When most of us sit down to evaluate and plan what we want out of our season, we think in terms of outcome goals. We want to win our age group, or place on the podium, or qualify for a world championship. Outcome goals are exactly that: an outcome of your effort. The problem with setting only outcome goals is that you have very little control over achieving them. You might work your tush off, have the best race of your life, and still not achieve your outcome goals because someone else showed up that day and beat you. So now do you look at your season as a failure because even though you’ve improved your performance, you didn’t achieve your outcome goals? You shouldn’t, and that’s why we set performance goals.
You have much more control over your performance goals than you do over your outcome goals because they don’t rely on other people. How you perform is entirely individual. Examples of these goals are running 8:00 pace in a half marathon, finishing an ironman, or increasing your FTP (functional threshold power) to 200 watts. If your outcome goal is to win your age group in a half ironman, and you’ve figured out that the average winning time is a 4:30, then your performance goal should be to finish in 4:30 or less. By shifting the focus to performance goals, rather than outcome goals, not only do you give yourself the best chance of achieving your outcome goal, but you’re creating the path and direction that you need to take to get there. You’re starting to think in terms of what you can actually control. That path and direction become your process goals.
Process goals are the day-to-day, week-to-week methods that allow you to create accountability for yourself. You have complete control over your process goals They are your intentional actions, that when applied with consistency, and aligned with performance goals, create change, growth, and achievement. In order to finish your Half Ironman in 4:30, you start by breaking down what your swim, bike, and run performance goals are, according to your strengths. From there, you might have decided that you have to run a 1:30 half marathon within that race. In order to create process goals, you then determine what that looks like in training. It might be running 30 miles per week, or making sure that 20% of your runs are at threshold. It might be committing to put your ego aside and make sure that your easy runs are actually easy so that you’re not too tired to go faster and make improvements when it’s time to go faster and make improvements (aka- stop obsessing over Strava).
Additionally, you may want to implement some form and technique process goals, as well as some mental goals (more on that later). Process goals should be monitored and evaluated regularly to ensure compliance and consistency. Set a timeline to check in on yourself. Depending on your goals, that could be weekly, monthly, or quarterly. First and foremost, be honest about whether or not you have been consistent with your process goals. It is impossible to determine their efficacy if you only do them sometimes or most of the time. Process goals are meant to be followed through with, all of the time. Once you’ve checked that box, you can then make an accurate assessment of whether or not these process goals are systematically leading you in the direction of your performance goals. If they’re not, make an adjustment. Your goals don’t have to be set in stone for the year if you’ve since gained additional information that points you in a different direction. Be adaptable in your process in order to be steadfast in your outcome.
Adaptability does not only apply to training. By adopting this mindset in your daily processes, you build the capacity to make adjustments within a performance based on changing circumstances. This past January, in the college football national championship game, Alabama went into halftime trailing Georgia by 13 points. Nick Saban, the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, pulled Jalen Hurts, his starting quarterback, who had a 25-2 all time record at one of the best programs in college football history, and replaced him with a true freshmen at halftime.
On the surface, this seems like an impulsive move; a response born out of fear of losing. But Georgia’s defense was well-prepared for Hurts and had a game plan that was succeeding at taking away his strengths. Being adaptable in a national championship game is extremely risky and requires fearlessness. Sticking with your game plan allows for predictable results, which for many of us feels safe and comfortable, and will likely provide positive results in consistent situations. But when an unpredictable situation arises, and your game plan is no longer the best way to succeed, you must be willing to stay calm, positive, confident in your ability, and resilient if things don’t go your way at first. Alabama’s second string quarterback threw a 41 yard touchdown in overtime to win Nick Saban and the Tide a 6th National Title, the 17th in school history.
Be adaptable in your process in order to be steadfast in your outcome. As you begin to think about how outcome, performance, and process goals fit into your season plan, don’t underestimate the importance of mental goals. In order to set effective goals, you have to conduct an honest assessment of your past results. Did you fail to reach a performance goal because of an inconsistency in training, or were you properly physically prepared, but unable to capitalize on your physical tools due to a lack of mental fortitude? Mental goals can be more difficult to assess than physical goals. There is no FTP test for your mental toughness. There is also a tendency to feel defensive when addressing these issues because it may feel like an attack on your character. An attack on your ego.
A good place to start is to review your training methods. Many of us get stuck into the same routine, which can span multiple seasons. There is nothing wrong with a consistent routine at its core; it can allow you to maximize the efficiency of your time: fitting training into your life, and balancing your schedule. However, if you have been in a similar routine for a few seasons and you’re not seeing progressive results, it’s time to decide if you’ve been doing the same things over and over simply because they’re comfortable. Maybe you’ve been swimming with the same group for a while and you’ve become used to swimming at the same pace as a result. Moving up a lane might be uncomfortable, but it will create change. Maybe you’ve been getting up at 4:30am a few times a week to get on your trainer and get the work done early. Your ego may say that you’re dedicated to your sport and willing to make sacrifices to get the work done, but examine where your focus is while you’re riding and if you’re actually pushing yourself to new levels, or if you’re just watching a movie and thinking about your work schedule for the day. Challenge yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Lastly, to ensure compliance, make sure that your goals are worded positively, and that you write them down where you can see them. A positively worded goal sounds like, “I will be more consistent with my strength training,” rather than “I want to avoid falling into a rut with my strength training.” This framework allows you to see your goals as positive actions and behavior, rather than lack of action. It allows you to maintain the mindset that when obstacles come along, you always have control over your response to those obstacles.
Now write your goals down somewhere where you will be reminded of them on a regular basis. Put them on your fridge, or in your training space. Tell people about them. Don’t be embarrassed about how high your goals are. Tell people what you’re going to do and then do it. Start with your processes, build to your performances, and give yourself the best chance to maximize your outcomes.