A Mindful Approach to Goal-Setting

Editor's note: This is a guest post by David Chung, an ultra-runner, mindfulness coach and Coached advisor.

Editor's note: This is a guest post by David Chung, an ultra-runner, mindfulness coach and Coached advisor.

Unlock the final obstacle to achieving all you can be this year: Your Mind.

That New Year's Resolution Syndrome

We’ve all been there; at the start of a new year, setting resolutions and life goals with the best intentions, seeing a better version of ourselves by year’s end.

Yet, so often many of these resolutions fall by the wayside within just a few weeks. “Better luck next year,” we tell ourselves, and go back to old habits.  

We know that these goals and resolutions are for our own good. It’s logical that more exercise, eating less, sleeping better just makes sense.

So why then do we find it so hard to follow-through on them? Perhaps our heart’s not fully in it? Or is it a lack of motivation?    

Our lives are secretly steered by our subconscious.

Our lives are secretly steered by our subconscious.

The Mysteriously (Un)Motivated Brain

If you think of motivation as an iceberg, the logical, cognitive reasons that form our conscious thought akin to the top of the iceberg - that little tip that peeks above the surface.

What truly drives us though, is something larger, and mostly unperceived. Our subconscious mind, which is the much larger main mass of the iceberg, lies hidden beneath the surface of the water, and is a far more powerful force.

To give you a sense of what I mean, picture your mind as a computer. Your conscious mind has the processing power of 7 bits per second. In comparison, your subconscious mind has the processing power of 11 million bits per second!

Although your conscious mind sets a goal in one direction, your subconscious fears or biases (that you may not even be aware of) may pull in the other direction. It’s not difficult to guess which side will win this tug-of-war.

Taking time to unravel the true source of motivation is worth the investment.

Taking time to unravel the true source of motivation is worth the investment.

f you want to be in the best state to maintain the course on that fresh set of goals and resolutions this year, make sure you align your conscious and subconscious motivation to pull in the same direction.

You Have To Find The Purpose In It

Over the holidays, I read this story about a man who shed 90kg over three years. One of the things he said really resonated with me.

"You don’t lose weight by following a two to three month programme and forgetting about it after that... If you’re serious about being healthy, you have to find the purpose in it, and have to go after it.”

A fundamental and powerful truth.

I invite you to reflect back on your past year in training and racing — Coach Ben’s blog on  “Planning your racing schedule for success” has useful tips — and as you do so:

  • Reflect on what excited and motivated you most.
  • Recall the mindset and attitude you had, and how it impacted your season last year.
  • Spend a few moments to tune into what’s intrinsically important to you, consciously and subconsciously.

If you’re like many who benefit from this exercise, you’ll start to notice patterns emerge from your reflection about yourself. You’ll begin to be aware of that push & pull between your conscious and subconscious mind.

With that, you can set the right goals and increase your likelihood of being happy and successful. Clear goals, energised from within, will naturally steer and guide you in your 2017 season and race planning.

Having the right goals will help you stay focused on making the right choices towards achieving them.

Clarity, awareness, focus: your ingredients to making every step count.

Clarity, awareness, focus: your ingredients to making every step count.

We can train ourselves to be more aware and focused; to be more mindful. And researchers found that "as mindfulness increases, that link between motivation and physical activity became stronger and stronger. 

Mindfulness seemed to be activating participants’ intentions, and helping translate them into action."

Mindfully Stay On Track

Constantly monitor and stay aware of whether you’re still on the right track:

  • Are your training and racing decisions moving you towards your goals?
  • Or adding risks & potential roadblocks?
  • Are you making progress? Do you need to make adjustments?

Here’s a personal example. To make sure that I have a chance of running the 170km Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) next year, I needed to patiently train and avoid injuries so that I could finish a sufficient number of qualifying races this year to earn enough points to enter the race entry ballot.

I’ve made silly mistakes like unmindfully doing a training run harder than I should, and straining my hamstrings just a couple weeks before a qualifying race.

But, when I was more mindful, I was able to resist the urge to join my friends for additional races that could have tired me out and jeopardised my ultimate goal.

Here’s the lesson I learnt: Manage your attention, in order to make the choices and take the actions that move you closer to your goals.

Here’s how I work on managing my attention every day:

  • Focus on executing to your plan; the outcome will take care of itself.
  • Focus on the process; make adjustments to your season and training plans when needed.
  • Focus on what you can control, then let go of what you can't.

After completing 2 of my 3 UTMB-qualifying races last year plus another ‘B’ priority race, my body was feeling a bit fatigued and I could sense some symptoms of potential overtraining.

So, I retested my training heart rate zones and scaled back the training intensity for my 3rd UTMB-qualifying race. My patience paid off and I managed to finish that race and collect all the points I needed for UTMB (yay!)

The story’s not over just yet; these points only get me into the ballot and I still have to depend on the luck of the draw (I have ~40% chance), so I just have to relax, let go of expectations and not plan too far ahead. (But, by the time this blog comes out, the results of the ballot should be out!)

Training a Mindful Mind

You can train your mind to be more aware and focused starting with just 10 minutes of mindfulness training a day:  

  1. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  2. Find a quiet environment and sit comfortably in a stable position, with your head, neck and back aligned in a straight line.

    You want to be relaxed, yet alert. Close your eyes (to remove visual distractions) or just rest your gaze a few feet in front of you not focusing on anything in particular.
  3. Take a few long deep breaths and notice where you feel your breath — the air passing through your nostrils or back of your throat? The rise and fall of your belly?

    Don’t intentionally try to lengthen or change anything about your breath; just follow it’s natural rhythm. Place your attention on your breath, focusing on it all the way as you inhale and exhale. This trains your ability to keep your attention on what you choose to focus on.
  4. After a while you will notice that your mind is no longer solely focused on your breath — you’ve been distracted by a thought, a feeling, or a physical sensation like noise, the cold/heat, etc.

    That’s OK; our mind has a natural tendency to wander and it’s almost impossible to prevent that or to empty our minds. Noticing that your mind has wandered is what's important. Training this ability to notice is what strengthens your awareness.
  5. Once you notice that your focus has been distracted away from your breath, just relax, release that distraction, and return your attention back to your breath.

    Your mind will wander again during the 10 minutes… so, just keep repeating this process: relax, release, return. It’s like doing repetitions of an exercise or a running drill.

There’s more to mindfulness than this, but this 10 minute training is the critical foundation.

Just like your physical training or learning any new skill, regular and consistent training is also the key to mind training.

It may feel difficult at first, but if you keep at it, your mind will adapt to this training and it will come more easily.  

David Chung is a Coached Advisor. Join Coached to learn how to train your mind and body and perform to your potential.