Didn’t Reach Your Goal? Read on…

First, congratulations, you are already in a minority. Not in failing to reach your goal but it is a minority of people who actually set goals of any kind. It is a minority of that minority who set process goals. And that more often is the reason for failing to meet goals.

Goals are focused on a future outcome – something we want to accomplish. [I want to run a marathon. I want to run a 20 minute 5k. I want to be a millionaire.] Process goals provide a roadmap that focus your journey to your desired outcome. While it’s nice to post on your refrigerator door “Run the Boston Marathon” it is little more than a pipe dream without a plan to get there. This is where process goals come in.

Process goals are the individual actions or objectives in the near term or intermediate term that lead you in a logical consistent fashion to meet your desired outcome. It can include such things as competitions, physical weight or body measurements, miles per week/month/season, various performance standards, frequency of cross-training and strength workouts and the written training program for workouts over the next months.

Process goals also get down to the nitty-gritty of getting things done within a workout! It includes setting goals for the workout, doing what it takes to hit paces or complete the number of track reps on your schedule or to get through a bad day that you don’t even feel like being out there.

Critical to success is the execution of specific workouts (providing your training program is sound). If you do not consistently complete workouts as defined in your running program then you cannot reasonably expect to reach your final outcome goal.

Here is the crux of goal setting. It is how and why so many people do not reach their goals. It matters none whether the goal is to lose weight, get fit, complete your first 5k, compete in the Boston Marathon, or reach the Olympics. The key is to have and use process goals. These are the actual things you control in your quest. You do not control your future workouts. You do not control what you did or didn’t do yesterday or the day before that. You do not control what you ate yesterday or what you will eat tomorrow. You do not control that you took time off and now you’re behind schedule. You control now. You control just this workout. And even more immediate – you only control your next step.

Here is an example of how to set up process goals for workouts to motivate you, keep you engaged, always learning and focused on the right things.

Outcome Goal: Run a sub-3:20 marathon in 12 months

Pre-Run Process Goals (Training Objectives – Training Schedule Workout)

  • Process Goal #1: Scheduled today is an 8 mile run.

The good news is that there is a schedule to follow. But, too often we stop at what is written on our workout schedule. (And for those who don’t have a written schedule you’re already training aimlessly! No wonder you aren’t reaching your goals!)

Process Goals Set the Stage 

Next are focal points for the run. These are mental cues to keep you going. Note that these allow for flexibility in the case that a run isn’t going as planned. It allows for multiple ways to “win” for the day.

  • Process Goal #2a (Gold Medal Run): Run 8 miles @ goal marathon pace (7:30/mile)- longest run of the year at goal marathon pace.
  • Process Goal #2b (Silver Medal Run): Run 6 @ goal marathon pace (7:30/mile) then do 2 miles easy
  • Process Goal #2c (Bronze Medal Run): Complete the distance and run as many miles as possible @ goal marathon pace (7:30/mile)
  • Process Goal #3: Use a specific warm-up routine and determine the effects on your workout.

Process Goals on The Run

  • Process Goal #4a: Go out at a comfortable pace the first 2 miles, stop looking at your watch every 30 seconds. Run by feel. No judgements or evaluation. Just run.


  • Process Goal #4b: Get on pace and tune in to what it feels like to run on goal pace while fresh. Contrast with sensations of keeping pace while a bit fatigued. Make note of what focus keeps you on the right effort and where your mind goes when you are “off pace”.

*Hopefully you realize that you cannot repeatedly fall short of your workout plan and still hope to gain the fitness levels to attain your goal. These process goals are mental approaches intended to do three primary things:

  1. Keep you going instead of just bagging the workout entirely (giving up or giving in).
  2. Get you away from all-or-nothing goals or workouts (must do this workout or else…).
  3. Gives purpose to workouts (grow, learn, adjust training – not just run mindless miles wondering if it’s helping you reach your goal).

Process Goal Benefits

  • Makes training purposeful – physically and mentally.
  • Allows you to use and test different mental strategies you can later call upon in your racing.
  • Creates short-term strategies to keep you motivated, focused, and stimulated to do the “right” things.
  • Keeps you focused on what you control versus what you do not control (i.e. past, future, other runners).
  • Increases the chances that you will stay in the moment, control the controllables and focus on the process – the three key elements to mental toughness.

How you race is dependent on how you train. Appropriate process goals allow you to decrease variability on race day performances; increase confidence, increase ability to deal with adversity, trust your training, increase your ability to focus (on the right things) when the going gets tough, and increase your ability to execute your race strategy on race day.

Need help tailoring process goals and integrating mental game components – that’s what a coach is for? Drop me a line.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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