It’s all in the mind: 5 ways to mentally prepare yourself to achieve any goal


    With #MySummerGoal we’re encouraging you to set (and achieve) an activity goal by September. Cyclist Emily Chappell explains how to mentally prepare for success, whatever your goal

    All goals begin in our heads: as dreams, wishes and ambitions. We dream of completing challenges we’re not sure we’re capable of. We wish we could find the time to live a healthier or more active lifestyle and we hold certain targets in mind without being completely sure we’ll ever reach them.

    Many people set themselves goals as a practical strategy of working towards these targets – of turning their dreams into reality. But not everyone realises that the process of working towards a goal is just as much mental as it is physical.

    1. Consider the big and small picture

    “You can’t meet a challenge by winging it!” explains Holly Seear, a professional coach with more than a decade of experience. “Lots of people wake up, see what the weather is doing and then decide how to train that day, but this is far from productive. A clear set of goals and a structured plan give you the best chance of success.”

    To keep your motivation up, Seear recommends setting a variety of goals, and breaking them down into long-term and short-term targets. It’s important to differentiate between:

    • Outcome goals – these tend to be our main aims, whether we’re hoping to improve our marathon time, cycle to work every day or learn to swim unaided.
    • Process goals – these are the stepping stones towards our outcome goals: smaller intermediate targets to help us improve our strength, stamina, speed, technical skills or mental resilience.

    If you choose an outcome goal, think about what targets you can set as the stepping stones to get you there.

    2. Be realistic

    You may surprise yourself, so don’t set the bar too low. On the other hand, if your goal is too far ahead of your current abilities, you could lose motivation, or end up over-training and injuring yourself.

    Professional endurance coach John Hampshire recommends having a manageable target and a more ambitious stretch target that you can continue to aim for if you attain the first one.

    Hampshire cautions his clients not to underestimate the demands of fitting a training plan into an already busy schedule. Even if you physically have it in you to hit your target, the demands of your family, job and other commitments might mean that it’s impossible to commit enough time and energy.

    3. Feel the fear and do it anyway

    Fear is often one of the biggest barriers to fulfilling our ambitions, so it stands to reason that courage – and boldness – could be one of our greatest strengths, whether it’s your first mile or your millionth. Cyclist and sports journalist Andy Waterman has set himself the ambitious goal of completing his first marathon in 2 hours 45 minutes.

    “I’m not entirely sure how possible it is,” he says. “But I feel I need to be ambitious to keep me fired up for the months that I’ll be training.”

    Scott Reynolds, a regular parkrunner, says his first experience of running was extremely difficult. “I took up running because I was so out of shape and knew my body and fitness needed a drastic change,” he says. “I started by running a few times around the block and my lungs were burning. But I overcame the fear, deciding to download an app to track my progress and head to Bournemouth beachfront to run 3.5 miles. Even though it was painful, I had a burning impulse to continue.

    “I knew I had to set some running goals to feel like I was achieving something, and before I knew it I was entering myself into 10ks, half-marathons and was a regular at my local 5k parkrun on a Saturday morning. I pushed myself to attend and now I can’t imagine my life without running.”

    4. Be true to your passions

    Performance psychologist Dr Josephine Perry suggests you make your goal something that excites you – a principle that applies just as much to the amateur as it does to an elite sportsman or woman. “What makes you passionate? Motivation will come from that passion. What will make you get out of bed to train at 5am on a cold, wet and windy morning?”

    And Seear reminds her clients to make sure that their goals are their own – not something they feel they ‘should’ do, or achieve. “When the going gets tough – as it always will – it’s much harder to persevere if you realise that reaching this goal is something you didn’t even want to do in the first place.”

    5. Think about how you’ll deal with setbacks

    “In some ways I actually go searching for failures – it’s one of my goals,” says Robbie Britton, who is currently ranked third in the world for 24-hour ultra-marathon running. “Without finding out your breaking points, you can’t really discover what you’re truly capable of.”

    Life can be unpredictable, and unexpected events such as illness, bad weather, family emergencies and injuries can play havoc with even the most carefully written training plan.

    “Accepting that things will not go perfectly to plan is vitally important,” cautions endurance coach John Hampshire, who advises a degree of flexibility in how you approach your goals. “If things go wrong, keep your overall target in mind, accept the inevitable and get your training back on course – you’ll thank yourself when you’re crossing the finish line!”