How goal setting can turn you from good to great and improve your confidence


Flicking through the Saturday  papers, I came upon the  “IF I could see me now…” column in theTelegraph.    It was the turn of Sir Chris Hoy to imagine what his younger self would make of him today. 

“I never thought I’d win that many medals…there was no reason even to imagine it – I wasn’t particularly talented. ….  If I did win anything, it would be because I’d worked hard. “  Let’s start with the working hard aspect.

The inspiration of the Bounce Philosophy – hard work not genes

Sir Chris Hoy is a sportsman who has investigated  every way he can  to improve .  He is also aware of the importance of the mental side of sport.  His appeal lies not only in his great modesty but the hope it gives us ordinary mortals (in comprarison!)  For he is a great believer of the “we can all be great if we practice and work at it hard enough” ethos.

This is in tune with Mathew Syed’s  research which forms the basis of his best seller ‘Bounce’  . He explores the true nature of talent and concludes that it comes more from lengthy practice than any ‘talent’ gene.   There are many examples of great sports people who at first glance we might think are plain “genetically talented ” peoplebut on closer inspection we find they have worked the hardest  to reach the top.  This is true in other areas too.  Violinist Vanessa Mae was taken aback when a clinical study showed that it was her phenomenalhours of practice and hard work which accounted for her outstanding  musical accomplishments rather than her being born a musical genius.

 What is indisputable is that you need perseverance and hours and hours of practice.   For his part, Matthew Syed proved that with enough practice you can be world class (which he became in table tennis)   So we can all be exceptional if we put the work in , but how do you remain focussed.  

Goals to get us out of bed

The big question is what motivates these greats to put in the thousands of hours of gruelling practice.  Sir Chris Hoy explains how his coach helped him when he was fifteen. 

“He asked us to write down a long-term, medium- term and short term goal.  I was the only one in the group who wrote that becoming an Olympic champion was my long term goal.  It seemed an innocuous conversation, but it was a massively important evening in my life.”  Basically, you have to have a goal to move towards to inspire you.

What goals shouldn’t be

Unfortunately, goals have become such a cliché that when I talk to my clients about goal setting they either  respond with  horror   “Oh yes – we have done all that to death with HR” (accompanied with  eyes to ceiling gesture)  or for those playing sports professionally, they have heard so much about goal setting that they switch off as it is already filed under “boring”.  This is why it helps to discuss your goals with a coach who understands what motivates you and how they can be used properly.  For goals not only help you improve , theycan also do wonders for  your confidence and focus.

Goals in Sports Psychology

Goal setting is mostly used in sports psychology as a motivational tool.   Goals point you in the right direction and remind you why you are getting up at 6 am on a cold morning to go swimming/running/ training.   For they say “if you do this , you will achieve that”.   They keep you on track, moniter your progress  and if properly thought out, inspire you to do more .  They keep you from going stale and process and training goals can make practising more fun.

Goals help with Confidence and  Focus  too

What is so often missed by coaches is how goals can be used to stop nerves and regain focus in high pressure situations.   I have worked with clients on this area with pleasing results.  If at any point in a competition or game you feel over whelmed,  remind yourself of your goals and even better have a picture of your goal and what you will look like and feel  when you achieve it. 

Your goals are like reasons – they are why you sacrifice things and sometimes put yourself through difficult emotions.  You could also use a cue word like “reasons” to refocus and change your mode of thinking.

Case Studies

When client’s come to me saying that the nerves are ruining their enjoyment ,  I ask them what goals have they had in the past.  We then look at the benefits that playing the sport offer.   For some it can be the employment benefits for a career in sport, others may be keeping fit, or it could be as simple as spending time with their family in a group activity.   When we start focussing on the benefits it allows us to put the irritations and anxiety in perspective ,

Goal Setting for the Best Results and Happiness

Well thought out goals can be as good as your best coach.  Even outside sport, it has been proved that people who write down their goals will achieve more and be happier !.   Self improvement writer Gretchen Ruben found that writing down goals and an action  plan contributed more to her happiness than any other past time/habit that she tried in her 12 month investigation into Happiness.  Forget lounging on beaches and acquiring things,  they only give you temporary please. The brain is goal seeking and challenge orientated which is why we are at happiest when we are in a state of flow ie doing and achieving.   Now where is that pen and paper !!!


I will be doing articles on How to Set great  goals in the next few weeks.   

See The Happiness Project: Gretchen Ruben Harper paperbacks)    ‘If I could see me now’ article appeared in the Saturday Telegraph on 20th Sept 2016, Weekend section.