Set goals and succeed like an Olympian: How to inject staying power into your New Year pledges

Goal-setting makes Olympic champions, according to Loughborough University sport and performance psychologist Dr David Fletcher.

Adam Peaty, who trains at Loughborough, and his 2012 Olympic gold medal

He has worked with Olympians, professional sportsmen and women and the Armed Forces to improve the way they use goal-setting in their work.

But there are ways of setting targets which can also help motivate you towards achieving more realistic aims such as New Year’s resolution, such as exercising more, giving up smoking or taking on a new challenge.

As part of our Christmas and New Year health and happiness campaign, Dr Fletcher has shared some of the successful strategies that have helped Britain’s elite athletes bring home Olympic gold.

Set yourself a goal

Whether it’s cutting down on cigarettes, or increasing the miles your run, every goal reached will result in regular motivation to continue.

Make that goal flexible

Don’t make your goals black and white. If you don’t achieve what you set out to do it could be disheartening and you're more likely to fail. So, aim to lose between 1lb – 5lb-a-month, if losing weight is your goal.

Turn the goal into a habit

…. unless your aim is to quit smoking. But for most other things, this is the best way to make sure you keep at it. If you view exercise as something you have to do, rather than something which simply part of your lifestyle, it will be much harder to keep going.

Incorporate smaller targets in long term goals

If you’re running a marathon, then break your target times or target distances down into smaller chunks.

Quotes - Dr Fletcher:

What is goal-setting?

“I often get asked the question, ‘how do we motivate people to do something?’

“Of course, there are a lot of potential answers to that, but one of the most effective techniques we can use is goal-setting.

“So, why is goal-setting so effective in changing people’s behaviour and motivation?

“Well, it does a few things.

“The first thing is that it directs their behaviour in a certain direction – and then as they achieve goals they get more confident, and as they get more confident they’re more motivated to go on and continue with what they’re doing.”

Black and white goals

“You need to set flexible goals, so it might be something like… on average I want to exercise three times-a-week.

“So, that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise more or less than that but you’re going for an average which gives you a bit of flexibility.”

“A classic pitfall is focusing on the outcome.

“For example, I want to lose ‘so much’ by the end of the month.

“Whereas, what they would be better off doing is focusing on enjoyment.

“Or, focusing on how to change lifestyles and habit on a day-to-day basis which will result in you being more active.”

Integrate your goals into your lifestyle

“Think about what you will do in its totality and think about ways that you can make small changes throughout the day to increase, for example, how many calories your burn.

“But, also, think about how realistic that is if you have other commitments such as family and work.

“How do you integrate that into your day and work and family life.”

Running a marathon

“It’s important that you back that up with other sub-goals.

“For example, how am I going to run my first 5k, and then my first 10k, en route to that marathon?

“How am I going to learn more about the sport itself so I make sure that I stay healthy and keep enjoying it?

“How do I get involved in different local clubs?

“So, it’s important that if you do set one of those big challenges for yourself that you set sub-goals and sub-challenges within that.”


 Goals and ath-elites

“We can learn a lot from some of the world’s best athletes, actually.

“They set themselves goals all the time – to help motivate themselves and help direct their behaviour towards what they ultimately want to achieve.

“For example, if you’re an Olympic level athlete it may be your overall goal to win an Olympic Games, but they will back that up with a lot of different goals within that.

“So… what sort of times might I need in order to progress my technique?

“My tactics?

“My nutrition?

“All these factors will lie under that big goal – so what that means for all of us is that if you have that big goal to lose weight, or run that marathon, you need to back that up with a lot of sub-goals and then as you achieve those sub-goals that gives you confidence to keep going and it keeps you motivated to get to where you want to be.”

Dr Fletcher is an advisor to and former Director of the Loughborough Sport Psychology Service.

He also works closely with organizations on creating environments and cultures that enable high performance, including:

• UK Sport

• Sport England

• British Olympic Association

• British Swimming

• British Triathlon

• British Broadcasting Corporation

• Sky Sports

• Lloyds TSB

• National Health Service

Loughborough University’s Christmas and New Year health and wellbeing campaign is aimed at using the knowledge and experience of academics and professionals to give advice about physical and mental wellness over the festive season and into next year.

Follow the latest campaign content by searching for the #LboroExperts hashtag on Twitter, or on our Facebook page and YouTube channel.


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 18/01

Loughborough University is equipped with a live in-house broadcast unit via the Globelynx network. To arrange an interview with one of our experts please contact the press office on 01509 223491. Bookings can be made online via

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world to study sports-related subjects in the 2017 QS World University Rankings and top in the country for its student experience in the 2016 THE Student Experience Survey.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 6th in the Guardian University League Table 2018, 7th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and 10th in The UK Complete University Guide 2018. It was also named Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.