July on the fly: how can we set our selves up for success when we set goals?

Hello boys and girls! I hope all of you Americans had a nice time celebrating Independence Day this past Friday. I declared my independence with a fun bike ride along the shore of Lake Washington, featuring some patriotic ProCompression.


It felt good to be back in the bike saddle for a long ride. I really haven’t done very many tours since my old bike was stolen in February. I’ve been using my new bike, Velox, to commute every day, but the purpose of those rides is to get to work in a timely manner. It is MUCH more fun to set out on an adventure where the only goal is to propel yourself forward with your pedals and explore.

photo 1
Powered by pedals, and patriotism

photo 2

I like to take the beginning of the month to look back on what I’ve gotten done in the past thirty days, and set some goals for the coming lunar cycle. June was a wild month in marathonsam-land: my mom had neurosurgery, I ran a half marathon (without much preparation), I went camping (almost…sort of…we tried, OK), and I tried to confront my deep and deeply irrational fear of public transportation (OK, I didn’t try very hard).

I also made a LOT of bananphone calls

I did set some goals for June. However, I am beginning to understand that I need to tweak my goal-setting strategies if I ever hope to have any degree of success. Self-improvement gurus from Tulsa to Timbuktu agree that highly functional human beings set SMART goals.


S.M.A.R.T. stands for




Results-Oriented and Rewarding


“I want to drop 10 minutes from my marathon time at my next race” is a SMART goal for marathonsam- highly specific, easy to measure, hopefully realistic, and extremely personally rewarding.

No better feeling than crossing a finish line

“I want to write and publish a review article about the molecular mechanisms facilitating adaptive evolution in bacteria by the end of 2015” is another SMART goal.

Fly little DNA space-ships, FLY

“I want to be the running king of Twitter” is a VAPID goal, for me.

Dear World: Sorry about this one
Like this, but with more spandex and anti-chafe cream

I’m not hating on Twitter: I love social media! Follow me! But setting myself the goal of becoming Twitter’s merry-monarch in Mizunos is setting myself up for failure and diasppointment. VAPID goals are: Vague, Aimless , Personally-unfufilling, and Ill-Defined. I didn’t see anyone contending for “running king of twitter” on my last mail-in ballot. Even that WAS a real position, do I even want to be Twitter’s running king? What would my responsibilities be?  How can you issue edicts in 140 characters or less?

At least I have a SOLID energy policy in place for The People’s Monarchy of Twitter

I’m torturing this allegory to make a point: the way that you go about setting goals for yourself can hugely impact your success in achieving those goals. Ambitious, yet attainable goals with easy-to-measure benchmarks are encouraging when you make progress. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Additionally, before setting yourself on a conquest, contemplate your own personal reasons for pursuing your desired result.

Motivation can be either instrumental or internal. Internal motivation, as the name implies, comes from within: the simple pleasure of doing a task well. Instrumental motivation is external: the recognition and associated rewards associated with performing a task at a high level. Running gives me joy: my favorite way to start the day is with an early morning run-rise.


Racing gives me an ego boost when I cross the finish line, collect my medal (and banana), and check my time to see if my hard work and training has paid off.

photo 1-9
And then I can get an ego-boost later and play dress up

Running, gives me a nice balance of instrumental and internal motivating forces. Similarly: I enjoy blogging because writing relaxes me and genuinely like sharing my thoughts. I’d be lying through my teeth if I claimed not to get a humungous surge of dopamine every time I checked my page-view statistics.

9 views! Heck YES
9 views! Heck YES…I’m no better than a slot-machine player. And no richer for it.

It’s important that your goals give you some external  positive reinforcement, but getting caught up in outsiders’ opinions is a fool-proof path to failure. A recent study in PNAS found that, as expected, strongly internally motivated (presumably by a desire to serve their country) West Point Cadets went on to excel. They found that strongly instrumentally motivated cadets (persons who saw officer training as a sure-fire path to status and high salaries) tended to have a lesser degree of success. Surprisingly, they found that those who enrolled in West Point with a strong mix of both motivations performed worse than  people who were solely internally motivated (read a nice summary by the authors, here). The negative influence of instrumental motivation actually overshadowed the internal reserves for the group that these authors studied.

I’ve posted before about being process-driven rather than results oriented. What I’m taking away from this study is that it is good to get positive re-informcement, but it is important to remain true to yourself. Don’t let other peoples’ opinions about what you are doing let you forget why you started doing something in the first place. Set goals that are optimistic without being completely overwhelming. Incremental progress is still progress, and should be celebrated for it’s innate value. You don’t have to be the best AT doing something, as long as you give your best WHILE you are doing it.

photo 3
Do what you like to do, and do it well. Everyone else can take a flying leap

So, with all of that said. Here’s what my goals for June were, and how I did.

1) Settle in to a solid strength training regimen. 


I didn’t lift weights a single time after I posted that goal. I have been doing some core work on my own. I’m trying to do 50 push ups per day the entire month of July as part of an online challenge.

photo 4
I’ll jump at ANY excuse to take more selfies

I may or may not have done  a Jillian Michaels work-out video at work recently, while I was waiting for one of my big-giant gels to run on a saturday.

They take a while...Jillian is INTENSE
They take a while…Jillian now frightens me more than radiation

None of these are the building blocks of a solid or consistent routine. F minus.

2) Re-submit my manuscript. 

This paper has been a long series of triumphs, tragedies and frustration. I’ve been writing all weekend. We’re (fingers crossed) going to hit it, submit it and quit it on Monday.

3) Keep my yard in order. 

I give myself an A plus.

photo 3-6

4) Turn this blog into…something

Wow, Sam. What a specific and measurable goal you have set for yourself….I can’t even grade myself on this one, because the parameters were so ill-defined. I guess this blog is, and continues to be a “thing” in the sense that it exists. I give myself a grade of “HB.”


5) Keep in touch with my friends

We went camping! Nailed it.


My goals for July (which I am trying to make SMART) are:

1) Ride the Lake Washington Loop on my bike.

2) See live music twice.

3) Make three professional connections at the conference I’m going to at the end of the month. 

4) Read one novel

5) Select a goal race for the fall, and start a formal training program.

Thanks for reading! Those are my goals for this month! What are YOURS?

6 thoughts on “July on the fly: how can we set our selves up for success when we set goals?

Add yours

  1. I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about the ill-defined, honey buckaliscious goal of turning the blog into…something. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for SMART goals. But then again, when you are just getting started on something (or just moving into a new phase with something), SMART goals are elusive. Sometimes you just need to keep chugging along down the trail and see what turns up. Do a little wandering..


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