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How to use “process goals” when you’re feeling deflated

Everyone likes a big goal. It’s much more glamorous to say “I’m going to run a marathon every month for a whole year,” than it is to say “I’m going to run for a mile without stopping this Tuesday.” But which one sees better results? And are they really that different?

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When looking at a big goal, it can be overwhelming thinking “how am I going to accomplish all that?” But that’s actually the right question: how. The how is by breaking the big goal down into more easily tackled chunks, an approach often called incremental goals. Dr. Kristin Keim, Clinical Sport Psychologist and owner of Keim Performance Consulting, actually steers away from using words like “goal” or “resolution” and instead has her athletes focus on objectives. “Goals should be more like guideposts,” she says. “You want to set clear, realistic, timely, and achievable objectives that will help you get close to achieving whatever you're aiming to accomplish.”

WHY WE GET OVERWHELMED At the crux of being overwhelmed, two issues stand out: stress and choice paralysis. There’s always a list of things to accomplish or just simply get done, and we can feel daunted by figuring out which things to do when and how. My own training goal for 2018 is to run a trail marathon. Right now I can run 3 miles without stopping, and I can hike 10 miles without feeling completely depleted. It’s easy to feel that (with work, relationships, and other pursuits) figuring out a training plan for this could be impossible. A mindfulness practice allows me to step back and recognize that it’s not the goal that feels daunting, it’s figuring out how to get there. But Keim points out, “it's almost impossible to achieve anything worthwhile without smaller goals and facing challenges.”

HOW TO BREAK IT DOWN Your main objective could be reaching a certain level of mastery in a new sport, or even fitting into your old jeans. Here are some steps for breaking down the objective:

  1. Whatever it is, sit down with your calendar and look at your available blocks of time. Goals aren’t achieved overnight, so it’s important to make sure time is carved out in advance to take smaller steps.
  2. Keim has her athletes create vision boards with their key objective, and then write out all the “process” objectives that will help them achieve that objective over a set time period. In the beginning, you want to focus more on the effort you put in than the results you’re seeing. “Each process goal is a stepping stone moving forward towards the larger goal and vision,” says Keim.
  3. Combine the two. Print out a calendar with your carved out time segments, and then layer the process goals throughout. You’ll want to keep this calendar somewhere visible so you can physically tick off the smaller steps as you’ve achieved them.

WHY THIS WORKS “By focusing on the smaller goals,” Keim says, “you're also able to learn how to navigate any hurdles along the way.” And that’s true. If the process goal is to train every Tuesday and Thursday, rather than to lose 20 lbs, needing to reschedule a day is a solvable problem. Then, when you’re faced with larger problems, whether that’s in the gym or elsewhere, your ability to manage micro-problems helps you to better manage larger ones. As Keim says, “it's important to also not be ‘hyperfocused’ on the outcome and make sure to be mindful of the process … that's where the magic happens, through the hours of training, not just the race.”

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Goals should be more like guideposts.

Kelton Wright

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