Goals are a great way to motivate myself. But I've found that some goals are so ambitious (e.g., complete my first marathon) or devoid of metrics that indicate my progress (e.g., learn to swim --- rather than swim 400 yards without stopping) that they overwhelm me. So I quit before I even start.
But if I break the overarching goal into mini-goals over a weekly or daily basis, I am much more likely to achieve them. For example, if I were training for a marathon, I might set the following goals for the upcoming week:
- Strength train 30 minutes, twice during week, but not on consecutive days.
- Hill repeats (7x3 minutes long; rest interval: 3 minutes), once during the week.
- Tempo run (45 minutes) once, but not the day after hill repeats.
- Long run (1.5 hours) over the weekend.
- Short, easy run (30 minutes), once.
- Cross training workout #1, cycling, 2 hours.
- Cross training workout #2, swimming, 1 hour.
- One rest day
I make sure that over the entire period during which I'm training for the marathon that my weekly workout goals are aligned with the overarching goal of being able to run 26.2 miles.
If I have a particularly busy week, I might allocate these goals to specific days so that I make time for them. Also, I am less likely to break my rules of not doing some activities on consecutive days (e.g., doing strength training on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday), if I've planned the entire week in advance.
However, I do like the flexibility of being able to pick and choose when I do these activities so that I can deal with unplanned events that happen in life. For instance, a work emergency might prevent me from getting in a long cycling workout today. A flexible schedule would allow me to switch cycling to another day and choose a shorter workout for today. Over the course of the week, I am happy because I achieve my goals despite not planning exactly when I do all the activities.
But most importantly, the flexibility allows me to listen to my body and accommodate my workout plan to how I feel. So if I'm tired, I'll choose not to do hill repeats because I may not complete them or I won't be able to do them at the intensity I'd like. Instead, I'd do an easy cross-training workout and allow my body to recover so that I can do the hill repeats the next day.