Goal setting 101

“You can achieve whatever you want if you try hard enough.” This overused adage, in my opinion, is false and misleading. It is true, that often, when goals are set they are met. But, it is also true, that one can devote months or years of time and energy into accomplishing a certain goal and that goal may never be met. Realizing a goal requires more than blood, sweat and tears. There is also luck, timing, and savvy.

I believe there are four potential outcomes on the road to working toward a certain goal (the “goal” in question can be anything: business, sports, family, hobby):

1.    The road is smooth and the goal is successfully realized.
2.    The road is rocky, but the goal is achieved.
3.    The road is smooth, but the goal is not attained.
4.    The road is rocky and the goal is missed.

This is not a dose of pessimism. It is realism. Goals do not care if you are deserving, nice, or hard working. Achieving a goal is a complex equation that usually cannot be figured out prospectively. It is often, only in retrospect, when all the factors are reviewed, can one say why things went right or wrong.

That brings me to my own goal: qualifying for the Olympic trials in the marathon. I decided in February, when it became apparent I would not be able to compete in triathlon, that I would dedicate my time and effort to running. I am a very goal oriented person and I needed something tangible to focus on. A goal that was lofty, but not totally out of reach. A goal that would keep me going when things got tough in life or in training. A goal that would leave me with a feeling of accomplishment, whether or not the goal was met.

My first attempt at qualifying was the LA marathon in March. I missed the standard by 2 minutes. Undeterred, I ran several races over the ensuing months building up to my next try at qualifying. That race is on Sunday in Minneapolis. I chose the Twin Cities Marathon because it serves as the Masters national championships and is believed to be a fast, scenic and enjoyable race.

My road to Minneapolis has certainly been a rocky one. I started this endeavor with a serious injury, and despite all of my best efforts, the injury still lingers. The injury has dictated whether my races have been a PR or a DNF. The injury has allowed me to run a fast workout or walk home frustrated. Throughout this entire process I have believed that I can run fast enough to attain the Olympic trials time standard and that belief has buoyed me when the injury has flared up and could have left me prostrate on the couch.

In pursuit of this goal, I tested myself physically and mentally. I had the typical ups and downs. I was forced to be patient. I had to make some tough decisions. I have made new friends and tried new things.

Goal setting is more than just achieving a goal. It is about growing as a person. It is about reveling in the accomplishments met along the way. Sometimes the road to the goal is more important than the goal itself. I have no idea what Sunday will bring; it will either be outcome 2 or 4 above. Even though my road has been rocky, I have not been defeated by an injury that has desperately tried to defeat me, and that is a victory in itself.

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4 Responses

  1. Kristi says:

    Good for you! Good luck this weekend in MPLS. I will be there running the 10 miler and look to cheer you on (although you may finish the marathon before I finish the 10 miler!!) Good luck, we are all cheering for you. Love your blog.

  2. don says:

    Best of luck to you this weekend. You are an inspiration to me

  3. Cortney says:

    Great blog! I wish I was going to be there to cheer you on but my coach gave me a monster training weekend instead 🙂

  4. Terzah says:

    I love this post. Many of us average types read lots of running blogs, and lots of them espouse the overdone "if you believe it, you can do it" mindset. To me, that's troubling, because what if, well, you *can't* actually do it? Where are you then? Your post saying that the fruit of the labor is in the trying redeems the whole process, and frees us from failure as people (if not from failure at the goal, which OF COURSE is always a possibility).

    If it were a given that a particular goal could be accomplished, why would we bother to try?

    Best of luck this weekend! Thanks for your practical and realistic, yet still inspiring, blog.