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6 Steps for effective Goal Setting

At the beginning of each and every new year, the same age-old question cycles ubiquitously within conversations, beating out weather as the most common small-talk topic. "What are your goals for the New Year?" Some of us say we don’t believe in setting goals; others have a list as long as their arm. Setting goals can be a very daunting task and may even strike a not of internal fear within us, with the potential prospect of failure. This certainly could be the case for you especially after this past year. Many of us faced more adversity than ever before, causing many of our 2020 goals to be altered, adapted, or dropped. And so this year many of us may feel less confident about our potential for achievement, leading us to feel hesitant to set new goals. This article will not only convince you to set new goals, but also create and structure more adaptable, and therefore more sustainable goals so that you can improve your success in achieving them! Let's take a look at some steps to help tackle the new year.

Step 1: Pre-Goal Setting Mentality (CORE)

Before you even pick up a pen or pencil, I encourage you to spend a few moments to review your attitude and mentality towards your potential goals. More specifically, by addressing your feelings of courage, optimism, rest, and enthusiasm (CORE) you can determine your current mindset and help diminish any subconscious roadblocks to goal-setting that may exist below the surface.

Courage is essential for being ready to set a goal. Do you feel courageous in your desire to reach your goal? Do you have any fears, the fear of being judged, the fear of failure or the fear of setbacks? Setting a goal can be intimidating as you put yourself out there with possible failure. Many of us hesitate because we fear the judgement of other or fear of giving it our all and failing. Before you set a goal, you must come to terms failure could be a possibility and be courageous enough to roll with the punches and deal with it.

Optimism encourages that you are being confident in yourself! Being optimistic and picturing that you will overcome adversity and achieve your goal will help you conquer the obstacles that can arise in front of you.

Rested and recovered I believe are essential to be able to put your best foot forward. It takes energy to overcome inertia, to create change and to achieve new heights. So it is important to be rested to sustain the energy and motivation necessary to pursue a worthwhile goal.

Enthusiasm toward your goal is important, you have to be excited about your goal. This comes from understanding exactly why you want to achieve your goal, and what value it has to you personally. Sustainable motivation and progress are rooted in personal, intrinsic goals. So make it about what you want!

Before writing out goals, I strongly recommend that you first mentally prepare to ultimately have greater success. Ensure you can complete the CORE checklist to be confident that you can put your best foot forward and give yourself a real advantage.


SMART goals are like that overplayed song of the summer, the one you love but you’re also kind of sick of. The SMART goal framework has been utilized by almost everyone due to its high level of effectiveness. The framework elicits more information necessary for successful goals by asking if they are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART). This will help you set a goal that you are more likely to be able to achievable, as well as measure progress and success along the way. Here is an example of a SMART goal.

GOAL: "I want to become a better runner!"

Specific – I want to be able to race faster; improve my 5km race time at the Beaches Spring Sprint.

Measurable – I want to achieve a 5km PB of 19-minutes 59-seconds (3:39/km pace).

Attainable – 1-minute improvement from last year's PB of 20:48.

Realistic – I have the time to consistently run x4 days/week, as well as include strength training x2 days/week.

Timely – I have 3 months to train consistently before the Spring Sprint, and a second race 1 month after that.


After setting your SMART Goal, it is time do a SWOT Analysis for your goal. The SWOT analysis will allow you to understand your strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities towards your goal. For example, understanding your personal weaknesses will help prepare you with solutions to combat them. Check out the table below for a more thorough example of a SWOT analysis, congruent with the SMART Goal example above.

Analyzing your SWOT can be very powerful. It will help to improve your foresight to see potential barriers and setbacks down the road, and show how to use your strengths and opportunities to combat these obstacles and stay consistent.

Step 4: Goal Planning with Behaviour Change Techniques (BCTs)

Now that we've establish solid goals, and analysed our internal and external environment with SWOT, it is time to develop an effective plan to work toward your goal. Using Behaviour Change Techniques (BCTs) will help you develop the habits that will allow you to work consistently toward your goal. Use a minimum of two BCTs to help you plan out your schedule and daily habits that will press you toward your goal.

Daily Goal Setting BehaviourSet a small goal for every week or daily event that helps you progress and stay motivated when working towards your goal.

Action Planning Create a schedule and routine to prompt the changes you want. Be very specific when scheduling your daily activities. Use variables like frequency of runs (or healthy meals, or good sleep), duration and intensity. Also emphasize the type of environment you possibly might be in when doing these activities (team environment vs. solo, training indoors vs. outdoors).

Commitment When creating your goal plan or schedule, change your internal script to include more positivity. Practice affirming and reaffirming a goal or habit you are working to change with frequent positive language. This includes using words such as “I will” when describing your goal (vs. "I may"). Use words like “strongly”, “committed”, and “high priority”.

Behavioral Contract Create a contract with a family member, friend or coach that you will commit yourself to your goal. This will allow them to keep you accountable during the process of achieving your goal.

Graded TasksCreate a plan that progresses in small steps towards your goal. Taking small steps towards your goal will make it more sustainable. Do not focus on going from 0 to 100, as this risks higher levels of burnout. Instead start with being consistent with one or two tasks the first week, and then adding on each subsequent week to progress. It is really great to create small milestones for you have small successes on the way to keep you motivated!

Step 5: Goal Maintenance with BCTs

Inevitably there will be doubt, obstacles, and tough times on the journey to achieving your goal. The BCTs below will help you create and maintain habits that will allow you to adapt and sustain your effort despite these obstacles. Use a minimum of two BCTs to help you plan out the journey towards your goal.

Identity – Alter your internal script to encourage parts of your identity that value your goal. For example; articulate to yourself on paper (perhaps in a journal) that you are a runner, that you are a fast runner. Adopt this confidence into your identity associated with your goal.

Self Belief During the journey of achieving your goal it is essential to believe in yourself. This is especially important during training lows and times when motivation wanes. During these motivational ruts, there are three helpful activities that will increase your self belief.

Activity 1: Practice self talk by telling yourself that you can do this. Practice positive self talk whenever you have self doubt. It doesn't help to lie to yourself that things may be easy or simple, realism is important. But encourage yourself in spite of the tough times.

Activity 2: Practice visualization, envisioning yourself succeeding. Close your eyes and imagine that you are achieving your goal, or whatever task you need to do to achieve that goal. Specificity is key here, so take the time to picture all of the details; taste the smells, hear the noises, feel the movements. The more detailed, the more real it becomes.

Activity 3: Reflect on past successes. Use the past successes to give you the confidence to continue to move forward. Reminding yourself of improvement and successes that you have experienced will boost your confidence in your ability to achieve this next goal.

Habit FormationCreate and stick to the routine. Utilizing a constant schedule is foundational to developing habits. Habits are very powerful as they promote consistency which is essential for any goals. You may have to sacrifice a spontaneous schedule to be consistent, or schedule your goal activities during the more consistent parts of your days (i.e. weekdays, mornings).

Prompts and CuesConstantly remind yourself of your goal. Stick notes on your mirror, walls and refrigerator to remind you of the goal. This is very powerful and provides a constant dose of focus to help you get you out the door on lower motivation days.

ExposureThe exciting part of changing a behaviour, the more you expose yourself to your goal the less daunting it becomes. It is very powerful exposing yourself as much as you can to your goal as this allows you to track progression, and have more control over your potential successes and failures. Exposure will help you maintain a balanced mindset of your good days and bad days, and how to navigate them successfully.

Step 6: Evaluate and Monitor

Evaluating and monitoring your journey towards your goal is key. If you use all three BCTs below it will prevent you from drifting off course. These BCTs also allow you to evaluate if you actually achieve your goal. These are arguably some of the most important BCT’s we'll address for goal setting.

Self Monitoring Behaviour – This a very powerful reflection tool to help evaluate the process of goal achievement. Every person benefits from accountability as well as agency within their lives. A great way to monitor your own behaviour and keep yourself accountable is by using a diary or journal. This diary or journal can record anything about your day, emotions, how busy you were or exciting progress towards your goal. A diary and journal is a slowly painted picture of your journey, and will help hone your agency towards achievement.

Self Monitoring Outcomes – This a great tool if you are a results-oriented individual. Self monitoring outcomes allows you to see objective results of your hard work. If your goal were to lose weight, then self monitoring would constitute a regular check-in with a weight scale to objectively assess if your exercise and nutrition plan is working. Furthermore, if your goal were to race a faster 5km race, then self monitoring would be either a 3km time trial, or hitting specific paces within a 5km specific workout. The goal with this tool is to see objective outcomes that have come from your hard work.

External Feedback – Share your goal openly with a coach, friends and family members. This will allow them to give you feedback regarding your process and progress. The best option can be to seek a professional in the field (i.e. an accredited run coach!). But sharing your goals with your peers, especially training partners, can also give you motivation and support. Remember, teamwork makes the dream work, where family and friends can offer motivation and support when you feel like you're fresh out.

Dream vs. Goal

Remember, there is a big difference between a dream and a goal. A goal requires a plan, and real action! Many goals can feel daunting, discouraging your best efforts at the prospect of vulnerability and ultimately failure. But using these 6 steps will help you feel less overwhelmed by empowering you with control over the process of achievement! Now, no more excuses, it's time to get to work. You can do it!


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