3 Ways to Help you Set Better Goals

We all have things we want to accomplish in life. Run faster, make more money, finish (or start) various forms of education. Whatever you aspire to, you need to set specific goals to get there. These goals help guide your behaviors along the way.

Last fall I set a goal to run a 1:30 half marathon. I wrote it down, trained like crazy and this spring, ran my fastest half marathon in 1:30:50. I told a bunch of people I was going to break 1:30 at my next half. That didn’t happen, and it turned out to be a disappointing race.

Here are three things to help you set better goals.

1. Keep Your Goals Private

Conventional wisdom says in order to accomplish your goals, you should tell all your friends, post it on Facebook, Twitter, perhaps make a yard sign. In theory, the more people who know about your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. Perhaps not.

I recently heard a TED Talk by Derek Sivers, who notes “tests done since 1933 show that people who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen.” Psychologists have found that “once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a premature sense of completeness.” The social reality “tricks your mind into thinking it’s already done.” You’re less motivated to put in the hard work to make it happen.

This happened to me. By claiming I was going to run a sub 1:30, I may have have tricked myself into working less hard than I should.

2. Share Goals with those you Trust

That being said, I believe you should go public with your goals, but only with people who care about your success. Make sure those you are sharing your goals with agree to hold you accountable somehow. People who check-in with you to see if you’re sticking to your SMART list (see #3), and doing the hard work to get there.

Also, write your goals down, and review them regularly. This should really be applied to all areas of life.

3. Create SMART Goals

The best way to set goals is to make sure they are SMART. It’s a simple, common acronym that goes like this (I’ll use running references, but they work for other stuff too);

Your goals should state exactly what you want to do, with as much detail as possible.

Lame: Run more.
AwesomeRun five days a week and complete a 10k.

Your goals need a way you can quantify (numerically or descriptively) completion. Something that will tell you exactly when you’ve achieved it.

LameRun faster.
Awesome: Run a sub 1:30 half marathon.

Use verbs tied to specific behavior to help you take some form of action. This moves you closer to achievement.

Lame: Be a more consistent runner.
Awesome: Run 20 miles per week.

I’m never going to be a professional marathoner. Goals should stretch you, but also be connected to past performance.

Lame: Win the Twin Cities Marathon.
Awesome: Run a 3:25 – 3:35 marathon.

Time Bound
Every goal you set should have a date and time attached. You need to know the target you’re trying to hit.

Lame: Run a marathon
Awesome: Run the 2013 Twin Cities Marathon on October 6.

What are you goals (running or otherwise)? Are they SMART?

Featured image by lululemon athletica

Nathan Freeburg
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Nathan Freeburg

Editor in Chief at Minneapolis Running
Nathan started running when he was 14. 20+ years later, he's still going. When he's not running, he enjoys exploring the city with his son, finding new restaurants with his wife, traveling, or backpacking. He loves dark beer, dark chocolate and dark coffee.

Nathan currently lives in Portland, but works in Minneapolis and runs wherever he is. Favorite Minnesota running route is anything that takes him along the Mississippi River.
Race Results.

Nathan's day job is as a senior consultant with Leadership Vision Consulting in Downtown Minneapolis.
Nathan Freeburg
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