Written by Laurel Richardson

Hidden Traps in Goal Setting

For every wild goal set, there are countless articles and resources on the topic. And if you’re reading this now, the chances of you already being an ambitious goal-setter, whether it be in sports, in life or in both is pretty high.

I’ll start by sharing a personal story. I share this because your time and energy are your greatest resources and I know that if you set a goal you’ll go after it full speed, pun intended, which is why your goals better be meaningful to you. Otherwise you’ll be squandering these resources instead of spending your time on something you really care about brings you personal satisfaction. 

Years ago, I set a goal to run 30 marathons before I was 30. I was 24 at the time and I’d run 1. I told everyone about it. They were so impressed. I wore that goal around like a badge of honor. I simultaneously over and undertrained for it and ran a whole 1 marathon more. When people asked about how it was going, I lied and said it was great, but in truth, I was tired, and stressed and quite frankly, uninterested. I realized my excitement in the sound of 30 before 30 didn’t outweigh that I made that goal for all the wrong reasons.  I made it up because I wanted something that gave me structure, sounded cool and made me stand out. This goal wasn’t inherently bad, but it wasn’t the right one for me. From the outside, no one can tell your goals are right for you, but you can, especially if you look out for these common traps in goal setting. 

Shoulding Yourself

Please solemnly swear not to set goals because you feel like you have to. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking the seemingly logical next step, i.e. half-marathon to full marathon, or forcing yourself to pursue something because that’s what other people are doing or that’s what you would’ve done in the past. Look out for this especially after you’ve just completed a big race or achievement. If you’re not ready to jump back in, physically or mentally (pursuing something big takes both!), give yourself that time. 

If a goal starts with, I really should… Stop. Don’t should yourself.

Chasing Just a Number

Look, we’re all chasing numbers – paces, best times, placements, distance milestones, kudos – that’s the wonderful simplicity of running. Let these numbers propel you, but also explore why you want them and what they mean to you. You don’t need to justify it to anyone else, but be clear on the driver of this pursuit of a number. The driver will continue to motivate and move you forward, whether you achieve it or not.

Ask yourself: What about achieving this is important to me? (i.e. personal pride, because this number is the culmination of all the time I choose to dedicate and carve out for myself, because I want to show my kids that anything is possible, etc.) Almost any reason is a good reason, just make sure you have one.

Seeking Approval

Who hasn’t chased something because it sounds impressive? There’s nothing wrong with setting big goals that you find impressive, the trap here is catching when you set goals primarily because you think other people will be impressed. By default, they probably will, but it’s likely not enough of a reason that will be meaningful to you in the long term. On a tough run by yourself in bad weather, you won’t care if you’re impressive.

Ask yourself, if no one knew or was interested in me achieving this, would I still pursue it? If I never got another kudos, would it stop me in any way?


Being a Groupie

Choosing goal races with friends is one of my favourite parts of running. Let the group dynamic motivate and inspire, while also maintaining clarity on what you personally want. Maybe this is the year to do a group trip to a destination marathon, but maybe it isn’t. When you do this, just make sure there is something independently yours as well. 

Ask yourself, would I do it alone? There’s no question of IF you could do it alone, it’s WOULD you do it alone. We’re better together, but you alone are stronger than you know.

Choosing Someone Else’s Trajectory

“That person in my group is suddenly faster. I should be that fast too. That person raced almost every weekend. I can do that too.” 

We’ve all had this internal dialogue. Take inspiration from what others have made possible, but don’t compare or copy too closely. You are unique, and your background and trajectory are different too. Using someone else (even if that someone is just you from a different time in your life) as your success metric will do one of two things:

  1. It could hold you back from surpassing what you think you are capable of based on what they are capable of. 
  2. It could cause you impatience and resentment towards yourself for not reaching your arbitrary expectations.

Reflect on your goals and how you came up with them. If it’s by way of someone else’s achievements, continue to check in on whether it’s still a good fit for you. 

Letting it take care of itself

With a strong purpose and a clear goal. You still need tangible means to get there. Seek an overarching plan that works back from your goal from the day you want to achieve it to right now. Remember that your goal isn’t someday, it’s an actual day, so the little wins and decisions you make today will help you get there. 

Consider setting habit-based goals that you can start now. If you have a coach, this is something they can support you with too.

Let’s keep this goal conversation going as you head into 2020.