We interviewed a psychologist on mindset, motivation & goal setting

We interviewed a psychologist on mindset, motivation and staying focused to achieve long term goals

We caught up with Natalie from Peaceful Mind Psychology to hear what she had to say about mindset, motivation and staying focused for athletes (whether the everyday athlete or professional athlete) to achieve long term goals.

Thanks for catching up with us Natalie, tell us; how important is mindset when we are training with a long-term goal in mind? 

Mindset is everything! If you are not in the right frame of mind, your motivation and performance can be greatly affected. For example, if you feel low in mood, you may struggle to get out of bed in the morning to arrive on time for training. It can also be difficult to push yourself that extra “mile” if you’re feeling flat. With a low mood, your mind works against you, where your thoughts tend to be negative – for example, “why bother?” or you may think “I’m too tired to train”. Similarly, if you are in an anxious mindset, you may doubt your capabilities and avoid trying or completing certain training tasks. As well, your performance can be affected by an anxious mindset, as you may critique yourself to the point that it affects your performance.

A positive mindset is like having an encouraging coach or friend on the sidelines barracking for you. You are more likely to achieve your long-term goals, as a positive mindset encourages training, grows personal strengths and learns well from mistakes. 

What is your top tip for those who are going through a period of feeling unmotivated? How do we shift ourselves back into a productive state?  

First, it’s important to check-in that your mental health is on track and seek psychological help if needed. If all is good with your mental wellbeing, then my TOP TIP is: Action before motivation! What does this mean? Well, when you take action first, motivation will follow. We all have about a 5 second window where we can “just do it”, before our thoughts catch up. For example, you may come home from work or study and feel tired, perhaps unmotivated to go to training. If you allow yourself time to think, you may talk yourself out of attending training. Whereas, if you “just do it” – get dressed straight away (rather than dwell on your reasons for not training) - you will feel motivated. 

How important is it for us to know the “why” behind our goals; more than the “what”? 

Extremely! If you do not know the “why” behind your goals, you will struggle with motivation and drive. The “why” gives us purpose and offers meaning behind our goals. It is important to reflect on what matters to you in life, and live according to these values. For some people, training may be important because you value health, whereas others may value achievement or collaboration as a team. If you are unsure of your “why” behind your goals, it is worth asking yourself – “what does it mean to me to achieve [insert goal]?”

Many speak of the importance of self-awareness in our ability to identify key roadblocks and challenges on the way to our goals. What are some questions we can ask ourselves to identify what is holding us back?   

Oh I love this question! When we get “stuck” we tend to focus our attention on the problem or “roadblock” – e.g. I can’t beat my last record time. We focus so much on the problem, that it clouds our ability to see past the problem. So, a really helpful way to identify what is holding us back is to ask ourselves solution-focused questions. These types of questions examine moments where we are closer to the solution of how to overcome our roadblocks. Here is a quick solution-focused exercise that will help you identify ways to overcome roadblocks in the way of achieving your goals. 

  • Rate on a scale of 0 to 10 when you had a “bad day” in terms of reaching your goals
  • Now, rate on a scale of 0 to 10 when you were closest to your goals
  • Finally, rate on a scale of 0 to 10 where you are today in terms of achieving your goals
  • Comparing the 3 scales, you can ask yourself these golden two questions:
    (1) When you were closest to your goals, what was different about you compared to your “bad day”?  
    (2) What is stopping you from sliding down the scale further today? 

How do you suggest we go about setting goals?

A key to setting goals is to set SMART goals, which stands for:

Specific – State what you will do specifically, avoid general goals like “I will train more often”  

Measurable – Pre-plan on how to measure the goal, either quantitatively or qualitatively

Actionable – The goal needs to be reasonable and attainable

Relevant -  Make sure to fit the goal within your training objectives

Time-bound – Be specific on the date or timeframe of goal completion

Whether we’re reaching for a new PB and just can’t seem to get there or have trained for months only to not place in the next competition; what are your tips for managing failure? 

Be kind to yourself, there is no point chastising yourself over failure. If you are critical of yourself, you will struggle to grow and develop. Whereas, if you encourage yourself when you fail, you will thrive. Imagine a small child learning to ride a bicycle: A parent who encourages their child when they fall off their bike, helps the child learn from their failures. Whereas, if a parent is critical of their child for falling off their bike, their child will feel deflated and struggle to attempt riding again.

If you struggle with failure, it is important to speak to someone who can help you process the failure and move on. As part of moving on from failure, it’s helpful to learn from the experience: What can you do differently next time? What strengths have you gained? 

Do you know of any “healthy mindset hacks” one can look to employ when trying to get themselves out of a negative headspace? 

If you’re in a negative headspace, you can hit “reset” by doing something fun or stimulating. Even if you don’t feel like it at the time, push yourself and commit to an activity. In psychology we call this evidence-based strategy, “behavioural activation”, and it has been shown to relieve low mood and reset a better mindset. 


Natalie Incledon is a Clinical Psychologist and the director of Melbourne private practice, Peaceful Mind Psychology. Natalie is passionate about all things psychology and believes that psychological insight and empowerment is the key to wellbeing and reaching our potential.  

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