There are times in our lives as runners when we have clear goals and laser focus. For example, when you have it imprinted in your mind that “I will qualify for Boston Marathon at my next race,” few things can stop you in the pursuit of that goal. It’s easier to get out the door, wake up early, or do the extra details to make achieving your goal possible.
According to Social Psychologist and Arete runner Jehan Sparks, “Setting goals is critical to the human experience because it adds value” to our lives. We know that feeling. The rush of completing a strong training run. The excitement and nervousness of an upcoming race we’ve trained for daily.
But how about those times when your goals aren’t clear? How do you stay motivated to keep running and showing up? Understanding your values motivating a goal may help you with different means of achieving a goal. According to psychologists, even if you don’t feel like you have a goal, all behavior is goal-oriented and according to Sparks, “not having a goal is a goal in itself!” So then what? Sparks suggests a sort of action-oriented approach on implementation intentions, which can be much more effective than goal-setting intentions. Implementation intentions seek to connect a future situation with a specific goal-directed behavior; they are often phrased as “When situation X arises, I will do Y!” (e.g., When I park my car, I will do drills!). As Sparks suggests, “We don’t have to remember to do drills; when we park our car, the thought of doing drills is more likely to arise automatically and the behavior is more likely to eventually become routine.”
In other words, start putting habits into place to a) help you achieve your clear goals or b) help you create habits when you aren’t necessarily motivated by anything in particular. Commit to a process, whether or not you feel motivated.
Sparks suggests that it’s important that we learn to figure out what we value in any given moment with our running. For example, are you running a race because it’s bringing you personal satisfaction or are you running it because you want to be part of a team race? “To be clear,” states Sparks, “there’s no right or wrong reason to pursue a goal, but better understanding what’s motivating a particular goal may be helpful for charting out means to achieve the goal.”
She also suggests that there are different ways to approach goals: promotion focus (e.g. chasing a PR) or prevention focus (e.g. maintaining fitness.). Here’s the great thing: neither approach is better or helps you attain the goal faster. However, knowing your goal orientation, and how to pursue it (vigilance vs. eagerness) can increase your engagement and make it “feel right.” .
For as long as I’ve lived, I’ve been a promotion focused goal seeker. So after my recent marathon, when I achieved a 2:57 PR marathon, I found myself saying, “I don’t have any goals at the moment. Now what?” In the past, I would have felt lost not chasing a concrete goal, but with Spark’s model, I was able to reframe my thinking and realize I do have goals, they’re just not the type I’m accustomed to seeking. However, they are just as important and feel right for me in running at this time.
For those of us who do not have clear running goals in mind, here are some questions you may ask yourself to answer. When you answer these questions honestly, you will find out, you actually do have goals. They just might be different than a teammate’s goals or what you have been used to in the past.
Questions to ask yourself:
What is currently giving me the most energy in my running?
What is something in my running I’m curious about?
What would I like to do more of in my running?
By honestly answering these questions for where I was at that time in my life, I came to realize that in 2018 my goals would be entirely different than last year. I would like to to run on trails and with friends without a watch as much as possible.
The previous year my goals were much different: run a 2:55 marathon with concrete goals along the way.
However, I can say that each journey has felt just as satisfying, especially now that I feel that my 2018 goals are just as important as previous more concrete goals. By practicing this goal reframing, you can learn to appreciate whatever your goals are at any given time.
I encourage you to be open to what feels like the appropriate “goal” for you in your running. Don’t be afraid of chasing those lofty time goals when that’s what’s calling you and don’t be ashamed of less concrete goals when that feels right.
In Arete, we support your goals, whatever those might be, in your current stage of your life. Learning to appreciate what your goals currently look like creates a sense of fulfillment in your running, so you can get the most out of your miles.