Mo Farah runs his first marathon on Sunday in London. He’s publically stated that he’s targeting Steve Jones British record and this open declaration of an outcome goal may or may not be part of deliberately putting pressure on himself (or reducing pressure if he feels that goal is well within him).
Many top performers are excellent at creating and managing pressure at an optimal level for their motivation. The field for the London Marathon is by far the toughest field that anyone has seen – as Mo himself acknowledges “I’ve gone in at the deep end, but that’s what champions do”.
Mo’s publicly stated outcome goal takes this into account – he’s considered the playing conditions (toughest field ever) in setting himself a picture of success (beating the British record) – and create a goal that’s optimally motivating and that will help him manage pressure to be at the right level for him. While the outcome goal is what the media – and public – will be talking about, what’s for certain is that Mo will have process goals (or detailed plans) for how he has been training and how he is going to run and will be finding a way to enjoy the pressure, and he’ll be focusing on them before and during the race.
Paula Radcliffe, former London marathon winner herself, commented, “It is refreshing for him to have a new and different challenge. He’ll probably still be successful on the track, if not more successful than he has been, with the marathon training behind him, but this gives him a chance to do something a little bit different. Yes, it’s challenging, but I think he will be relishing the fact that it is a new stimulus for him.” Any stretching new task has the potential for self-doubt to creep in at some point and so Mo will have to show mental as well as physical strength. When Radcliffe broke the world marathon record a few years ago she talked about having learnt to trust herself i.e. becoming capable of pushing herself to run beyond that which she might feel capable of and trusting he ability to do so. Ben Hunt-Davis, Olympic gold medal rower in Sydney in 2000 writes in his book Will It Make The Boat Go Faster that his crew’s strategy for the final quarter of the race was to trust one another.
One interesting story about Radcliffe here is that she stopped wearing a watch while racing, preferring to tap into how she was feeling rather than actually measuring the time and pace that she was running at. The business equivalent is Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). How would you feel about relying less on hard measures to indicate how you are performing and switching to measures such as how motivated you and your customers are feeling. Customer satisfaction scores are based on customer feelings so it would only be a case of applying subjective measures to yourself (but a little more regularly and helpfully than the annual staff survey).
So back to Mo Farah and his simple ingredients for success: talent plus hard work, plus goals, plus motivation, plus mindset, plus self awareness, plus knowing the conditions, plus planning, plus training equals a position which is not in his complete control (there are some other seriously competitive runners in the field) but one where he has given himself maximum chance of success. Come race day, all his focus will be on his process goals – his race plan and his picture of success for how he wants to run the race. And he’ll have 100% trust in himself and that he’s got all these ingredients in place to deliver the result that he – and all of us – want.