5 Tips for Setting Goals

Goal setting is one of those things we all know we should do but don’t necessarily always get around to, sort of like warm down or eating right or getting a full night’s sleep. Even when we do set goals, we often get in the way of the great potential that goals have to motivate and keep us on track by neglecting a few simple steps that can make our goal setting process stronger. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your goals and make something that can seem tedious a bit more exciting.

  1. Set SMART Goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Realistic, and Timely. Specific goals outline exactly what is intended, so rather than stating you will “try harder” or “improve,” you might elaborate that your goal is to “make 5 swim workouts a week” or “drop 3 seconds off your 200 time.” This way, you’ll have a clear vision of where you’re going. Both of those examples are also Measurable, meaning that at the end of the week or season, you’ll clearly be able to know whether you achieved your goal or not. Goals are only motivating when they’re challenging enough to push you but not so challenging that you’ll constantly be discouraged from failing to meet the goal. A SMART goal is realistic, something that with great effort you can conceivably achieve. It is also Adjustable, so if you find out later it may not have been as realistic as you previously thought or the difficulty of it is discouraging rather than encouraging, be flexible enough to alter the goal to fit your needs. Finally, great goals are Timely and have an end date. “I will drop 7 seconds in the 500 free by the end of the 2012 short course season.” Timely goals also have a short-term component, so you can break up the goal into sizeable chunks. That same swimmer may intend to complete a stroke change by the end of 2011 and be 2 seconds closer to their 500 goal time by February.
  1. Keep it Positive. The language in which you write your goal is crucial. Although subtle, there is a difference between “Don’t breathe from the flags to the wall” and “I will keep my head down from the flags to the wall.” Put it in the first person and use commanding words like “I will do this” or “I am doing that” rather than “I will try to.”
  1. Write Your Goals Down. And not just on the imaginary pad of paper in your head. Write them down on paper and put the paper somewhere you can easily see every day. Why? Because the simple act of writing the goal down on paper – in pen – encourages a sense of accountability in us that makes us more likely to achieve the goal. Seeing it every day keeps us on course and thinking about what we need to do to get there. This can be huge when you’re waking up before the sun in the winter months to go to the pool and you’re not entirely sure why. Put the goal in a place you’ll see on those difficult days.
  1. Tell Another Person Your Goal. Inform your coach, a teammate, a friend, or a family member of your positive SMART goal. Let them know how they can support you in your daily efforts towards achieving this goal, and offer to do the same for them in return if they have one. Keep each other accountable.
  1. Evaluate your Goal. At the end of the season or period of time in which your goal took place, make sure you evaluate how you did. Did you achieve your goal? If you did, what did you do to get there? What methods worked for you? How can you now set the bar higher and start the goal process again? If you did not achieve your goal, why do you think that is? Of all of the excuses you listed, what do you have control over? How will you change that in the future? Do you need to adjust your goal or do you need to adjust your behavior? What can you do to make it more likely that you will meet the goal (same or adjusted) next time?

Yes, goals do take time and can be tedious “extras” in the already-busy life of a swimmer. However, the powerful impact a great goal can have is well worth the time. Great goals keep you motivated and knowing why you are doing what you’re doing. They streamline your training and give you something to aim for every day in practice. They help you pay attention to the process and when evaluated, provide valuable information on what is or isn’t working in your training. Try one out this season!


Jen Schumacher

Marathon Swimmer, www.jenschumacher.org

Sport Psychology Consultant, www.jenschumacher.com