Goal-Setting Like An Olympian

What do you want to accomplish? What are you goals?

And what are you doing—each year, each season, each week, each moment—to get there?

If your vision of success is much clearer than your roadmap, I’ve got good news: by implementing a few simple and pro-athlete proven strategies, you’ll gain some ground on your dreams without expending any more effort than you do now.

Three of the Black Lab Sports Pro Advisors: Ben Collins, Chloe Sutton, and Vicki Galasso

I invite you into the minds of three of our awesome Black Lab Sports Pro Advisors, whose accomplishments are due in part to effective goal-setting and -monitoring techniques: professional triathlete Ben Collins, two-time Olympic swimmer Chloe Sutton, an elite softball player and coach Vicky Galasso. Though none of their approaches are identical (nor should any of ours be), together they offer ten tips that athletes, entrepreneurs, and investors can use to set appropriate goals and posture ourselves for success:

  1. Set goals that you care about: How much harder do we work when the outcome is meaningful or the process gratifying? “For a goal to be effective,” Ben Collins says, “it has to make your heart sing. Without that emotional component you won't be willing to put in the effort that is required to accomplish a stretch goal.”

  2. Keep it personal: As Chloe Sutton advises, “Keep your goals in your lane! Don’t base your goals off of what anybody else is doing.” Each person is on a unique path, and it’s neither fair nor fun to veer too far off yours for the sake of comparison or squeezing into a perceived mold.

  3. Aim high: Also known as reach goals or A goals, Sutton calls them “dream goals” and Vicky Galasso refers to “top-shelf goals.” Whatever you call them, they’re aspirations that require you, as Galasso puts it, “to be on your tippy-toes, reaching as high as you possibly can, and maybe jumping to get to it.” A classic example is making the Olympic team.

  4. Be realistic: While a noble pursuit, however, many of us are not Olympic-caliber, no matter how hard we work and how much potential we have. For this reason, Collins encourages us to be honest with ourselves and set “goals that are a stretch, but achievable… It's best for mental health if you actually reach your goals now and then.” No matter how unflappable we think we are, we all need the occasional win!

  5. Be concrete: Like many effective goal-setters in athletics and business, Galasso treats her goals objectively; each one must be measurable and have a timeline. The more specific we are about what exactly we want to achieve and when, the better our chances are of putting in the work that’s required. Here at Black Lab Sports, we use the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) system, a method of defining and tracking goals both on the individual and company level.

  6. Mind the details: Along with the larger goals, Sutton lays out a number of micro-goals. Her favorite type and the ones “that separate out the good from the great.” She encourages us to focus on one to three sub-goals to help orient our daily training, and to connect us to our sometimes distant end goal. For swimmers like her, these can be “splits, technique, diet, sleep, dryland, or mindset based goals so that you start each day with intention and end each day with a feeling that you got everything out of the day that you possibly could.”

  7. Plant reminders: Once Galasso chooses her goals, she puts them on paper and posts them everywhere: “not just in my journal which sits closed on my nightstand for most of the day, but on my mirror on a sticky-note, or on my mirror in my car, at my desk… wherever you see them a LOT, put them there.”

  8. Make yourself accountable: Just as it can help to have a team, coach, or training partner who counts on you to show up, it can also be beneficial to involve others in your goal-setting process, even if just for emotional support. Galasso vocalizes her objectives to others “because something about saying that impossible goal out loud, or in front of other people, makes you work that much harder to achieve it. Using the power of other people to help keep you accountable, yet be encouraging to you when you feel like quitting I believe is the best way to achieve goals.”

  9. Positivity above all: It’s important to pursue goals that are empowering, uplifting, and exciting, rather than ones that have a negative slant (such as not getting knocked out in the semis, or never running above a three-hour marathon). Sutton illustrates this point nicely: “If I tell you to focus on not false starting, what are you picturing? Your brain doesn’t pay attention to the word ‘don’t’ or ‘no’ so you picture yourself false starting.” A far better strategy is to spin your goal into a positive and see just how far you can take it.

  10. Enjoy the journey: For many of us, this one is difficult. But if we’re not enjoying the process of working, sweating, growing, and striving, then what’s the purpose? I’ll end with a quote from Ursula K. Le Guin—one of Collins’ favorites—that captures the process-oriented mindset: "It's important to have an end to journey towards, but it's the journey that matters in the end."


Special thanks to Ben, Vicky, and Chloe for sharing their goal-setting strategies and experiences with me and the Black Lab Sports network. To learn more about two of these awesome athletes, visit http://bencollins.org/ and http://chloesutton.com/.