Goal setting is what defines the difference between working out and training. Training is basically working out with a purpose. The purpose? Achieving your goals.
The most intelligent of goal setters follow a few simple rules. First, goals are SMART (simple, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). Meaning that the goals are something you can actually do in the course of a season. Second, goals should not depend on other people. You should be able to accomplish your goals without the mishaps of someone else. Third, don't set too many goals for a season. There's only so much you can expect to accomplish. Prioritize your desires to the top three. Achieve those goals and you can set new ones.
Now that I've given you a brief synopsis of how to set good goals, I should warn you: I don't follow these rules very well. I am a crappy goal setter. I have my own version of a Top Ten list.
My 2012 Performance Goals
1. Not die
2. Have fun
3. Not get injured
4. Finish the season with enough positive vibes to want to do it again next year
5. Sub 10 hour IMLP (PR is sitting at 11:33)
6. Sub 4:45 HIM (PR at 5:08)
7. Sub 20 minute 5k (not accomplished since HS and then only once)
8. Sub 20 5k in sprint tri
9. Sub 44 10k in Oly (I would add sub 44 in an open 10k but I really don't want to sign up for that)
10. Non-AG podium finish in any race (PR is 4th place)
Keep in mind that my goals #1-4 are the same every season and I believe that they should be the same universally. Goal 5 has been a long standing goal and is the drive for all the other goals on the list. Goal 6 is a benchmark for goal 5. Goals 7-9 could be condensed into one goal and are a means to an end (goal 5). Goal 10, even though it violates the third rule of goal setting, is just because I'm stubborn and I want it.
So, when you look at the list, I really have some universally accepted sport behaviors. I have 1 real goal. I have 4 benchmarks. And I have one desire. Maybe I didn't do so bad at goal setting after all.