Performance28 Nov 2020

How to create and achieve ‘process goals’


Making a plan

The recent, positive news about vaccines which might resolve the Covid-19 pandemic are a fitting way to end 2020, this most difficult of years. Normal life has been turned completely upside-down this year but finally, there is a chink of light that 2021 might, just might, bring happier times. We can certainly have hope for the coming year – after all, it is Olympic year!

The passage of one year into the next is often a time for new resolutions and a fresh start. I’ve been reflecting on the year gone by and what I’ll try to do better, or least differently, in the New Year. Now is the time to be thinking about new running goals for the year ahead.

But how do you set goals when we are all still adjusting to the new normal? How do we know if races will go ahead, and when? Will we be able to run with friends again?

In uncertain times like these, ‘outcome goals’ – a specific, defined result in a particular timescale – are not that helpful. How can I commit to running X minutes for 5km by Y when it’s not even clear when races will return?

My answer to this dilemma is to focus your efforts not on outcome goals but on ‘process goals’ – goals related to what you do every day. For example, I will do 30 minutes of strength and conditioning three times per week.

Outcome goals can be inspiring and motivating, but you still have to do all the hard work to make them happen. This is where process goals can be helpful. By being disciplined about your process goals, you are more likely to achieve your outcome goals.

Here are my five top tips for setting process goals:

Be in control

Having control over something makes it easier to achieve. The weather, other people, and the coronavirus are all things we cannot control. So keep it simple! I will run five times per week; I will eat five fruit & veg every day; I will replace my worn-out trainers – these are all good process goals.

Take it steady

It’s better to perform at 90% consistently than at 100% with frequent interruptions. So make your goals realistic. When I tried running 110 miles per week, I always had setbacks. But if I ran 90, I could train consistently week after week. Aiming to train, say, five times per week is more achievable than training every day if you have a demanding work and/or home life.

Keep it interesting

I enjoy process goals which last a fairly short time, for example four weeks. Then I update them to avoid boredom and boost motivation. Using this approach with a strength and conditioning programme is ideal – frequently refreshing your menu maintains variety and allows you to target new muscle groups.

Try something new

I often set myself this goal with my nutrition. For example, I will eat one new food per week. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it – just bringing new foods into your diet expands the variety in what you’re eating and you might find something you like! You could even try one of my recipes.

Use milestones

This is a hybrid of outcome and process goals. For example, I will run a 5km time trial once per month. It isn’t committing to a set time for the 5km, but simply to running it, and your finish time might be a bonus.

Another example: I will review my goals every six weeks. Regardless of how you’ve done, the act of reviewing them is a useful, reflective process.

It’s funny how, for so many runners, getting out of the door and taking the first few steps is the hardest part of training. Once you’re up and running, you usually feel fine and enjoy yourself. So one of my process goals for the coming year will be “when I don’t feel like training, just put my shoes on and leave the house!” It doesn’t matter how I feel, just being out running will, I know, be good for me.

Mara Yamauchi for World Athletics