This Sunday, January 26th, is the Welsh Championships. This also marks the start of my indoor season, my first indoor season since 2010 (wow! when I say these numbers out loud it make me sound old). I’m pretty excited about this fact. For anyone who follows the blog, or has seen me walking around with my kick-ass tan, you’ll know I’ve just come back from training camp in South Africa. There has been an unforeseen benefit to being away, usually Welsh Champs is at the same track that I train and isn’t usually the greatest competition in terms of atmosphere or actual people to jump against, so it can be difficult to motivate yourself. Being away from the track for a while has got me coming back with real hunger and motivation, which hopefully I can maintain through to Sunday.
Process vs outcome
So how do you mentally approach a competition? You’ve done all your training, you basically know what kind of shape you’re in, so what should your thought process be as you approach these early season meets?
Athletics seems to attract people who like to run their mouth, and tell you what they’re going to do (I think this is partly to do with it being an individual sport and not having team mates who will keep your ego in check with constant piss-taking). But athletics is also the most quantifiable sport going, so after the fact, there’s no hiding behind excuses, you’re as good as the time or distance you put down. Ultimately, your opponents will actually have very little affect on how you compete and the mark you put down, so how do you make sure you leave your performance on the track?
Lets go back to the mouthy douche who tells you he’s going to run a 6.7 60m time. He is verbally expressing what he is trying to achieve, verbally goal setting if you will. However, his goal is an outcome goal, this is what he wants to achieve, but there are a huge amount of variables which haven’t been considered which he would be better off focussing on. In training he may have been working on not pooping up out of the blocks, or staying down during the transition phase. Focussing on one of these and trying to execute this during the race would give him a process goal, something much more tangible to achieve with fewer attached variables, and thus more achievable.
Outcome goals are fine if you achieve them, you just set a higher target for your next race and keep on going. But if you don’t, it can leave athletes with a sense of powerlessness, why didn’t they run the time? what do they need to different next time? what should they change? By setting process goals you have an achievable aim which will allow you to execute in the optimal way and will probably result in a better outcome anyway. By achieving your process goal you also set up a positive mindset going into your next competition.
A non-athletics example
This process can be used for anything in life really. Lets take a theoretical sexist example of a woman who wants to get married. She currently has no boyfriend but wants the fairy tale ending, the outcome goal would be to get married and have kids. If she focusses just on that, how will she ever achieve it? She needs to break it down into process goals.
Initially she may decide to lose some weight and get in shape to be more attractive (men are attracted to what they see, so women wear make-up, push-up bras, high heels etc. women are attracted to what they hear, so men lie, fact!). She may start doing activities which put her in an environment where she is more likely to attract eligible guys, this would be another process goal which could lead to a boyfriend.
The outcome goal still hasn’t been achieved yet, so the next process goal may be to hide her craziness during the initial stages of dating until the guy likes her enough that he won’t run when he sees the real her. This will carry on to the point where she achieves her outcome goal.
Back to athletics
Clearly we’d ideally like to achieve the ‘flow state’ during performance, where thinking goes out the window and everything seem easy and effortless. Worrying about an outcome won’t help this, and a smaller focus such as a realistic process goal may be a step towards this. Personally with my over-thinking approach to everything I have to use every trick I can to ease my brain towards the best state for performing optimally.
I go back to my previous mentioned “control the controllables”, the process is the controllable aspect of performance, the outcome is exactly that, a result of the process.