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What to Avoid During Goal Setting

by Will Kirousis MS, CSCS

woman writes in a journal her workout plan in a gym

In my previous article, I discussed creating goals that align with your North Star, the value and/or vision that dictates an entire season of training. Even in this system, good goals are critical to helping you achieve success. Poor goal setting can lead to negative outcomes anywhere from boredom to burnout, from injury to impossibility. There are already plenty of articles that discuss SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound), so I thought it important to note several common goal-setting mistakes):

Often when we set goals, we get excited and fire off goal after goal that comes to mind. This can lead to significant mental fatigue or burnout as we are constantly chasing different targets. A fewmeaningful goals which fit the experience you want will outperform many less meaningful goals!

Often athletes read an article or talk to fellow athletes or coaches and think: “If they’re all doing X, so should I.” These are goals you think you should set, but they’re really goals that are exciting toothers, not you. They won’t help give the performances and experiences you want for yourself.

Goals must be specific so you can have clear boundaries and a clear orientation towards the goal. If they are too broad, it’s hard to work towards the target. For example, what does “I need to eat to support recovery,” truly mean? “I will cover my energy needs by eating an appropriate amount of food per day and snacking on healthy carbohydrate- and protein-rich snacks after workouts,” offers much more direction and clarifies what you’re working on.

Our vision and goals must adapt as information accumulates. Not adjusting will lead to frustration and potentially burnout. After setting goals, check on your progress over time. Are you moving in the right direction? If not, changing something like your approach, timeline, outcome targets or performance targets can help. Be willing to adjust your goals based on what you experience!

Big goals – say a specific IRONMAN finish time – can only be reached by following certain steps and reaching smaller milestones. If that process isn’t followed – say by ignoring things like adequate sleep, good nutrition, good rest/recovery habits, etc. – trouble is coming. Not focusing on the process lowers the odds that that big goal can be reached. Long-term goals help guide you, but progress comes from clarifying what you need to do along the way. There are smaller tasks to complete before reaching the big goal, focus on those!

Coming up with a great goal does not mean you can or should do it now. The bigger the goal (or longer the distance), the more time you need  reach that goal. You must have patience in building up to that goal. Staying patient will result in greater consistency and progress over the long haul. Thus, you’ll be more likely to meet your goal.

Now that you know how to set your goals – and what to avoid in those goals – you can start planning your training calendar for the upcoming season. 
Happy training!

References & Acknowledgements

Thank you to Tyler McMaster for endless discussions regarding the value of a North Star when considering how we can all grow over the long haul.

  • Gilbert W. (2017). Coaching Better Every Season: A Year-Round System For Athlete Development and Program Success. Human Kinetics. Champaign, IL.
  • Rollnick S., Fader J., Breckon J, & Moyers TB. (2020). Coaching Athletes To Be Their Best: Motivational Interviewing in Sports. Guilford Press. NY NY.
  • Williams J. M., Krane V. (2015). Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance, 7th Ed. McGraw Hill, NY. NY.
Will Kirousis has presented and written for national and international organizations on endurance training and has been coaching triathletes and other endurance athletes for over 20 years. He’s been fortunate to help athletes achieve a range of goals, from finishing their first triathlon, to winning age group national and world championships as well as professional national championships. You can learn more about Will at or by following him on twitter @willkirousis.
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