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Goal setting - beyond the numbers?

On Saturday I ran my first trail marathon (a lovely, small race at Ladybower). Inevitably in the days that followed many people who knew or I have told have asked me, "how did you get on?" My answers have generally been variations of:

  • "It was okay, I survived!"

  • "Miles 20-25.5 were mentally very hard and lonely, a lot of me wanted to stop."

  • "Good. I recovered really well, felt a little stiff on Sunday but generally okay."

  • "I enjoyed it (mainly), I want to run a longer distance, maybe an ultra event" (this last one got me into trouble at an event I was facilitating on Monday when we discussed public intent as part of goal-setting, resulting in this on twitter!!)

All of the above are true. But I was struck by my lack of a definitive marker or target around which I was able to offer a judgement on my 'performance'; unless directly asked my responses contained no comment on the time it took me, and notably absent for me was any celebration of a long-held distance goal achieved. I focused on my memory of how I had felt, and how I felt now both mentally and physically and the things I learned about running a longer distance.

Reflecting on my responses, and working with others on setting goals at the SCW Commissioning Support Unit event on Monday I was reminded of a blog I wrote a couple of years ago about my running. I had described how I felt my 'running performance' had improved since I stopped monitoring the data, or perhaps more accurately started listening to a different set of data:

"Increasingly I find myself somewhat of a novelty in the running world; I am running without an ‘app’ and since I misplaced it a few months without even a stopwatch. I do not track in detail my distance, heart rate or mile splits - and the result? Aside from the obvious (and quickly learnt) need not to run on a tight timetable or I will be late for appointments, my main experience has been more enjoyment and improved performance. This is hardly an empirical study but I can chart an increased desire to challenge myself, increased pace and distance and (probably most importantly) more motivation to get out and run in the first place. I find myself listening more intently to how my body feels, working in tandem with it – and seeing results."

I still haven't replaced the stopwatch; at the start on Saturday I may have been the only person not 'beeping on' the GPS as we crossed the start line. That's not to say I am entirely disinterested in 'hard data', now as then I get data from tooled-up running buddies or measure runs after the event to occasionally test-out where I am up to.

Two years ago I was offering my running experience as an example of how organisations need to look beyond just the number-crunching when thinking about employee well-being or 'happiness at work', because creating a place where people want to show up and feel able to do their best is a journey that is about more than measuring quantifiable inputs and outputs to gauge success.

But similar lessons apply when we set goals for ourselves. It's important to have an idea of what success will be like when we start. I am a massive fan when thinking about goals of using the PESEO process I came to through NLP, where we test if the goal has: Positivity; Ecology - we would take it if we were given it; Specificity - how, when, where, with whom; Evidence - how will we know if we have it; and is in our Own Control.

We should though consider that evidence test in the broadest sense, not just in terms of an identifiable output. It could be a feeling, an experience, something we are hearing or we are saying. We should consider also that there is value in the process of getting to the goal and what we learn along the way, or indeed of not getting to the goal either because it turns out to be somehow unachievable or undesirable.

We need to be person-centred in our own goal setting, allowing ourselves to really listen to ourselves, consider and articulate what it is that matters to us in achieving a goal if it is going to give us a meaningful purpose. It is that meaningful purpose that will sustain us on the journey as we learn and navigate the inevitable diversions, will give us strength when as someone said on Monday, "we need to start thinking of the obstacles as the journey."

For me this is a timely reminder. Now that I am committed to a longer running distance (thanks @stevenbuckley) I need to really think about what the purpose of that is for me. What I have learnt from my recent efforts is that finishing the event, or the time it takes me are potentially not the evidence that give me a sense of achievement. I will be investing my time in thinking about, "what is it that I want to have happen?" And, "that will be like what?"

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Happen Together CIC

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