I hate New Year’s Resolutions but I love setting goals and there’s no better time of the year to set goals than January. It’s the perfect intersection of reflection and momentum as you get to look back at the previous year to chart a path for the new year. For me this year, this reflection and momentum didn’t necessarily lead to a new goal- but a new (more correctly, re-newed) way of setting goals.
I learned a lot of things in 2020 (who didn’t!) but one of them has me shook (did i use that correctly?). I learned that some of the goals I’ve set for myself haven’t exactly been achieved because of anything that I did per se, some of them just happened.
As with anything, there are a few outliers where I set a goal, created a plan, and executed but I think more often than not, I’ve been setting goals and hoping to reach them rather than working to reach them. Nothing like failing at the same goal twice to learn the lesson that I simply haven’t been doing enough. I was going through the motions but I wasn’t bought-in. I was wishing for success rather than working toward success.
Setting a goal, even a SMART one, won’t get you anywhere without a plan. Someone smarter than me said “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there” but what they left out is that knowing the destination is only half the battle. Think about the last road trip you took to an unfamiliar place. Did you just get in your car and drive? More likely, you had some idea of how to get there and then modified your route based on factors in and out of your control (Starbucks, bathroom breaks, food, traffic, weather, etc.). Goals are like road trips. You can’t just know where you’re going, you also need a strategy for how you’ll get there and to deal with unforeseen challenges along the way.
I learned this the hard way.
I failed at my running goals in 2018 and 2019. In 2018 I was invited to a “first to 500 miles” challenge. I accepted because 1) I thought I could win and 2) I thought I was already doing mileage pretty close to this (spoiler: I wasn’t). I was pretty sure that doing just a little more than what I was already doing would be my path to success. Not only did I not change anything- I didn’t even think about changing anything. I thought my commitment to exercise was all I needed to be committed to this goal. I was wrong.
In January 2020, fed up with failing, I recalled the immortal words of Dr. Kane (my favorite professor in PT school) who gave this advice to struggling students when it came to creating new study plans:
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
I think he was paraphrasing, bad grammar and all, but nonetheless, it stuck with me after all these years.
This time, determined to achieve my 2020 running goal, I decided to stop doing what I’d always done, which honestly, wasn’t much. I created a plan for HOW to achieve my goal. I was going to run a minimum of 4 times a week and either Saturday or Sunday would be a long run day. I would log my distance as well as the date, how long I ran, and any other notes about the workout in Google Sheets so that I could easily access it on my phone.
I chose 600 miles because the math was easy. Even though it’s more running, 50 miles a month was an easier number than whatever 500/12 is. From there, I did one more math problem to figure out that I needed 12.5 miles per week to stay on track. I’m not the fastest or the fittest, but I knew I could do 12.5 miles a week. And then I did.
I logged each of my runs and I knew what numbers I needed to see to stay on track. I checked my progress at the middle and end of each month (if I were better at spread sheets I would have set it to auto-calculate a running total). There were weeks when I did more, and weeks when I did less, but in the end, knowing where I needed to be kept my goal from ever getting too far out of reach. I finished the year with 221 runs and 607.5 miles. Creating a plan worked.
Setting a goal, creating a plan, and executing a plan isn’t rocket science nor is it new to me. Ultimately, I’ve known and used this approach for years but somewhere along the line it got away from me. I am grateful for the reminder and the opportunity to get back to what I know works.
Moving forward, I’m not going to ask anyone (myself included) “what’s your goal?” without immediately following-up with “and how will you get there?” In the clinic, I’m going to make it a point to talk to patients about their goals and about the specific path that will get them there. It’s not enough to tell the overhead athlete with shoulder instability their arm will be better when they finish rehabilitation. They also need to know that exercises for the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers will be used to build strength and that Plyo ball exercises, plank holds, and rhythmic stabilization will improve their proprioception. Sometimes I think we assume patients know why we ask them to do certain things when most of the time, they don’t have a clue. These few minutes of discussion make a world of difference when it comes to buy-in and commitment to the rehab process. Ensuring they know why they are doing the exercises and how these specific tasks help, gets them one step closer to their goal.
And now, I challenge you to reframe your thinking from “I need to set goals” to “I need to set goals and create plans for reaching them.” This can be in your personal life, along your fitness journey, or in your work with patients. Don’t merely decide what you’re going to do- decide how you’re going to do it. The extra step will be worth it when you mark that goal completed!