Brain Training with Connor Hartley: New Years Goals that Work


My name is Connor Hartley. I’m a mental performance consultant from Tacoma, Washington. I teach mental skills to athletes, musicians, students, and other types of performers, including elite athletes in soccer, basketball and golf. I have a master’s degree in mental health counseling with a focus in sport psychology from Boston University, and a bachelor’s in psychology from Loyola Marymount University. I’m a former player at Norpoint FC and Washington Premier FC, and stay involved in the game through coaching and adult leagues. You can reach me on Facebook on my page, Hartley Performance, or through email at


New Years Goals that Work

by Connor Hartley (Read other column entries here.)

Happy 2019! If you, like many other people, set goals for the year, you’re starting off on the right note! There’s nothing hokey about setting goals around the start of the year. In fact, having a clearly defined time period (such as January or 2019) makes it easier to track your goals and evaluate your progress. However, many people find it difficult to follow through on their goals. Maybe they set too lofty goals, get frustrated when success isn’t forthcoming, and give up. Maybe they lose interest. Maybe they know what they want to do, but just aren’t sure how to do it. Complicated issues, yes, but to a sport psychology professional, all solvable! Thus, I’m offering in-depth, individual goal setting consultation (reach out to me for details) this winter. I’m also going to offer a few easy tips to improve the likelihood that you achieve your goals in 2019.

Be Realistically Specific

downloadYou have a vision in mind of something you’d like done. Let’s say your goal for 2019 is to improve your first touch. Excellent goal! However, if you never get more specific than that, you’re never going to get better. You might look up drills for your first touch and practice it, only to find that you failed to fix the problem because you weren’t specific enough. Instead, get down into the details, and work on your first touch bringing the ball out of the air, your first touch in a crowded space when you have to turn, or your first touch to set yourself up on goal. That way, you can tell exactly what you’re working on, and will have an easier time following your progress. That goes for more intangible goals, like wanting to work harder or be a better teammate. What exactly does that mean, and how will you know if you’re actually working harder or being a better teammate? Come up with specifics to solidify your process.
Additionally, it’s important to be realistic. On the first touch example, it’s great if you decide to work on controlling the ball out of the sky, but if your measuring stick is reaching Eden Hazard’s level by 2020, you’re in trouble. Not only will you set yourself up for failure, you’ll actually demotivate yourself along the way by reaching too high. Instead, create a realistic goal. If you entered the year successfully controlling balls in the air 1/3 of the time, aim to increase that to half the time. If that’s too easy, adjust your goals, but start out realistically specific.


Small Goals Achieve Large Goals

downloadSpeaking of being realistic, one of the best ways to achieve large goals is to set small goals that lead to a greater success. Imagine yourself walking up a staircase. You (usually) can’t just leap to the top of the staircase, you have to take it step by step. Your goals work the same way. You have to break them into digestible pieces that build toward the ultimate goal. For example, if you’d like to become a leader on your team, you will want to break up that ambition into smaller steps. Maybe your plan consists of evaluating your own leadership style and behaviors (step one); studying how great captains inspire their teammates (step two); start offering at least three bits of encouragement during practices to teammates (step three); increase that to offering encouragement at least once during every drill (step four); giving encouragement and instruction during games (step five); and helping prep the team for practices and games by discussing the gameplan with teammates and coaches (step six). Now, instead of a vague idea of becoming a leader, you have a clear path to building leadership qualities and becoming the leader you want to be. The task may look daunting, but it’s no less daunting than facing the prospect of becoming a leader without thinking about how you’ll actually get there.

Write it Down

downloadOn paper, if you’re old school, or in your phone, if you’re new school. Write down your goals. Write down your goals. Put them on post it notes, or as your background, or on your ceiling so you wake up staring at them every morning. For the love of Pele, write down your goals. It’ll help you remember and make you more likely to actually achieve them.

Get Support

downloadThe reasoning behind support is twofold. When you get someone else on board with your goals, either as an observer or as someone who is working toward a similar goal, you get someone who can hold you accountable. On days when you don’t want to work on that first touch, there’s your friend, cheering you on, motivating you, telling you that she believes in you. You’ll have a friend to train with and a friend to motivate. Additionally, explaining something to someone else helps you learn it better yourself. Thus, if you walk through your plan with a parent, you’ll have a better idea of what you want and how you plan to get it by the end.


Evaluate Last Year’s Goals

downloadIt’s important to learn the lessons of last year. What worked well, and what failed? When was it hardest to stick to your goals, and when was it easy? Last year, I set a goal to avoid processed sugar for a period of time. As I reflect back, I note that noticing my sugar triggers was helpful, but having a friend avoid sugar with me was not, as my friend gave up several weeks before I did. I can celebrate my successes (the first part of the year) and learn from my failures (October-December, brutal for sugar aversion!). However, I have to evaluate my goals to learn from them. Similarly, think back on your 2018 goals. What was helpful? What hurt? What can you do again this year, and what should you avoid? Embrace your mistakes, because they’ll inform you for 2019, but don’t forget to embrace and credit your successes.

Give Yourself a Break

downloadToo many athletes think that forgiveness is an excuse. Give me a break. Actually, give yourself a break, because you deserve one. When things go wrong, or you hit a setback, it’s ok to be upset with yourself. That actually helps you learn. It is not ok, however, to continue to beat yourself up, to make sweeping judgements about yourself (“I’m just not good enough”) or to give up (“I’ll never get there”) after a setback or a bad day at the office. Yes, you’re going to perform badly from time to time. Maybe you yelled at your teammates when a straightforward conversation would have been better. Maybe your touch completely deserted you during a big game. Whatever happened, you will not make things better by dwelling, judging or quitting. Obviously, this is difficult to combat, and is far more complicated than the short space I’m giving it. Be ready to face obstacles along the way, and remember that progress isn’t always linear.

Failures are natural, and they’re ok. They are meant to be learned from. Give yourself a break, and take inspiration and knowledge away from your missteps.

I hope you enjoyed those six tips! For a detailed look and planning session for your own goals, get in contact with me on Facebook, through my website or with a phone call. Have a great 2019!

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