The Importance of Process Goals
Staying focused on the process and engaged during uncertain times
Early on in this pandemic we all knew our lives were about to be turned upside down. With life schedules in disarray we were immediately thrown into a situation where there was a lack of routine. If your job was not essential you were either working from home, furloughed, or your job was eliminated. If you were essential, you were pulling double duty and the weight of the world on your shoulders. Kids were out of school and attempting online learning and parents were doing the best they could to juggle homeschooling with other responsibilities.
As a parent I know that children thrive on structure and adults are no different. In those early weeks I saw some athletes turn to exercise with a heightened focus, but for most their daily training regime fell down on the priority list. I encouraged my athletes to keep exercise as a way to keep routine and consistency in their lives. With so much uncertainty, training could at least be one thing that was certain. Structured exercise can be an amazing coping mechanism.
Focus on the process
Next, all early season races were cancelled. As competitive athletes’ races guide us in our training, give us something to look forward to, and motivate us for those early morning workouts or hard interval sets. Without a race nearby on the calendar I saw some lose focus and motivation and some even ask, what’s the point? Now more than ever it is critical to become engaged in the process, to realize that the workouts themselves should be the focal point. Most people get the priorities backwards when it comes to goal setting. They focus on outcome goals, then performance goals, then process goals. I say the hierarchy of goal setting should be process goals first, performance goals second, and outcome goals last. What are you doing today to become a better version of yourself tomorrow?
Grit is forged through adversity
From an athlete’s perspective, my initial feelings were similar to the way I felt after an injury. During my comebacks from each one of my five knee surgeries, it was imperative that I stayed focused on what I CAN do, not what I can’t. It is the only way to move forward. Your pool and gym were, and probably still are closed, and some have even been forced to train 100% inside at home. Look for hidden opportunities to shore up weaknesses, establish new routines, or to improve your mental strength. One person I work with was on an official quarantine upon returning to Alaska and we did a series of strength workouts on Zoom all with nothing more than body weight and a 1.5-gallon container of laundry detergent. We called them prison cell workouts. Stay focused on what you CAN do.
Create your own challenge
Without races some have turned to some virtual competitions to keep the interest and the social component, but for others technology and social media are a turnoff. Regardless of your motivation, I think it is important to come up with your own personal challenges. I always say that races are the reward, but now we need a different reward system. Now is the time to do that workout you always wanted to try, that epic bike loop, or challenging running route, but races always got in the way. Also keep in mind that no challenge is too small. It might be a local Strava segment going for your best time, or completing your own half marathon at home. The performance-based challenges should be taken for what they are worth. They are just an indicator of your fitness level on that day. Try to stay focused on comparing your performance data to yourself and not others. In some cases you might surprise yourself and in other cases it might be a wakeup call. Remember that failure is learning. If you come up short on a time trial, don’t flood your mind with excuses, but take a step back and try to apply that new information to your commitment moving forward.
You may have realized that the reasons you initially got into triathlon may be different than your source of motivation now. It might have been as simple as trying to lose weight, improve your body image or self-esteem, improve your health, to prove something to yourself or someone else, or to beat that annoying guy down the street. Those reasons change over time. I think it is time for all of us to evolve our mindset. If all of your motivation is extrinsic, then a cancelled race can be a huge blow. But if you dig a little deeper you will realize that health, fitness, performance, and becoming a better version of yourself can all occur with or without a race.
Training and racing are an important part of our lives. For me it is the lens through which I see the world. I really miss racing and I’m sure you do too. For now, stay engaged in the process, sprinkle in some structure but leave room for fun. Maybe you don’t need to empty the tank as often but don’t get too comfortable either. Know that the races will return and when they do we will all approach them with a much bigger sense of gratitude.