Self-regulatory processes in goal striving during excellent distance-running performances: A qualitative study

Patricia C. Jackman, Amy E. Whitehead, Christian Swann, Noel Brick

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Goal setting can improve endurance performance, yet how endurance performers maintain goal striving and bring it to a successful close has received limited attention. In this study, we investigated the self-regulatory processes employed by long-distance runners during goal striving in excellent competitive performances.

Through in-depth, event-focused interviews, we explored 21 long-distance runners’ experiences of goal striving in excellent competitive performances (M = 77.43 h post-race). Furthermore, we recruited 10 additional participants with relevant experiences (runner n = 7, coach n = 2; sport psychologist n = 1) for external member-reflection interviews.

Through our matrix analysis, we interpreted that by contrasting their current and future goal status periodically throughout their excellent performances, using a process called mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII), this helped the runners to make decisions about whether to persist with a goal, or disengage from a goal and reengage with an alternative. Furthermore, our findings depict how these goal decisions unfolded when runners perceived they were behind, equalling, or exceeding their goal(s). We also illustrate how goal revision was used as an adaptive process to maximise performance, and to avert or manage action crises.

Our findings extend theoretical understandings of goal striving and the self-regulatory processes endurance performers employ to attain and/or adapt their goals. Psychological support provided for athletes should go beyond simply setting goals, but also include training on mental frameworks such as MCII to manage goal-striving challenges and decisional conflict encountered during performances.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102516
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Early online date25 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s)


  • Action Crisis
  • Elite athlete
  • Endurance Activity
  • Goal Revision
  • Mental contrasting with implementation intentions
  • Self-regulation
  • Action crisis
  • Goal revision
  • Endurance activity


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