a lot of young and old ones all about SMART goal setting and it remains in most exam papers still. Many years on I feel a tad guilty about that, as my message was, ‘have a goal but reign it in a bit though aye’.

I’m reading a book called ‘Unleashing Greatness’ by David Galbraith. A New Zealand Sport Psychologist that practices based on Pathway 1 (The Pathway of Courage) and isn’t a fan of Pathway 2 (Self doubt or fear of failure). He strongly believes that ‘realistic’ shouldn’t be included, rather an exploration and striving towards a dream is embraced rather than reigned in.

I happen to think that makes perfect sense  and agree. Placing a parameter such as realistic puts an instant glass ceiling on the goals you are setting. I understand there are a few justified arguments for keeping realistic in goal setting. However, I definitely favour the opportunity to support others and myself to reach beyond what you ever thought possible or a safe bet. As with this mindset, the sky really is the limit, so reach for it, and refuse to settle or listen to the inner voice and external noise.

Mind Over Matter

Yesterday I ran the third of seven of an off-road running series in sunny Auckland. I was reminded of a few lessons, most were pretty uncomfortable to be fair. There were two in particular, well the first just made me chuckle, the second has continued to make me think.

  1. Be aware of technology and sport. I’ve never had an issue until yesterday. There were 500 fellow participants on mass, cramped and awaiting the gun on the start line. Whilst the MC continued to amp the crowd up I was busy setting my racingwatches GPS to help out with my pacing. The problem was that when my watch resets, it counts down from 3 and then in big letters plastered across the screen it demands I GO. Caught in the moment , without warning I lunged forward for the start of the race. This both startled and confused everybody around me given the race wasn’t due to start for another 5 mins.

2. Picking the competition.

This was the greater lesson and experience I took from the event. A couple of hours leading up to the event I was contemplating dropping down from the mid to the short race distance. Why? well rewinding 4 years, pre children and my generous waist line I was a regular on the racing circuit and would always do pretty well. Now, I was struggling to break the top 100. So to leave the 12k distance for the 6k would give me a better chance of competing. That is assuming the school groups and families stayed out of my way as this is very much a social, ‘children on dads shoulders’ kind of race.

I was caught in a dialogue between my ego and development of self. Who did I want to compete against and for? To take a top 3 spot in the 6k event, even though everybody else would be pretty much fast walking and not at all interested in ‘competing’. Alternatively, I stick to the 12 k distance and compete for and against myself, pitting my mind against body. As my mind is saying ‘pick up the pace you can win this’, whilst my body is screaming for mercy insisting I ‘stop, or at least start walking before I do myself an injury’.

easy route

I ran the 12k and broke the 100, but the race was so much more than that. Our bodies are far more capable than we give ourselves credit for, as are our minds. So to challenge and exercise them both at the same time is an incredible opportunity for growth.

“Your fitness is 100% mental, your body won’t go where your mind doesn’t push it”

Sports Psychology, Sports Counselling, Mental Skills Coaching are huge are continuing to get bigger, as people realise the importance of this area of performance. Here is a heavily summarised overview of a framework I use with some clients, but the one that relates more specifically to my own process to improve my own performance.

The 4 C’s

Concentration. The ability to maintain focus. How? Set process goals towards overall goal. One strategy employed in this area is trigger words to ensure clarity and focus is maintained through anchor statements.

Confidence. Belief in own ability. It is important to manage any comparison between goal and ability. Negative self talk is a particular challenge for this component where ability is underestimated and the goals viewed as unrealistic. How? Mental imagery, visualising previous strong  performances. Creating and rehearsing scenarios and planning how you will cope with various challenges. Again goal setting remains a consistent thread throughout all of the components, where the impact can be minimised by good goal setting where they are challenging, yet realistic.

Control. Maintain emotional control, regardless of distractions. Here you identify and understand reasons for feelings. Two emotions associated with poor performance are anxiety and anger. Anxiety, Physical (butterflies) and mental (negative thoughts). How? Relaxation. Anger, because anger becomes focus of attention, leading to lack of concentration on task. How? Return to process, positive self talk and clear objectives).

Commitment. Continue working towards agreed goals. Performance depends on athlete being fully committed to numerous goals over many years. These goals have to be balanced with other commitments including work, study, relationships, hobbies etc. Setting goals will raise feeling of value, ownership and therefore commitment to achieve.


Good State for Performance:

  • Happy. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate another positive performance.
  • Calm & Nervous. Accept and expect nerves.
  • Anxious but excited, nerves and excitement together.
  • Confident. Remember successful training and previous strong performance.

Psychology Skills Training

Aim to improve mental skills such as self-confidence, motivation and ability to relax under pressure, and ability to concentrate.

3 Phases:

  • Education. Learn more about above and how important it is and how it affects performance.
  • Acquisition. Learn strategies and techniques to improve specific psychological skills required.
  • Practice. Repeated practice, simulations and actual competition.

In conclusion, you must use it or lose it. As with anything it requires effort, time and commitment. You won’t be signing professional sports contracts by applying these principles to just one session or race. You will however be able to create the foundations towards achieving, and hopefully exceeding your own expectations. Now, that’s exciting stuff.

p.s. An awesome book I found recently relating to this area. ‘Unleashing Greatness’ by David Galbraith. Well written for the average Joe. Better still, it is through and through specific to NZ and NZ athletes, pretty rare and well worth a read. (ISBN 978-0-473-30932-9)