The Four Cycles of Reaching Your Goal

What Does 4 Laps Have to do With Goal Setting?

goalIn high school I learned about goal setting when I ran distance races in track and field. My favorite was the mile (technically 1600 meter) race. A standard American track is 400 meters around which makes the 1600 meter race exactly 4 laps. There is a distinct mental and physical pattern that changes during the course of those laps around the track. Over the years I have come to realize that the same pattern applies to any difficult goal or challenge in life. Not all undertakings include 4 laps around a track but if you generally divide any goal or challenge in 4 equal parts (quarters) then you can apply the pattern below accordingly. Understanding the flow of thought and attitude of the four quarters/laps will help you better prepare for success.

The first lap: In the first lap of the race your body is running on adrenaline in addition to the physical reservoir of strength. Things are just beginning and you still have a clear picture of the end of the task in your mind. You can still clearly see the prize that will await you if you succeed. The crowd is very active in this first quarter as they watch you establish yourself into a position and a pace. You can see the cheerleaders and hear the shouts of encouragement. Toward the latter part of that first lap your training and preparation start to take control. You settle in and now, having your bearings you fix your eyes forward.

The second lap: In the second lap things begin to push you beyond comfort. The crowd and spectators aren’t paying as much attention and their cheers are less enthusiastic. That clear picture of the prize at the end of the race begins to blur and your mind starts to wonder to other things. You think of the pain and of other non consequential things. Your pace begins to falter some but you still move forward with strength (as the adrenaline has faded).

The third lap: Pain and struggles. You are only half way done and you begin to entertain thoughts that you may not be able to win. Deep down you know that your training has prepared you to see this to the finish but the doubt about your ability to achieve the great result you originally hoped for is changing your actions. You hurt and without any conscious thought you are slowing down to avoid crossing the threshold of a discomfort that your mind tells you that you cannot endure until the end.

The final and fourth lap: You hear the cheers from the spectators. You wonder if they have been there all along despite you only hearing them now. The cheers and the general realization that you are almost done wake you out of a sleep. Even your top levels of consciousness are willing to endure the greater pains in order to make a final attempt at the best results possible. As you enter the final stretch the prize is clearest in your mind and you put everything out on the line to achieve it. Your body finds the last of what is left of adrenaline and gives you an extra edge of resources. You finish.

However you want to apply the lessons learned in the four laps you must remember that races are won in the 2nd and 3rd lap. Your ability to remain “awake” in the middle of the challenge, keeping your mind’s eye fixed on the final goal will bring you to achieve or to fail.


  1. Dan Snow on February 27, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Hey Jacob. This blog post is awesome! I was never in track, but I nderstand the stages our minds go through. You are absolutely that the “race” is won during the middle when most will allow themselves to lose focus on the final prize. Those who’s willpower is able to take over when that initial adrenaline pump is done will win the race. Thank you for writing about this!

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