Big goals, small goals, SMART goals.

ultramarathon running and goal setting

Setting big goals is a great way of motivating yourself. But you need to think about scale and do-ability: you don’t want to set goals that are too big. If your goals are so grand and huge that there is little possibility of ever achieving them, you risk setting yourself up for failure.

Small goals are good, too: where you know it’s something you are capable of doing, and the challenge is more just having the discipline to actually do them. And then big goals are for when you really want to challenge yourself: maybe with the aim of improving yourself somehow, or attaining a new skill or ability.

There is a fine balance when setting life goals, so that they are helpful to you rather than harmful. A good goal needs to be hard enough to achieve that succeeding at it is meaningful. For example, there’s no point setting a goal to run a 10k race if you run 10ks all the time.

That’s what my Juan de Fuca expedition run is about. Its enough of a challenge that it’s not a “sure thing” – that I know I can just go and complete it. But it’s doable, provided that I work hard, and train my body and prepare for it over these coming months.

One system for goal-setting that I find useful is the SMART acronym:

The SMART acronym is a great system for defining goals – whether in the sporting world, like my upcoming run, or in other aspects of your life, like upgrading work skills or improving a relationship. Here it is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

And this is how I apply the SMART acronym to my goal of running the 47 km Juan de Fuca Trail in a single day:

Specific: This means that you very precisely define what you intend to do. For example, if your goal is to save for retirement, that is not very specific. But if your goal is to put $5,000 into your retirement fund by December 31, that is specific. My goal is very specific: run the 47 km trail in one day! I’ve specified exactly what my challenge is, what I intend to do.

Measurable: Measurable means that there is some sort of marker so you can tell whether you achieved it or not. In the retirement savings example, you can tell: the $5000 is there in your savings account or it’s not. My goal, being a run of a specific length with a time constraint (within one day) is definitely measurable.

Achievable: This one is a bit harder. You don’t always know that a goal is achievable. Maybe you are not sure you can afford to put away that $5000, but you will still be OK if you save $4000. I don’t know for sure that this run is achievable for me given my current health issues (mainly my knee) – but I have done runs like this in the past, and I know what it takes.

Realistic: Some goals might be “achievable” yet still unrealistic. For example, it is probably “achievable” for many people to run their first marathon provided they train properly – but maybe it is unrealistic that they have that amount of time to train. I have a lot of alternate ways to train for this expedition run (not just running – I also need to avoid further injury!) which I think is realistic for me to do.

Time factor: This part is the “test” – where you put in some timeline you need to achieve your goal by. If I say I’m going to run Juan de Fuca or save $5000 – but I don’t say “by when” – well, it’s not much of a goal. So here is my time factor, or deadline. My Plan A is to run it the last week of week (exact date TBD according to weather) – and if something beyond my control (e.g. COVID or route closures) Plan B is mid-summer.

So there you go! The SMART system for goal-setting does not only apply to running or sporting goals. You can apply it to almost any goal or challenge you set yourself: it helps you define your challenge and it holds you accountable.

My Keep it Moving solo expedition run is set to take place in late May, and the short film will be released towards the end of 2021. Find out more by exploring this site, or by signing up for updates here – I will never spam you or share your info!

Published by Jacqueline Windh

I'm a writer, photographer, and radio broadcaster who is concerned about our planet and how we live our lives - hoping my work helps people to find new ways of thinking about issues such as personal health, wilderness, the environment, food security, thinking about the future. These things are all connected, you know...

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