Jessica Stratton: How To Set Purpose-Driven Goals

Photo Credit: Jess Stratton

Within consistency, it is important to know that we are adaptable, because there are countless factors when parts of our training are inevitably out of our control. 

Jessica Stratton - Old Saybrook (CT) High School, Class of 2019

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If you are reading this, you may be looking for some guidance on setting a goal that's lofty enough but also realistic, achievable and allows you to reach your potential.

Goals are so important, because they intertwine with your purpose. Your goal reflects why you show up everyday, why you work so hard and what you want to achieve. Sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to achieve our goal and when we don't, it's a huge let down.

Sometimes our goal is daunting and feels unachievable. But when you understand the essential building blocks of a goal, and your goal is crafted with intention and purpose, it makes the challenge fun! So let's learn about setting a challenging goal and how to achieve it, while having fun.

Setting Your 'North Star'


Every year, I always like to set my 'North Star.' I learned this idea from one of my old coaches. This North Star goal is essentially not a goal; it is a dream. This dream should make you feel a certain way: passionate, scared, tingly, excited, slightly worried that you can't achieve it, but you are ready and excited to chase the challenge.

This dream should be lofty and one that you know is achievable, but only with really hard work and dedication. It is the thing -- the result -- that you will always have your eyes on. I think if you are competing on a team, it is effective to not only set a personal North Star, but a team one, too. Once you set your North Star, it will be time to set your actual goals to get there.

More on Jess
Stratton has started her own podcast, 'Piece of Mind,' which aims to tackle subjects surrounding female athletics, along with meaningful conversations about life, training and lessons she's taken over the years as an NCAA Division I runner for Delaware. To find the podcast, go here

Forget Your North Star And Set your Goals


The reason it is important to let go of your North Star after it is set is because this dream is often outcome-based. And that is okay, because at the end of the day we all want to PR, break a record, qualify for a big meet, make states, get top three, top two, or first place; you get the point.

We want results-oriented things sometimes; we are born competitors. But the problem is, when your daily goals are based around an outcome, it can put so much pressure on you. It can become overwhelming to reach this goal, which can inhibit you from getting the best out of yourself. Often times you will set a predetermined path to get there and if things aren't going to plan, you may spiral and feel like you've lost your purpose and reaching your goals feels impossible.

Chasing your North Star and then setting process-oriented goals will allow you to enjoy the challenge, be adaptable and will allow you to put no limits on what you can achieve. When we are too focused on the outcome, we can start measuring our success based on times in our workouts, races and results, which deters us from the potential of achieving our dream if those don't go the way we want.

When you set process-oriented goals, you can build yourself up based on small wins, which cultivates extra confidence and belief in yourself. It makes you feel like you are progressing, improving and setting yourself up for the best shot. In turn, you can continue believing, "I can 100-percent accomplish this dream," because your progress and success is no longer based on one singular result.

So how do we set process-oriented goals to achieve our North Star? I have learned to call these the stepping stones. You can imagine them in a staircase fashion, each one leading you closer to your mission.

I find this visualization really helpful. The key is to be focused on 

  • 1. How you feel
  • 2. How consistent you are
  • 3. Accomplishing each stepping stone a part of the process.

Your stepping stones can range from 'getting eight or more hours of sleep consistently' to 'taking my easy runs easy and prioritizing recovery' to 'building positive momentum from every workout.' They are the little things that are measurable, within your control and can add up to making your big dream happen.

They lead you closer to achieving your North Star. The importance of these steps is to stack the small things that matter over time and stay consistent.

Be Consistent, Adaptable And Build Positive Momentum


This is the last key step.

However, it is not necessarily a tangible step, it's a mindset. As you may hear often, consistency is key. And that is true. Somebody who sets out to achieve a lofty goal has to know that consistent training and recovery is much more important than having one or two outstanding workouts which give you confidence leading up to your big race.

Within consistency, it is important to know that we are adaptable, because there are countless factors when parts of our training are inevitably out of our control. For instance, the weather may not suffice for the run you had planned, or you may have an ache or pain that you need to be cautious about. In these scenarios, it is important to adapt in a way that stays in line with your ultimate goal while also maintaining consistency.

An example of this may be supplementing a run with cross-training, which may help off-load your body and maintain consistency. The most important thing about being adaptable is that we are not tied too much to the results that we are producing along the way. Being adaptable means nothing deters you too far off track, because you're building momentum toward your stepping-stone goals.

This is something I started doing this year and it has served me so well. My promise to myself was no matter what the outcome of my workouts were, I was going to take positive momentum from every day. Committing to this mindset allowed me to see the positive in every effort. It allowed me to see what I was gaining from each workout.

Over time, it made me so much more confident and focused on all the good things I was doing, even though there were some tough days in there. It helped me stay consistent. It also made me a lot happier.

In conclusion, setting lofty dreams like 'North Stars' and then narrowing them down to smaller goals can be purposeful (and fun!). 

Try to maintain the joy in what you are doing and try not to get too caught up in your big dream. You'll get there when you focus on how you feel and keep building up your joy and consistency.

Lastly, I included a video made by Steve Magness, a renowned expert on human performance. Here, he talks about how to set and achieve achieve goals effectively. 

Jessica is a 2019 graduate of Old Saybrook (CT) High School and a senior 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 past spring, she was named on the CAA's Commissioner's Honor Roll. This is a monthly series where Jessica writes about important and wide-ranging subjects involving young and developing runners. 

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