Earlier this year, when delivering a workshop on goal setting, I used my athletics goal for the year to demonstrate the characteristics of a SMART goal. My goal was to go to the European Masters Athletics Championships at the end of August, compete in the 2,000m steeplechase, and win a medal. The goal excited me, it was measurable and timed, challenging yet achievable, and I was, at that time, committed to it. I knew what I needed to do to achieve my goal, and was committed to regaining some of the speed that I'd lost in recent years. I didn't need to be in the shape of my life, but I needed to be running better that I had been in recent years. And that was real key to my goal.
Process goals are all about the things over which we have complete control. They deal with the technique or strategy which is necessary to perform well. They are usually used to establish that route to achieving outcome goals. They help to focus attention, and because they have nothing to do with uncontrollable factors they can help to control anxiety. Examples of process goals in a race setting might include: running at 6-minute mile pace; mastering water-jump technique; carrying out a predefined warm-up routine. Over the course of a season, a process goal might be to get into shape to run a 7-minute 2000m steeplechase.
As the summer progressed, I slowly got quicker. Because of the slightly unusual international competition schedule this year, my track season started earlier that usual, but knowing that my main target race wasn't until the end of August, I patiently worked my way into shape, staying focused on getting faster and racing better.
Then, before I knew it, it was time to enter the European Masters Championships that I had so being looking forward to. But there was a problem. I was broke. I was due a couple of payments that would have covered the entry fee, but would have left me without any money to live on for the next few weeks. And then I would have to come up with money for the flights to Turkey, and for the accommodation. I lay awake for hours the night before the entry closing date. I had to come up with a solution. I had looked forward to this event for so long. And yes, I would come up with the money somehow. But it all came down to a matter of priorities. Did I want to spend all my money on one week in Turkey, to (possibly) win a medal in an age-group European Championships, when there would be European or World masters championships for me every year until the end of my running life. Could my goals wait?
Sometimes, our goals can conflict with each other. It then comes down to a matter of priorities. What do we really want to achieve, and why? What is most important to us, both in the short- and long-term?
As I lay there thinking, I realised that the outcome was not the important part to my goal. That one goal that I'd set at the start of the year had other purposes. The processes that I needed to go through to achieve it (i.e. getting faster) stopped me fearing the 1500m and 3000m, and I was getting stuck into races like I used to do when I was young. Rather than fret about getting old, I embraced turning 35 and gaining 'master status'. I realised that a medal would mean very little to me if I still wasn't running as fast as I felt that I could. I still wanted to compete with the seniors. True, I was disappointed, but I wasn't going to let that disappointment ruin my year. I was going to make the best of the rest of the season.
On Sunday 10th August, I won the Irish Masters 3000m Championships. My winning time, 10:15, was the fastest that I'd ran for the distance in 13 years. Though my outcome goals weren't going to be achieved, my process goals were. And that's why they are so important. Process goals can help us achieve outcomes that we don't even realise are possible.
Other aspects of goal setting were discussed in our previous blog posts: Goal Setting: The Key to Lifestyle Management? and Goal Setting - Part II. When you sit down to set your goals for 2015, don't just set outcome goals. Add some process goals too. Perhaps they will help you achieve things that you don't even think are possible now.