January is a great time to set your goals for the year and put plans in place. But knowing how to get started can feel a bit overwhelming. Often, January takes me right back to that “scary blank page” feeling many moons ago at school and university. Sitting there with a huge essay to write, a swirling mess of ideas in my head and no idea how to start getting them down onto paper.
Setting goals can be the same. Maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to do but you’ve never been quite sure how to get the wheels turning. And so another year goes by and that goal remains a dream. Maybe you know what you want to do, and you know exactly how you can achieve it. But those pesky first hurdles – fear and a lack of self-belief – have always stopped you from trying. Or maybe you’ve just got this feeling that you want to do something but you’re not sure what that something is yet.
Herd: let’s make 2022 the year that you finally embark on that adventure that’s been stashed at the back of your kit drawer. Let’s choose to be brave, instead of afraid. Let’s find goals that truly excite us. And above all, let’s make sure we keep the joy in the process.
We’re here to help you choose your adventure and to guide you through the practical steps to get going. Are you ready to Find your Freedom in 2022? Keep reading!
Defining your goals: what do you want to do – and why?
This time of year we’re bombarded with ready-made goals that we’re pressured to feel like we should be striving towards. Be more this, and less that. Stop doing this, start doing that. Sign up here for boil-in-the-bag 2 minute success!
There’s a reason that the majority of New Year’s Resolutions are sat gathering dust in the back of the metaphorical understairs cupboard by January 31st. It’s because they’re goals that are put upon you, rather than being something you are actually passionate about.
A good goal scares you and excites you in equal measure. It gives you that butterflies in your tummy sensation. It’s that thing you’ve always wanted to do, but never quite been brave enough to say out loud. You might question whether you can do it. And my philosophy is: if I think I can’t, I’ll prove to myself that I can. Chances are, as you’re reading this something has popped into your mind. Maybe uninvited. Don’t be afraid to look directly at it because that is your goal. It’s that shiny magical thing that will get you motivated and get you moving out of your comfort zone.
Your goal doesn’t have to be some epic round the world excursion, scaling mountains on a unicycle with a goat on your head (but hey, that does sound pretty cool so if anyone is up for it – go wild!) It doesn’t have to be something particularly monumental. It just has to be something that sets a little spark alight for you. It’s got to be yours.
A ‘what’ needs a ‘why’
Okay, so you’ve got your ‘what’. You’ve got an idea of what you want to achieve. But now you need to know your ‘why’. It’s important that your goal means something to you because that’s going to drive you forward when things get tough and motivation drops.
“Why?” is a question I’ll ask myself a lot when I’m Ironman training. Usually about half way through a solo 5 hour bike ride when the wind is howling and I’ve just accidentally dropped my snacks on the floor. “Why the heck am I putting myself through this?” The answer comes down to three things. Number one: because this sport, and every step of the training journey, has helped to build my (often lacking) self-belief. It’s given me strength and confidence which extend far beyond a triathlon start line. Number two: because I love the feeling of ticking off a hard session, or completing a race even when it feels impossible. Proving to myself that I can. And, number three: because I’m curious to see what my body can do if I just give it a chance to show me. Those ‘whys’ give me the push I need to keep going, even when I’d quite like to lob my bike in a ditch and go and sulk on the sofa instead. They remind me that I want to do this, and it will be worth it.
Take a moment to think about why you want to achieve your goal. It might be ‘I really want that cool medal – seeing it hanging up on the wall will remind me of what I’m capable of.’ It might be the opportunity to raise money for a cause that means a lot to you. Maybe it’ll give you that extra reason to make time to go out on your bike. Perhaps it’ll give you the opportunity to get out of a rut and do something different. Your ‘why’ doesn’t need to be wildly philosophical or earnest. It just needs to be personal.
Humour me here: Grab a piece of paper, and give yourself the freedom to write down the first thing that comes into your head when I ask you the following questions. Not what you think you should write down. But what you really want to write down.
What do you want to achieve?
Why do you want to achieve it?
Fold up that piece of paper and tuck it away somewhere. Just knowing that it’s there is a good motivator.
Little jumps add up to big leaps: Practical steps for success
Setting a goal is one thing. But working out what you need to do to start working towards it is another. We often fall into the trap of thinking that change needs to be drastic from day one. That achievement comes from one giant leap. But this all or nothing mindset often has one of two results. Either it all feels too big, too scary and it stops us from trying. We keep putting it off, waiting for the elusive ‘right time’ (there’s no such thing, there’s always a reason not to do something if you look hard enough). And suddenly “I’ll start on Monday” becomes a weekly refrain, and you end up not starting at all. Or – we go in all guns blazing and it’s exhausting. Too much, too soon. Start a marathon sprinting, and you’re going to burn out. It’s all about small, consistent steps which together add up to the ‘big leap’.
I’m going to use training for a specific race or sports event as an example here (we are a cycling and triathlon brand after all!) but rest assured these steps work for all kinds of goals and adventures.
First up, nothing gets you moving like a deadline so let’s put a timeframe on your goal. This is easy if you’ve got a specific race or event in mind – the race organisers have already set your deadline for you! But if your adventure is something solo, then deciding when you’re going to do it is the next step once you’ve got your ‘what’ and your ‘why’. Having a specific date to work towards will keep you focused.
Right. You know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and when you’re going to do it. Getting from where you are right now, to where you need to be can feel intimidating. That’s where we need to work backwards and set some milestone ‘micro goals’ to break it up into bitesize chunks. A few little flapjack hors d’oeuvres, if you will, to whet your appetite for the giant cake down the line.
Let’s say you’ve entered a 100 mile sportive in August. 100 miles sounds like a long old way. But you don’t need to be able to do that until August. Right now, step 1 might be “ride my bike twice a week in January”. Or even “join my local cycling club and make it to their Sunday group ride each week.” Both of these things are helping you towards hitting that 100-miler and they’re easy to achieve. These small process goals will also focus you on the present, so you’re not wasting energy on freaking yourself out about how you’re going to hit the big goal in the future.
Create your own ‘map’ towards your goal, with small milestones to tick off along the way. Make sure these are realistic. It’s no good telling yourself you’ve got to ride 5 times a week every week in January if you know you’re not really going to have time. You’re setting yourself up to fail before you’ve started and that’s not going to do wonders for your motivation levels. Instead, set a realistic goal for each week. The feel good factor when you get to tick it off will keep you moving forward. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with this process either. Whether it’s a coach, your local cycling club, a friend who has done something similar. It’s amazing how much it helps to get someone else’s wisdom and perspective!
These little micro goals might seem small, but trust the process. Little jumps performed consistently will add up to the big leap. You’ll soon be looking back and marvelling at how far you’ve come.
Having a goal is great, right? But the trouble is, this thing called ‘life’ will do it’s best to get in the way. For most of us, it’s not a lack of capability that stops us achieving our goals. It’s a lack of time, energy and breathing space. It’s the practicality of it all that can pose the biggest hurdle.
The solution isn’t snazzy or magical, I’m afraid. The key to achieving your goal is solid planning, open conversations, assessing priorities and accepting there will be a few sacrifices along the way.
Be realistic about the time you have available. On paper, I could probably squeeze in 30 hours of triathlon training a week alongside my full-time job and sausage dog minion duties. But in reality I would be exhausted. I’d probably have to eat my breakfast on the treadmill, write my blog posts in permanent marker on my swimming cap and teach the dogs to walk themselves. It’s not going to work, and so I have to adjust my expectations and set race goals that are feasible with the time I have available to train. Be honest with yourself about what sacrifices you’re prepared to make as you work towards your goal, and how much time that leaves you to play with.
Once you’ve got a solid idea of the amount of time you can commit each week, it’s all about making the most of that time. It sounds a bit Monica Geller from Friends, but I’ve found just taking 5 minutes in the evening to plan out what I’m doing the next day and when really helps me to stay focused, get everything done and identify when I’m trying to do too much at once. It might mean saying ‘no’ to a social event, or it might mean scaling back a training session. I’ve learned the hard way on several occasions that trying to spin too many plates will always lead to a mess.
Next up is priorities. On the training front, that means knowing which are the key ‘no compromise’ sessions that are essential to achieving your goal – for example your weekly long endurance ride if you’re working towards a century ride – and which are the ones that, if life necessitates, you can skip or reschedule. Remember: consistency beats perfection. 12 weeks of consistently managing 75% of what’s on the training plan is going to get you further than one perfect week, followed by several weeks of nothing. On the work-life-family front, it’s also a good idea to talk to your loved ones about what the ‘no compromise’ things outside of training are. Then you can work together to make sure your training fits in with your life – rather than the other way round. That brings us nicely on to my next point: assembling your support squad and getting them on board!
Assemble your support squad
We goats travel in herds for a reason – we’re stronger in numbers and we need some supportive hooves behind us.
Working towards a goal and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is both physically and mentally taxing, so it’s important to have a good support squad around you. It’s also important to remember that the hard work you put in and the sacrifices you make to achieve your goal don’t only have an impact on you. You’re asking a lot of yourself, but you’re also asking a lot of your loved ones.
Have conversations early on with your family, friends and even your co-workers if necessary so that the people who are going to be around you understand what you’re doing, why, and what it’s going to entail. Set expectations. Be open to compromise where it’s important, so that you’re all happy and on board. Medals and finisher t-shirts are nice, but they don’t replace the amazing finish line hugs from your loved ones. Plus, these are the people who will be responsible for chucking carbs and coffee in your direction the day after a race when you’ve got the world’s worst muscle soreness and it takes you an hour to heave yourself off the sofa. Trust me, you want to keep them sweet!
Talk to the people who are going to be around you to find ways to make it work both ways. It might be getting the kids involved with some of your training sessions: get them to chase you down on their bikes while you run, or ask them to help you count your reps during strength training. They’ll probably make you do “just one more” every time! You might plan in a weekly family night, or schedule a date day with your other half once a month to make sure you’re not sacrificing too much time together. It’ll vary depending on your own circumstances. But just remember that you’re far more likely to achieve your goal when you’re happy and enjoying the process!
Staying consistent when motivation drops
During the first few weeks of training, it’s all new and exciting. Motivation is high and you’re chomping at the bit to get going. Those early days gains come easily. But then the excitement levels plateau, life gets busy and motivation levels start to drop. This is a crucial tipping point when it comes to achieving your goal. It’s where knowing your ‘why’, having a solid routine and being able to embrace the tough days as part of the process is really important.
Prepare and plan
Training consistently, means consistently choosing to get your training done. It’s that moment of choice that can be the most difficult when you’re struggling to feel motivated. If the alarm goes off and you’ve got to choose what training you’re going to do, choose what kit you need and then get it all ready, it’s easy to think: “ugh, do you know what – I can’t be bothered. Where’s that snooze button?”
Whereas when the alarm goes off and you know exactly what your training session for the morning is and your kit is all laid out and ready. It takes a few of those decisions away. By planning ahead and laying your kit out the night before, you’ve already set a positive intention. If I’ve got an early morning swim session, I know that if I don’t pack my bag the night before I’m far less likely to actually go. Firstly, it’s almost a subconscious choice the night before that I don’t really intend to go if I haven’t got my swim kit ready. And secondly, when that 5.30am alarm goes off and not only have I got to drag myself out of bed but I’ve also got to go rooting around for all my stuff in the dark – staying in bed just seems a whole lot easier. Essentially, you want to give yourself as little excuses as possible to not get up and get the session done.
It also helps to look at your training plan for the week and just take a little bit of time to work out exactly when you’re going to train each day. It’s such a cliché but think of your training sessions in the same way you’d think of a work meeting – it’s in the diary, and you’re going to get it done. And if something comes up, you’re going to reschedule. Adding training into the juggling act of life requires a bit of discipline and boundary setting. Having a clear definition of what time is work time, training time, family time and down time. Make a plan, and stick to it as best you can.
Remember your why: determination vs motivation
No one is 100% motivated, 100% of the time. It’s easy to assume that people who are training hard for a race or an event spring out of bed every day, totally pumped to get their training done. Sometimes that’s true. But other times – when the weather is awful and you’ve got to ride into a headwind for 4 hours, or when you’ve got an interval session that makes you feel queasy just looking at it – getting that session done can feel like an absolute chore. And that’s okay! Part of achieving something big is accepting that sometimes it’s going to feel hard. Sometimes it’s going to downright suck. But that’s what makes it worthwhile – the bumpy, pot-hole ridden road of the journey makes that (literal or metaphorical) finish line even sweeter. Because you’ve worked for it.
So how do you keep going on those days when you really can’t be bothered? First up, just accept the way you feel. Don’t waste energy beating yourself up or feeling like a failure because you’re not some sort of positivity robot with boundless energy and an endless supply of motivation. Next, go back to your ‘why’. Remembering your why is going to help you to draw on the energy of determination. It’s that grit your teeth, “yes I bloomin’ well can” energy that will drive you forward. Motivation is flaky as pastry. It’ll come and go – so don’t rely solely on it. Determination on the other hand? Learn to channel it, and your determination will be like the loaf of gluten free soda bread I failed spectacularly at baking recently: more solid than a rock.
Less stick, more carrot
When your motivation levels drop, punishing yourself or berating yourself isn’t going to make you feel any more up for getting off the couch and out of the door. In fact, it’s just going to put you into a negative mindset so that if you do go out and do the session, you’ll probably spend most of it focusing on how rubbish it is and end up hating every second. This is a mistake I’ve made countless times and I promise, it really isn’t fun. I don’t get the best out myself in the session, and it just sets me up to behave like a grumpy little gargoyle for the rest of the day.
Instead, when you’re struggling to get going, give yourself something to look forward to! Find a way to incorporate something fun or positive into the session. It might be throwing in a café stop on your long ride. It could be promising yourself a coffee from that really good coffee shop on your way home from the swimming pool. It sounds really basic, but it just helps to give yourself something to focus on other than how much you’re not in the mood to do the session.
It also helps to embrace those low motivation days. Getting through them is actually so beneficial for your mental game come race/event day. Training when you’re motivated and excited is easy. Being able to push yourself through the dark days and get on with it takes a lot of grit and strength. Every time you do this, it adds a little post-it note to your mental filing cabinet. On race day, when things get tough and you start questioning if you can carry on, you can open that filing cabinet, reflect on those training sessions where it was tough but you did it anyway. It will remind you: “yes I can.”
Something can be better than nothing
Okay, so you’re really struggling to get motivated to head out for that 3 hour ride. It feels all a bit much and just the thought of it is making you want to get back under the duvet. But what about a little 30 minute spin round the local lanes? That’s not so bad. Give yourself the option to just get out and see how you feel – 9 times out of 10 you’ll be fine once you get going and you’ll end up doing the session that was originally planned. It’s just a case of making it past that hurdle of actually getting out there. And if not – hey at least you still got a little ride in. Just accept it as part and parcel of the training process, draw a line under it and know that not every day will be like this.
Know when you genuinely need to rest
A stern word from my coach recently reminded me: rest is just as important as training. A vital skill when you’re working towards a big goal is learning to identify the difference between “I can’t be bothered” and “my body just can’t today.” This means being able to have honest conversations with yourself. Am I procrastinating this session because it’s a bit wet and a bit cold and really I just can’t be bothered to try and find my overshoes from the depths of the wardrobe? Or am I actually pretty exhausted and this is my body trying to tell my brain that we need to hit the brakes and take some rest to recover?
Blips in motivation are normal, but if you’re consistently feeling awful about your training it can be a sign that you’re trying to do too much. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is to surrender. Pushing through exhaustion is going to do far more damage than missing the odd session. Rest is vital to success.
So there we have it – a few ideas for turning your dreams into goals, and then actually achieving them! Have you got a big adventure in mind for 2022? Or maybe you’ve got your own top tips for staying motivated? Make sure you head over to our Facebook group and share them with the rest of The Herd!
And – before a big comedy hook comes and hoiks me away from my laptop because I feel like this blog post is turning into the equivalent of a very long Oscars speech – just a final note from me. It’s also completely and utterly fine if you’re not in the right place to be chasing after big goals this year. We’re making our way into what feels like year 263 of a global pandemic. If your only goal is to just keep on keeping on – I salute you. Adventures can wait, if they need to, but your wellbeing can’t.