Pro Tips |  Sonya Looney's Guide to Setting Goals & Creating Habits

Helmets are arguably the most important apparel item when riding a bike and when you have been racing professionally for over a decade, like Aaron Gwin, they tend to hold alot of memories. Aaron Gwin showcases the various helmets worn throughout his downhill racing career and the significance each one holds.

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What is the biggest contributing factor of successful athletes?  Consistency. Consistency means showing up day in and day out, even when you don’t feel like it.  At first, it’s easy to get excited about a new habit or goal, but as we all know, the allure wears off.  As a World Champion Mountain Biker, a mom of little ones, a podcast host of a weekly show for nearly 5 years, and health coach- I have spent over a decade practicing consistency as a professional athlete, interviewing behavioral science experts, and coaching people through habit change.  Consistency is what has allowed me to achieve success at the highest level of my sport and answers the question people often ask me- “how do you do so much?” It’s not that I do a heroic number of tasks on a daily basis, but I work on a lot of things consistently.

You get better at learning to be a musician, at technical riding skills, and building aerobic (and anaerobic fitness), and staying healthy in your body by repeating actions and building upon that growing foundation.  Playing a musical instrument every once in awhile or going for a ride here and there is fun, but it probably won’t help you progress very efficiently.  Eating healthily one day a week or sleeping enough one night a week probably won’t land you the health goals you’re after. It’s doing it consistently.

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Focus on Behaviors and Identity Instead of Outcomes

The way you go about setting goals is one way to consider consistency.  Sure, I want to attain certain outcomes (a race result or fitness level, maintain a certain weight, achieve certain metrics in my business), but I don’t use those metrics to define success with my habits and goal-setting.  For me, it’s about the daily or weekly actions and behaviors I need to do regularly that will contribute to the outcome I desire. When I set a goal, I ask myself what I need to do regularly to embody the type of person I want to become. It’s about identity-based habits. In other words, what would someone with the identity of a person you want to become do regularly? A fit mountain biker rides regularly, doesn’t miss workouts, and keeps their bike in good working order.  A podcaster is always learning, researching, and becoming a better listener in addition to regularly making recordings. A person who seems rested probably has a bedtime routine focused on sleep hygiene, doesn’t watch that extra episode on Netflix, and allows enough time to get sleep.  What type of person are you trying to become and what consistent behaviors can you adopt?  As NYT Bestselling Author James Clear says, “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become.” (Listen to my podcast with him here).

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How to Actually Stay on Track

You might be thinking- “Yes! I understand the importance of consistency and how I get that my goals should be based on regular action instead of outcomes… but how do I actually stay on track?” The following research-backed tools will help you stay consistent and motivated, even when you don’t feel like it.


Motivation Follows Action

The hardest part for most people is simply getting started. We wait to feel motivated to get going, but the reality is that we often need to get going in order to feel motivated.

In chemistry, physics, or even an electrical impulse in the body, there is the activation energy, that is, a minimum quantity of energy required to get the process or reaction started. Once you apply some energy to it, you’ll get moving.

Usually, applied to something we are trying to get ourselves to do, this activation energy is getting started and doing it for 1-5 minutes.  So- commit to getting dressed and riding your bike for 5 minutes. Do 1 yoga stretch. Meditate for 3 breaths. Do just 10 pushups. Put one plate in the dishwasher. Open a document and write 2 sentences. Read one article on how to do something you want to learn. It’ll help you get started to overcome that initial amount of activation energy. Tell yourself you can stop if you don’t want to keep going…but chances are you’ll keep going. The hardest part is getting started.

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Use Temptation Bundling

Temptation bundling is combining an activity you may not be as excited to do with something that you love. Some days, our goal just isn’t as appealing.  Take riding the trainer for example.  Most of us probably aren’t super excited to get on the trainer. I have a rule for myself that I can only watch certain shows that I like or listen to certain playlists when I’m riding the trainer. I also only allow myself to listen to certain podcasts while doing house chores.  Having an incentive helps me do a task I am unmotivated to do…and sometimes even look forward to it!


Environment Design

Making certain habits easy and other habits difficult is a way to hack your environment. Want to eat healthily? Keep fruits and healthy snacks in a bowl in your kitchen counter and put the chips and treats in a hard to reach cabinet. Bonus if you need a step stool to get it. Another trick I use is I do not refrigerate beer. If I want a beer, I have to go to my basement, bring it upstairs, and wait for it to get cold.  That way, I know I really want the beer instead of reaching for it because it’s convenient. How can you apply this to riding?  I keep all of my ride tools and rain jacket in my hydration pack so I don’t have to spend time getting organized. I make sure my bike is in working order long before I ride so something like changing a tire or checking bolts isn’t a barrier. I plan in advance how long and where I’m going to ride so decision fatigue doesn’t stop me from getting out the door.  How can you alter your environment to make certain habits obvious and easy and other things you want to avoid hard?

Track Your Progress

Visually being able to see if you are consistent can also be a great motivator, and it can also help hold you accountable if you aren’t being consistent. For riding, I love using a GPS-enabled cycling computer so I can track my progress with an app of my choosing.  You can see what you’ve done on a weekly, monthly, and even annual basis.  Tracking habits is one of the most effective ways to stay consistent because you can actually see what you’re doing!

It’s fun to see improvement and it’s actually fun to put in consistent work.  Personally, the things I’m most proud of are the tasks where I had to work at it.  The work is the reward!

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Sonya Looney regularly writes about motivation, mindset, goals, and habits in her weekly newsletter! Read more articles and get more motivation from her as you journey down the path of living a high-performance life!

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