What running a marathon taught me about goal setting in the workplace

What running a marathon taught me about goal setting in the workplace

Three years ago, something happened that changed my life: I enjoyed a run. While this may sound simple, I was not by any means, a runner. In fact, I could not even run 2 miles. Just a few months ago, I ran a full marathon. Through this process, I deepened my understanding of good goal setting practices. This is how it transformed my views of goal setting in the workplace.

  1. Press your limits

    A goal should be something that stretches you in new ways. I started running half marathons two years before my marathon, so while I knew distance running was a realistic goal, I had only run half the distance I’d be required to run for a full marathon. The mere idea of running 26.2 miles terrified me.

    If something is already part of your job description, like bringing in a certain amount in revenue each month, that’s not really a goal. A good professional goal might be to take something you are already required to do and go above and beyond, so aiming for a little more revenue than you are required to bring in. Or better yet, find something that would really challenge you in new ways and make that your goal.

  2. Find support

    Anyone with dedicated running friends knows that runners have a hard time keeping quiet about our race goals. Part of the reason we talk about running so much is the unequivocal support we find in other runners. I know that without the support of my running buddies, I would have stopped short on my distance training runs, skipped some training days, and I might not have even finished the race.

    Look for someone you are not competing against, but someone you are competing with. In my previous sales role, we were all focused on competing against ourselves for our own quotas but it was very motivating when others on the team were succeeding. When you surround yourself with driven people, you will find it will encourage you to be your best. Find someone in your company or in your field and meet with them regularly. Talk about your goals and hold each other accountable.

  3. Plan out the details

    Many runners train by planning how many miles per week they need to run to reach their target. As a full-time graduate student and working full-time, this was not enough for me. Before I even started, I planned which days I was going to run (or rest) and how many miles I would run on each day. This gave me less decisions to make amid a hectic schedule – I only had to decide if I was going to run before or after work.

    Similarly, for your professional goals, schedule out when each part of your goal should be achieved to keep you on track for success. If your goal is to learn new skills for work, map out exactly what needs to be accomplished – taking a college class, completing software tutorials online, talking with people in your industry, doing volunteer work, etc. and then outline exactly when the tasks need to get done. Go as far as blocking off time on your calendar to work on each specific task.

  4. Re-evaluate your schedule

    Marathon training taught me a valuable skill – how to say no. There were only so many hours in the day, and skipping out on my training run was never an option. So, I chose to miss out on social events instead.

    The same needs to happen with your work schedule. You only have 24 hours in a day, so adding more to your (already full) calendar, means that something else needs to be cut. It’s critical you talk with your boss before you rearrange your priorities; it can cause conflict if you are no longer focusing on a project they deem a priority. If your supervisor is not supportive of this goal, you might need to take time outside of work to focus on it.

  5. Listen to your limits

    About halfway through my training, I ran a half marathon and on the 11th mile I pulled my hip. I had to immediately stop and stretch, but I finished the race. After the race, I could barely climb a flight of stairs. I was already signed up to run a marathon a few months later. I had to do something I didn’t plan for – I took more than a week off of my training plan. If I hadn’t taken that extra time to rest, I know I would have been too injured to complete my goal. But I was able to use the 10 days to recover and ease myself back into training so I was able to complete the marathon I signed up for!

    Even the most diligent planners cannot predict unexpected medical issues, layoffs, or family circumstances. When these things happen we need to listen to our limits and re-evaluate our plans. Reworking our goals to fit our circumstances is one way to ensure we complete our goals rather than just abandoning them when we get overwhelmed.

  6. Post goal preparation

    It only took about a week for the excitement to wear off after I completed my marathon. A week. I spent months training, and even cried as I crossed the finish line, but somehow a few days later and I was feeling a little blue. It turns out, feeling sad after reaching a monumental goal is normal. I saw my running buddy combat this feeling by having long term goals.

    If your goal is to get promoted to a higher position at work, it would be helpful for you to think about what your long term goal might be. If your dreams and aspirations are not contained in the 9-5, maybe start to focus on your goals outside of the workplace. Sign up for photography or tap dancing lessons. Where do you want to be in 10-15 years? This can give you focus after you have achieved your goal!