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"Focusing so much on the outcome can blind you to what's best for you throughout the process, and cause you to set a predetermined path to reach your end goal."
Jessica Stratton - Old Saybrook (CT) High School, Class of 2019
University of Delaware, sophomore
We are all likely setting big goals for the upcoming season, but I'd like to talk about how to go about your everyday mentality in training with a big goal in mind for the future.
When setting an overarching goal for myself, I have high expectations and I believe I can accomplish big things. My goal is always in the back of my head; it's what gets me out of bed in the morning to workout and it's what gets me through the hardest workouts. I believe that having a big goal, believing you can accomplish it and attacking your everyday work with that mindset is required for greatness.
However, I also believe that there is a major distinction to be made between setting a lofty goal and being motivated by that, and then being outcome-driven. Being outcome-driven can be extremely harmful as you work through the process of reaching whatever big goal you have in mind.
It will make the journey to get where you want to be feel overwhelmingly daunting -- and might feel impossible. It puts too much pressure on yourself to be in a place that you're not. The key to this is accepting where you are, and knowing that it takes time and consistency to get to where you want to be.
Someone who is outcome-driven often forgets that it takes a lot of patience and a long, non-linear process to reach and surpass a big goal. Sometimes achieving the outcome in mind can cause you to put an extraordinary amount of pressure on yourself, causing you to feel overwhelmed and lose sight of the process necessary to get there. Focusing so much on the outcome can blind you to what's best for you throughout the process, and can cause you to set a predetermined path to reach your end goal. This becomes a problem when there is a time in the progression toward your goal when you need to adapt or make a change that better sets you up to accomplish your goal.
Next, there is a great distinction between working hard and working smart. You can still work hard while also being smart and recognizing what decisions favor your end goal, and what decisions are a result of doubt, lack of confidence or obsession with reaching your desired outcome. A good question to ask yourself: What is my motivation for this decision? For example, if a small injury pops up in the middle of your training, is it better to run through it and run yourself into a serious injury that doesn't even allow you to pursue your goal anymore? Or, is it to make a smart decision and cross train or take a few days off to recover? Often, making the first decision is a result of an obsession with your goal, or a failure to believe in yourself and believe that you can accomplish your goal even if you must alter your path to get there. Many of us struggle to make these nuanced decisions, but ultimately they are what will shape us to be the best we can be.
Setting a big goal often means you are currently far from where you need to be to achieve your goal. As in, if you tried to accomplish this goal currently you would not be ready yet. That is a very difficult and overwhelming place to be in if you are too focused on the outcome. It will make the journey to get where you want to be feel overwhelmingly daunting -- and might feel impossible. It puts too much pressure on yourself to be in a place that you're not. The key to this is accepting where you are, and knowing that it takes time and consistency to get to where you want to be. Also, being obsessed and addicted to a desired outcome takes away the energy you need for the work throughout the process to get there. It wastes energy on the future, when in reality NOW is the only thing that matters to get you to where you want to be later.
Here are some tips on having a process-oriented mindset.
First is that the number one focus is progress. Progress is what will eventually get you to the place you need to be in to accomplish your goal. You simply can't get somewhere without progress. Breaking this process up into phases will help you make smaller, more attainable goals for the moment that push you another step closer towards your end goal.
Another thing is, find your intrinsic motivation. Being motivated by the chase to accomplish a goal is a great thing, but being solely motivated by an outcome is unsustainable and lacks purpose. Dig deeper and hone in on WHY you want to achieve a certain goal, how the process of getting there betters you as a person, and remember what defines your success. Is it getting an accolade or recognition? Or is it bettering yourself as a person and enjoying the work and the discipline. Having the latter purpose helps you become addicted to being your best, and putting the work in to be your best. This type of motivation will ultimately lead to whatever YOUR best possible outcome is. It allows you to enter a race with a nothing to lose mentality -- strive to be your best and let the results follow. This type of mindset requires a lot of belief in yourself that you're capable of accomplishing big things when you've prepared to be the best you can be, but it will ultimately get the best out of yourself which is exactly what you need to accomplish your biggest dreams.
All things considered, remember that chasing a goal is fun.
I hope these tips on mindset and perspective while chasing a BIG goal are both helpful and relatable. In the end, having a process-oriented approach and a full-hearted belief in yourself will not only help you reach your biggest goals, but also surpass them.
Jessica is a 2019 graduate of Old Saybrook (CT) High School and a sophomore at the University of Delaware. She was a multiple-time CIAC State Open and CIAC Class Class S Championship qualifier and placer, and held PRs of 2:22.78 in the 800m and 5:07.42 in the 1,600m. This is the beginning of a monthly series where Jessica writes about important and wide-ranging subjects involving young and developing runners.