4 Goal-Setting Secrets to Success

Olympic medalist Meb Keflezighi shares his top tips for checking your goals off your list.

February 16, 2016
man running at sunset

Meb Keflezighi did it again. Just when you thought the most humble athlete was at the peak of his game, he accomplished yet another incredible goal.

Over the weekend, Meb finished second in the Olympic Marathon Trials, finishing in 2:12:20 and only a little more than a minute behind the 29-year-old winner Galen Rupp. At 40 years old, Meb qualified for his fourth Olympic team, set a new American Masters record, and became the oldest American to qualify for the Olympic marathon.


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To put this into perspective: Meb has consistently run at peak performance for over 16 years. How does he do it? Goals.

As the athlete explains, preparing to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Olympics is no easy feat.

"I never would have won the Boston and New York City Marathons, plus an Olympic silver medal, without setting the goals to do so," Meb writes in his book, Meb for Mortals"I might have occasionally run a good race if setting goals wasn't a key part of my approach, but I wouldn't have been able to regularly beat some of the best runners in the world. Everything that I've achieved physically in running started psychologically, with the simple thought, 'I want to do this.'"

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Running, he explains, comes down to personal records and goal setting. 

"Let's face it, it's not the world's easiest sport," he admits. "Goals help you maintain the consistency that's so important to succeeding as a runner. Goals also help you experience the special joy that comes from not giving in, from pushing through discomfort to accomplish something that's meaningful to you."

If you're ready to tackle the excitement and goal setting, start with these important facets. Every goal, whether it's running-related or not, should follow these essential steps:


1. A good goal has personal meaning
Nobody ever told me, "You have to win the 2014 Boston Marathon" or "You have to make the 2012 Olympic team." Those were goals I set for myself. When I told myself, "I want to win Boston," it just felt right. I knew that chasing that goal would motivate me to do what was necessary to achieve it and that doing so would require me to do my best. Your goals should have that same pull on you. They should be things you want to achieve for yourself, mot to meet someone else's expectations.

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2. A good goal is specific
Notice how specific the goals I set for myself were: I wanted to win the 2014 Boston Marathon. I wanted to make the 2012 Olympic team. There's no ambiguity there. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that helped me decide how I should go about doing it.

3. A good goal is challenging but realistic
Your goals should require you to reach outside of your comfort zone while remaining within the realm of possibility. Making a Boston victory my goal was realistic. In my case, I had finished third and fifth in previous Boston marathons, so winning the race wasn't outside the realm of possibility.

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4. A good goal has a time element
It is human nature to be motivated by a deadline. Having a date by which you want to reach your goal helps you plan how to reach it and provides urgency. There’s a sweet spot for how far away your goal should be. To work toward that goal, set shorter-term goals. Decide where you should be at the end of each month leading up to your goal, and then break those months into week-by-week progress toward that month-end goal.