Goal Setting For Runners: Can You Control Your Goal?

Goal Setting Control

This is the latest in series of posts on goal setting for runners. Read the previous posts:

So you’ve set your goal. It is something that inspires you, is realistic and is ‘SMART.’ You are ready to go, right?


Or maybe not.

Take a moment to consider: Is your goal something that you actually can control?

Say what!?

My Blogging Goals

I was recently reviewing the 90-day goals I’d established for my blog. I noticed that while I was doing a lot, and while I felt like I was doing the right things, I wasn’t reaching many of my goals.

As a person who likes crossing things off my to-do list and accomplishing my goals, this bothered me.

I had to get to the bottom of what was happening.

Many of my goals are metrics (spoiler: were metrics): X number of page views, Y number of newsletter sign-ups. These were inspiring goals, they prompted me to take action, and were specific and SMART, but something wasn’t working.

Then I realized it: many of my goals weren’t ultimately under my control.

I controlled all of the steps along the way, the content creation and publicity that would (hopefully) lead people to my site and sign up for my newsletter. I could make posts that are enticing and valuable. But ultimately, I couldn’t control if people would take that last step and enroll.

Remember that whole thing about leading a horse to water?

My goal (newsletter sign-ups) was focused entirely on the horse drinking.

I realized I needed to expand my goals to incorporate more elements that focused on leading the horse to the water (I realize the metaphor was a little tortured there at the end. Hopefully, you get the idea.)

Running Goals

This isn’t a huge issue for most running goals. For the most part, running goals are firmly within your control. You hit your time or distance goals or you don’t.

But one common goal for runners that does fit into this category is weight loss. You can watch your diet, exercise regularly, eat your veggies, and still not lose weight.

Sometimes, against all logic, you just can’t lose weight, no matter how hard you try.

If you only focus is the scale, you run the risk of getting disheartened and giving up because you aren’t reaching your goal, even though you are taking all the right steps and likely improving your health, even if that doesn’t appear in the form of weight loss.

How to Incorporate Goals You Can Control

If weight loss is your goal, and it’s something that inspires you, by all means, work with it and keep it as your goal. But don’t make that goal all-or-nothing. Incorporate sub-goals, or broaden your definition of success to include elements that you can control.

That way, you can make progress and be successful, even if the horse doesn’t ultimately drink (Ok, I’ll stop it with the metaphor now…)

Add a second ‘A’ to the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound) goal formula. The goal should not only be ‘Achievable’, but also ‘Actionable’ – by you.

What does this look like?

For weight loss, instead of “Lose 15 pounds by April.” Make your goal: “Lose 15 pounds by April by:

  • Running 4 days a week
  • Strength training 2 times a week
  • Cutting out soda and excess sugar
  • Eating 4 servings of vegetables a day
  • Walking 10,000 steps every day”

With this as your goal formula, even if you don’t lose pounds (for whatever physiological reason), you will be fitter and healthier, even if the scale hasn’t budged.

Being in control of most of the elements of your goal will keep you inspired. With sub-goals and a broader definition of success, even if you don’t reach the big goal (that you couldn’t control), you still will have taken the right steps and positive actions.

True For Most Goals

The same is true in other contexts. At work, you can set a goal to get a 3% raise by the end of the year. But there may be many reasons a raise will or will not happen. A large number of those reasons aren’t in your control.

But if you expand your goal to include sub-goals and expand your definition of success, you can still become a better employee, even if a raise isn’t financially viable for your company.

If your only goal is: ‘get a 3% raise by the end of the year,’ you could easily be disheartened, and consider your year a failure, even if it is your company’s financials, not your performance, that prevented your goal from happening.

However, if your goal is to: ‘get 3% raise by the end of the year by increasing participation in meetings, volunteering for additional assignments, and actually asking my boss for a raise,’ that you can do.

And your boss will likely love you for it.


Goal Setting Control

What about you? Have you ever set goals that you couldn’t control?


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