Goals. Setting them too high just leads to let-down. Setting them too low leads to no motivation.
The art of setting good goals is to find that happy medium where the thing you are after is big enough to drive you forward but also achievable enough to be within reach. For me, I tend to skew a little towards the “too big” end of the spectrum on purpose. I am more driven to reach for something just out of reach!
Also goals often end up getting clouded by expectations of others or some form of competition. That’s another trap. If you want to run a 5K in under 22 minutes, but are running it with a friend who wants to go under 20 minutes, you might be tempted to make their goal your own. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Equally worse are goals predicated on the performance of others (e.g. the goal being to beat your friend in the 5K). That outcome is impossible to control and can lead to wacky approaches to race preparation. You might even be selling yourself short (maybe you are capable of an 18 minute 5k?)
I always make sure my goals are defined in my own terms, and wholly within my power (barring some big external factor like weather or equipment in the case of a race).
For Ironman CDA this Sunday. My goal is simple = to finish and enjoy the process.
I have zero care about time and am willing to be out there as long as it takes. I know that it will be painful (very painful at times) and know from experience that whenever things get really bad they usually become good (or at least bearable) shortly thereafter. The trick is not giving up when things get bad.