How to Set Highly-Effective Goals

The Holidays are over! As much as love getting together with friends and family, having the kids home from school, and taking some time off from work, by January 1 I’m ready for the Holiday Season to be done. I love that refreshing feeling of starting a new year. The whole year is laid out in front of you, and it’s full of possibility and potential. So, let’s talk about how you can make the most of it!

Setting highly-effective goals seems like it should be simple, but a lot of people mess it up (BTW – stay tuned for an article on goal-setting mistakes next week). Today I want to show you how a simple challenge I issued recently on this blog can be a model for the way you set goals throughout the season.

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On November 27, 2015 I issues the #DEC40 December Challenge. The idea was simple: Ride/train at least 40 hours in the month of December. Completing it was far more challenging, but I’m very pleased to announce that a ton of you made it happen! The “proof-of-completion” social media posts and emails have been pouring in, and we’re getting ready to send out piles of CTS hats to those who finished. If you haven’t provided your information yet, post a photo or screenshot to TwitterFacebook, or Instagram that proves you accomplished the goal, and tag your images with #DEC40. It could be a shot of your TrainingPeaks calendar, your Strava training log, a screenshot of the Wahoo Fitness app, or a bunch of other options. If you’re not a social media person, email the photographic proof to The deadline for submissions is January 15.

The #DEC40 challenge worked for so many people because it met the well-known criteria of SMART goals. The S.M.A.R.T acronym was developed by George Doran in 1981 and has been widely utilized in goal setting exercises in everything from corporate settings to personal development and athletic teams. Essentially, the concept is that an effective goal needs to be: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Timely.

Specific and Measurable

I’m combining these two in the case of #DEC40 because the specificity of the goal was the measurable component. The goal was to complete 40 hours of training in a month. When it comes to making personal goals for yourself, you should be even more specific, like “X hours on the bike per week this month” or “Finish Dirty Kanza in under 13 hours”. The goal for the #DEC40 challenge was specific, but allowed for more flexibility in mode of training so more people could take part in it.


An effective goal has to be something you can take ownership of. The means of completing the goal have to be things you have control over. And I think this is also where personal value comes into play, because your goal has to be valuable enough to you that you will take ownership of it and make the sometimes-difficult decisions necessary to make it happen. For the #DEC40 Challenge, athletes had to take it on themselves to carve at least 40 hours out of their busy December work, family, and holiday schedules to prioritize training. For many, the scheduling was the biggest obstacle, and the goal made them take more ownership (assign ownership to themselves) in managing their schedules.

  In endurance sports, making assignable goals is relatively easy because it almost always comes down to you getting it done. Athletes in group training or weight loss challenges sometimes struggle with this one when there’s a group goal (i.e. “Our 3-person team is going to burn a total of 30,000 calories in 30 days”, or “Our office team is going to lose 100 pounds over the next 6 months.”) but it’s unclear what each specific member of the group is responsible for.

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This is absolutely essential for effective goal setting, but it’s a balancing act. Your goal has to be challenging, but it also has to be attainable. The athletes I targeted with the #DEC40 challenge were the ones normally training about 8 hours a week. Bumping that up to 10 hours a week to hit 40 hours in 4 weeks represented a 25% increase. That is not only attainable in terms of scheduling, but it’s an appropriate short-term stretch goal in terms of physiology. Expecting an athlete to increase training volume by 50% for a month would be both logistically unrealistic and potentially damaging physiologically. If you are setting your goals for 2016 right now, or you’ve recently set them, make sure they are NOT performances you could go out and accomplish tomorrow. Set goals that require commitment and work to accomplish. Set goals that scare you a bit, that push you outside your comfort zone, but aren’t so outlandish that there’s realistically no way you’ll get close to achieving them.


The resemblance of me is uncanny. 🙂 #dec40 #gozwift #zwift


A photo posted by Heidi Wahl ???????????? (@heidijwahl) on

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Timely and Time-Dependent

The best goals are both timely and time-dependent. A goal needs a finish line, literally or figuratively. I didn’t challenge athlete to train 40 hours sometime in the near future, it was 40 hours by between December 1 and December 31, 2015. If you want to lose weight, put a date to the goal: “I am going to lose 8 pounds by March 1.” It’s also important for a goal to be scheduled at the right time, and that can mean the right time of year, the right time of your life, or the right time in your experience in your sport. The #DEC40 Challenge was great for December because athletes struggle to train consistently when the weather is bad and holiday parties suck up all their time. Time-crunched athletes in their 30s and 40s often set goals around local criterium, mountain bike, or cyclocross series because those competitions fit most realistically in with the career and family priorities they have during that period of life. And athletes who come to our Bucket List events are often more experienced athletes, and it’s the right time for them to set Bucket List goals because they can leverage their experience and skillset to get them done. The results are always the best proof that you’re setting appropriate goals, and that means you should experience both success and failure. Many people finished the #DEC40 Challenge, but some people did not. Don’t be afraid to set goals that carry with them a significant chance of failure, because to achieve anything great you have to be willing to fail. Congratulations to everyone who took on the #DEC40 Challenge, you’re starting 2016 with a big advantage!

Have a Great Weekend!
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

Check out More Social Media Posts about #DEC40

You can go to here on Instagram or Twitter to see all #DEC40 tagged posts. Just a few are embedded below. 

Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives”, Management Review, Vol. 70, Issue 11, pp. 35-36.

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Comments 3

  1. I am primarily a runner and supplement my training by riding and exercise bike. Your challenge motivated me to ride more. Modified the challenge a bit and aimed for 31 hours. Ended up with 33 hours plus 160 miles of running. Thanks for the added motivation.

  2. You might want to double-check the submission date for proof of completion…:)

    I would have loved to have participated, but we bought a new house and were moving. Unless I could count packing and lifting intervals!

    1. Post

      January 15 for submissions. Sheesh, we must have had December on the brain. Thanks for catching that, it’s been changed. Congrats on the new house (now it’s time to get back to training)! – CTS

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