How to set big goals: lessons from an Olympic athlete

Relay runner preparing

How to set big goals


Are you currently setting goals for the year ahead?

For many of us, January equals goal-setting time, for our personal life, in our professional career and for the organisation or team we lead. But unfortunately, many of those goals never get achieved. It’s estimated that less than 10% of resolutions have been kept by year’s end and 25% will have failed already.

We know that goal setting is important, but even with the best of intentions, individuals can be distracted or demotivated away from achieving their ambitious goals.

So, what’s the secret to setting goals and meeting them?


of resolutions will have been kept by year’s end.


of resolutions will have failed by the end of January.

We caught up with goal setting expert Mark Richardson to hear about his personal experience of achieving his ambitious aims.

Mark is an Olympic silver medal winner in the 1996 4 x 400m relay, and one of Lane4’s Client Directors. And, as if you needed any more convincing of Mark’s expertise in achieving visionary goals, he is also one of the few athletes ever to beat US Olympian Michael Johnson over 400m. So, you’re in good hands to get the best advice for achieving your goals in 2019!

Asked about the applicability to business, Mark said “As an elite performer I used a goal-setting framework to achieve my own personal athletic ambitions. Using a framework helped to create a structure and break huge goals down into more manageable chunks, and so the framework I used back then is the same as what I use in Lane4 today. It’s very transferable to a business environment.”


As an elite performer I used a goal-setting framework to achieve my own personal athletic ambitions.

Set your ultimate goal

The starting point is to set the right type of goal. So firstly, get clear about where you want to get to.

Make this aspirational, full of personal meaning, one which commands your thoughts liberates your energy and inspires you on a day-to-day basis. This kind of vision will drive the right type of behaviours to establish a long-lasting commitment.

For me, when I was preparing for the Atlanta games in 1996, I drew upon my personal vision to set a legacy for my family and parents’ Caribbean home island of Anguilla. I was also hugely inspired by Carl Lewis in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics which crystallised in my mind how important it was to get onto the podium and win an Olympic medal for myself.

To give you an example in a work context, your vision might be to have the project you’re currently working on gain external recognition

It is crucial you think about what will engage you, and other people, in the vision for where you want to get to.

Think about how you can inspire yourself and others with a meaningful narrative around this vision, so it can be drawn upon as a motivational force.

Decide on your endpoint and the data you’ll need

Once you’ve got clarity about where you want to get to, think about the outcomes which will give you the best possible chance of realising the vision.

I advise only one, two or three outcomes to set yourself up for success. Pick the ones that are going to make a fundamental difference to achieving your vision.

My key outcome goal was to get onto the podium by winning a medal for myself at those Atlanta games. So, my coach and I analysed what performance would be required to earn my place on the British team and get the best chance of winning a medal.

We concluded that my performance objective was to run a time of 44.6 seconds for the 400m, my speed measure was to run 100m in 10.3 seconds, and my strength measure was to lift a ‘clean’ at 127.5kg and ‘bench’ at 127.5kg.

Going back to the workplace example, in order to gain external recognition, an outcome might be to win an industry award or gain a piece of news coverage in a trade press.





Swimmer doing the butterfly

Identify your specific, day-to-day actions

Finally, it’s important to break down your performance into its constituent parts.

For me, that meant training in a stringent way, rigorous drills and skills to embed technical excellence, hundreds of repetitions, being mindful of my diet, adequate sleep and pre-rehabilitation work which could all be measured.

Process goals are the mini, day-by-day interventions you put into place in a relevant time-frame which is the foundation for success. This is how you execute great performance.

For the workplace example, the day to day actions could include regularly gathering data on the project’s success, identifying relevant publications or awarding bodies and pulling together a compelling award entry.”