23rd September 2014

By Michael Martin

I hear a lot about goals. Goals such as: competing in an event; aiming for a certain time; focusing on a specific distance. Even when I ask athletes what they want to be remembered for, they usually respond with an answer about their goals. Goals are good, but there is something better, something that will get you out of bed on a cold winter’s morning and something that will keep you going long after you feel like quitting. That ‘little something’ will also lead to greater satisfaction with your sporting performance. That ‘little something’ is values.

Adding values to the equation
Values are the directions that you want to head in life, whereas goals are things you want to achieve. I want to do the Shark Island swim again this year. That's a goal. But being “an energised and active dad for my kids” is a value. You know which one is going to get me out of bed at 5.30am to get to the pool in the middle of winter?

Values are like a compass. A compass gives you direction and keeps you on track when you’re travelling. Values do that for your sporting journey, too. You may really value “feeling positive and alive” when you train. So when you act on that value, it’s like heading west: no matter how far you go you’ll never get there. There’s always further to go, and that's a good thing.

Achieving your goals

Goals are akin to the things you try to achieve on the journey; they are like the mountains you want to climb or the places you want to stop off at and explore while you keep travelling west.

If you want to finish the Gold Coast Marathon, or drop 5kg or run a sub-40minute 10km, then they are goals. And once you've achieved them, it’s “mission accomplished”. But being “lean, strong and energised” or “making healthy choices when I eat” are values. They are about how you want to be, how you want to act and what matters to you. They’re not about what you have to do.

Empower yourself
Your values are far more empowering for you than goals because they’re always available to you. In any moment you can act on your values, or neglect them – it’s your choice. But that’s not the case for goals. You can’t guarantee you’ll ever run a sub-40 10km, but at any moment we can act on our values of being “lean, strong and energised”

Let me hammer this point home. It’s like the contrast between “getting married” and “being loving”. If you want to be loving and caring, well that’s a value. It’s ongoing and you want to act like that for the rest of your life. And in any moment you can choose to act on that value or neglect it. Getting married: that's a goal. It’s something to be completed, “crossed off the list”.
You snooze, you lose

Now you can’t guarantee that you’ll ever achieve your goal of marriage, but you can always act on the value of being “loving and caring” even if you don't have a partner.

Ask yourself the question: what’s important to you about your training? What sort of personal strengths and qualities do you want to cultivate when you train? What do you want to stand for in your sporting life? Answer these questions and you’ll be bouncing out of bed with a spring in your step even on the coldest mornings.

Dr Michael Martin is a sports psychologist. For more insights, tips, tricks and strategies to improve your mental toughness on and off the field, visit