Goal setting with Olympic triple jumper, Christian Taylor
Whatever they may be, big or small, goals can be stepping stones to a happier life and the journey we take to reaching them can make all the difference.
Working towards something we want (a goal) is an important part of being human. It may not always go smoothly, and the route may not always be easy, but having goals is part of what makes life good. It gives us a sense of meaning and purpose by pointing us in the direction we want to go and gets us interested – all of which are good for our overall happiness.
We’ve recently sat down with Olympic triple jumper, Christian Taylor, who shares his approach and experiences with goal setting as he takes us on his journey to Paris Olympics 2024.
When you recovered from your injury, what plan did you set out for your journey to Paris 2024?
The Achilles tendon is so important for running, but even more so for jumping, so initially it was the uncertainty of knowing if I was even going to be able to come back. It’s one of the most important tendons needed to absorb and release energy for jumping – so that was the initial worry. I was then very upfront with the surgeons and my therapist that my ultimate goal was to be back for Paris Olympics 2024. Once they understood I wasn’t looking for any shortcuts and I’d recognized that it would be a long game, they were on board and excited for me. From there, it was about building a step-by-step detailed rehabilitation programme.
It’s all about doing everything properly. I have to think how much I want to risk getting a re-injury, which would ultimately take me out of the sport. It’s like the saying that if you do it right the first time, you don’t have to go back and do it again. This is the mind-set we went with for the whole rehabilitation programme.
Have you been able to stick to the original plan or have you adapted it since?
Although we’ve purposely made the plan flexible, there are definitely still markers that we’ve been trying to hit, for example:
3 months: Walk without crutches
6 months: Walk with greater speed
Fluidity and flexibility are so important when goal setting because life can be filled with so much uncertainty. You may have a plan, but life can throw you a curve ball and then it’s about how well you adapt. I found the more flexible I was with my plan, the more positive I could stay. Because if I didn’t hit my markers on schedule, I still thought that at least I’m on the right track. It helps keep me in a more positive mind-set, rather than feeling defeated.
How has this year gone for you so far? How are you feeling at the moment?
It’s been incredible. But there were absolutely moments where I was unsure and felt I was plateauing and that I had maybe hit the threshold where this was all my body was going to allow me to do. I have a counsellor who I speak to every week, and it has helped me recognize that I needed to let go of the former Christian and accept that the makeup is now different following my injury. I don’t always have to compare but I spent too much energy looking in the rear-view mirror of what I was once able to do, and she encouraged me to look forward – accept what I am, what I can do at the moment and what I believe is possible. It was only when I actually accepted this, I started to move forward again.
Do you create more than one plan when setting a goal?
My goal of winning Paris 2024 is fixed but my markers aren’t. It’s the process of getting there for me that is a bit more flexible. When I miss a mark, the advantage that I believe I have over most of my competitors is my mind-set. It’s not my actual physical ability but how I view competition, my motivations and how I deal with setbacks. So, this is my competitive edge.
I’m human and I still have moments of defeat and disappointment – but I don’t let it linger. I compare it to golf. When I hit the ball, most of the time it goes in the woods, and I’m upset because I could see it being the perfect shot. But before I reach the next shot, I have to let it go. And this is the same mind-set when going through life. Go through the emotions but at some point you must let them go and move forward.
Where do you get your mind-set from? Have you had to learn it?
I actually believe my dad was the one that instilled it in me. He would constantly tell me to let things go. At the time, I was younger, and I found it frustrating as this is my world and felt he didn’t understand. But he reassured me that I will fail, I will have disappointments – more so than successes. But if you carry those disappointments through, it will hold you back from the next achievement. He made this very clear to me and I didn’t appreciate it until later on. So now, I’m like a water repellent. It hits me, I feel it and then I just let it go.
How involved are your family, friends, and other support groups in your journey?
My support network is extremely strong. They’re the strings that keep me grounded and humble when things go really well and if I’m low, they’re the ones picking me up and remind me of my highs. So, for me, they are fundamental. When it comes to goal setting, as I’ve gotten older, I have the freedom to explore and do my own thing. But from very early on, my parents were the ones that instilled it in me to always strive to be the best.
With whatever I’ve done in life, they’ve always encouraged me to do my research to make sure I know what I’m doing so I can execute it with excellence. They planted these seeds from a young age, and it was only after that I realized that my work ethic and my mentality was different to my competitors because of these values. I’m extremely grateful for my parents. They are the ones that have held me in times of highs and lows and pushed me when I need to be pushed.
Has your mind-set changed over the years?
Yes. I started counselling right before the pandemic so that was a maturity step in itself – understanding the importance of mental health and looking after myself. When you’re younger, you almost feel invincible. As you mature, you recognize the importance of self-care and when it comes to sport, the increase in time it takes for recovery and the consequences. And this goes far beyond myself, now I think about my wife and family when making decisions. My mind-set is something that continues to develop.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
The kids I work with. I’ve been working with non-profit, Classroom Champions since 2014, which allows me to support children in lower economic and troubled areas. In the London 2012 games, I reached my lifetime goal and was so proud of the moment. But when I got up on the podium with the national anthem playing, it felt a bit lonely, and I knew I needed to find something more. My family were in the stands, so I felt that everyone I thought I was representing were still quite distant. I spoke to my manager, and we spoke about how I could chase the world record – but for me, that didn’t seem like enough.
I needed a feeling of connection which is when my manager suggested mentoring and working with kids. I thought it would be a challenge with me travelling so much but Classroom Champions is an online mentorship where you work with students and teachers across the US. I’ve had two classes from the beginning, and I fell in love with the impact I can make on someone’s life. I felt that my training had a purpose, and I could really make a difference through this path whilst working with many people. My career is no longer just about me, it’s about what I can give them and vice versa. I love the simplicity that the kids bring and when I’m struggling, they’re a constant reminder not to overthink things.
So, when I went on the podium in Rio, this time I was crying and full of emotion. It wasn’t for that specific achievement, but it was for the kids that had been watching me over the last four years and I had inspired.
What skills are key when aiming for a specific goal?
I would say perseverance and resilience. I always talk about being okay with failure and setbacks. It’s about looking at them as learning opportunities for next time. I’ve lost so many competitions, but nobody remembers them because when I needed to win, I was able to. It was the resilience I showed, and I never gave up. And having the right people around you is key to helping you achieve the dream.
Do you celebrate the small wins?
Absolutely. I’m grateful to wake up every single day and when it comes to athletics, as I get older, the things I would have taken for granted 10 years ago are things I celebrate now. Following the injury, every small marker I reached, it was so important to celebrate every milestone because there was also that chance that it would not have turned out that way.
Do you switch off from competing when it’s out of season?
I would say for probably about three weeks, it’s still very fresh. While I sleep at night, I’m still reflecting on what I could have done better. Could I have slept a bit more? Should I have done that extra stop in travel? What did I give my competitors freely? All these things that could have contributed. I always reference improving by 1% because ultimately that’s what we’re looking for. If we can improve by 1% then we can be proud.
But ultimately, it’s about being able to lay down at the end and reflect on giving it my all as we’re our own biggest judge. I take notes so then I can reflect on this next year and be mindful of these areas of improvement. A setback is a waste if you’re not learning from it. Once I’ve had this moment of reflection in the first three weeks then I switch off.
How much of your success would you say is down to your mind-set versus your natural talent?
I’ve always seen it as the successes have been because of my mind-set. If you put me in a room of athletes, I’d look to my left and right and it’s not that I’m more talented than any of them but it’s what motivates me. I always look in someone’s eyes to discover how much drive they have. If I find out their motivation, I can work out how much fight they have to give. It’s a psychological game so I would say my success is 100% down to my mind-set.
What are your words of wisdom for anyone working towards a goal at the moment?
I would say when setting a goal, be willing to be bold with your goals and dream big. It’s easy to play it safe. Whatever you’re working towards, that attitude of resilience, it’s all about finding a way to push through, find something that motivates you which is stronger than the adversity you may face. It changes with every goal and every season but find what it is. Place it at front of mind so it can be your focus.
Whether you’re striving to reach a goal in sports, in health, in your workplace, or simply finding a balance in life, the thinking behind goal setting is something that can be translated for all. Just like Christian said, it’s all about your mind-set.
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