Like most of us, when we start another year, I see it as an opportunity for change. What is different for me, though, is that I have very precise changes in mind because I am a competitive cyclist. I know that we will soon begin another race season. And that means figuring out how to balance my college studies, my job, and the race schedules. I will have to tweak, refine and alter various other aspects of my life to ensure I can train both on and off the bike and shave time off my personal best (PBs). So that I can achieve success on and off my bike, I will have to set new goals for myself in 2023.
Simplicity is the key to goal setting
Athletes must perform to their absolute best if they want to succeed in competition. To accomplish this, I set performance-based goals. For example, I will develop a training plan that improves specific performance parameters. There will be set targets, too- whether to increase my muscle mass or increase uphill speed. All of which will have metrics for measurement which encourage and, to some degree, make it easier for me to stick to and reach the goal in question. Early in my career, I made the mistake of wanting to change several things at one time when it came to my performance. This overloading of goals only led to stress and frustration and, ultimately, my failure to achieve my goals to the standard I wanted. Now I look at goal-setting in a much more structured yet straightforward way.
Reaching goals the SMART way
Regardless of your goal- whether it is to lose weight, save money, eat healthier, or increase business performance, everyone can use a method that successful athletes and business people have used for years. SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, is one of the most successful goal-setting tools used by individuals and teams across the globe.
Creating an action plan is the best start to achieving your goals
Best-selling author Robert Sharma says, "knowing what to do and not doing it is the same as not knowing what to do". What does this mean? It means that we often set a goal for ourselves without a plan of action. Most of us know how to save or eat healthier, but we need to have an action plan, a list of the activities or actions we will take to make it happen. This is our starting point when setting and achieving our goals. We must get clear on exactly what we want to achieve. Be narrow and concise here; knowing exactly what you want to achieve will give you clarity and motivation and reduce stress in pursuing your goal.
Towards the end of 2022, my coach and I sat down to review the season and plan for 2023. Last year we set the goal of winning the Rás Tailteann, which was not a straightforward goal, and took a lot of planning. We first carried out a needs analysis, and from there, we set out a structured training plan that focused on the specific demands that the race would impose (training was only a tiny part of the equation). Other work, such as nutrition, equipment preparation and logistics, also had to be considered.
For 2023 I have set some ambitious goals focusing on crucial competitions and the race season as a whole. This year brings some added workload that we must consider, as I am completing a master's degree in Elite Sports Performance.
Set achievable goals
Equally important is a way to track your progress. This is one of the most critical steps for athletes when measuring their fitness progressions; we track every change, no matter how small, along the way. These progress signals ultimately enable us to reach our final destination or target goal. Progress is rarely linear, so be ready for setbacks that occur along the way. There will be ups and downs, peaks and valleys. This is all part of the journey to achieving your goals.
An example of this is my weekly training volume; I am working towards my goals by completing my weekly training volume and focused work within that volume. This training focuses on improving several key performance parameters, such as achieving specific power outputs for particular durations, which are easily measured thanks to the technology that we have at hand today.
Whatever you decide, remember to make it a doable goal. Setting high expectations or unrealistic targets will reduce the likelihood of success. I'm very conscious of this when I aim to improve my performance times. It's also worth noting how important the goal is to you. Are you trying to achieve the goal because other people think you should, or do you believe it's worth chasing? Your goals should inspire and motivate you, not feel oppressive.
It wouldn’t be suitable for someone to take up racing as a newbie and expect to be riding the Tour de France the following year. We must look at what we can achieve within our set timeframes and physical capabilities while considering all other commitments. Your goal has to be achievable for it to succeed.
Set goals that align with the bigger picture
Whatever you choose as your goal to succeed must be part of an overall plan. For example, if your overall goal is to introduce a healthy diet, then following a restricted calorie diet may help you lose kgs but may not necessarily improve your health. Since I want to improve my speed, I will target changing my diet to incorporate foods that enhance performance. This way, the goal and tactics are aligned and will increase my chances of success.
Eating junk food and other ‘bad food’ isn’t pointing me in the right direction regarding improving my performance. My diet plan focuses on high-carbohydrate and protein foods to help strengthen my bike performance.
While making a list of goals is easy, it takes more work to set realistic deadlines. However, with deadlines, we stand a great chance of meeting and completing the task. I love deadlines because they set boundaries, whether to a training session or a project for work. I know that I have until that specific date or time and am motivated to push myself to stay within the timeframe.
A goal with a deadline can provide a sense of urgency and keep us on our toes when carrying out the actions to achieve this goal. When focusing on training over the winter months as preparation for the new race season, I must carry out specific training and complete the work needed by a certain date to move on to the next training phase. Achieving this training load over the winter months is essential for my development, and with it, my race fitness will be where it needs to be ahead of the race season.
While the SMART goals system isn't new or ground-breaking, I like it because it works for me. Since I started cycling competitively, I have tried several different methods, and I find myself coming back to the SMART system. Working hard to improve your PB, consistently training, and trying to up your game takes discipline. And it's brutal, especially on those 5 am training on cold and rainy days. But I stay focused by asking myself, "am I doing everything I can to achieve my goals?" I can do more, and there is always room for improvement. And by adopting the SMART approach, I am working towards achieving that.
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