Coach Tip Tuesday: Thinking and Doing are Two Different Things

Posted On:
Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023
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A person wears a pair of black work books that are dusted in mud.

Today is the 38th day of 2023, which means that we’re fast approaching that 45-day mark when most people have abandoned their New Year’s Resolutions. In my first Coach Tip Tuesday of 2023, I discussed the statistics surrounding New Year’s Resolutions; the data shows pretty conclusively (for a myriad of reasons) that most people cannot successfully stick to the New Year’s Resolutions that they set.

It is my chosen lifelong mission to help people successfully achieve the goals they set for themselves. Therefore, today I’m going to talk about one of the things that I’ve observed about athletes (and people) over my career as an endurance coach that I feel really contributes to this issue:

Many, many people have a lack of awareness about what they are thinking versus what they are actually doing.  

This is very important (so read it twice): Thinking and doing are two different things.  It happens all too often: An athlete will tell me what they want to do.  What they aspire to do.  And then…they don’t do it.  Whether it’s because what they wanted to do was too far away from what their current abilities are, their timeline to the goal was improperly planned, because they don’t have the time or space to do what they want to do right now, or any number of other reasons, they just do not do it.

Other times, athletes truly do think that they’re doing what they need to be doing. Related to that, if they aren’t doing what they want to do or need to be doing, they may rationalize or justify to themselves why they aren’t doing what they said they’d do. Both of these indicate a lack of self-awareness and are forms of micro-quitting; this makes what an athlete is doing (even if it’s not what they need to be doing) feel okay in their minds. The danger with this type of thinking is that it creates a wide rift between what is actually true about where an athlete is and where they want to do/what they want to achieve, which ultimately snowballs to a lack of success.

Here’s the hard truth: Success never comes to look for you while you wait around thinking about it.  You are what you do, not what you say you will do.

And that’s it - one of the biggest reasons I personally see people fail at maintaining New Year’s Resolutions and why many athletes fail to achieve the goals they set.  They have a disconnect between what they’re thinking and what they are actually willing/able to do.

Dave Ramsey says “A goal is a dream with work boots on.” In the context of this conversation, thoughts/thinking represents our dreams. However, those dreams are just that - dreams - unless we put some effort behind them in the form of real, tangible, actionable steps. We need to do the work - not just talk about the work - if we’re going to manifest our dreams into reality as accomplished goals.

As always, successful goal setting (which then leads to a higher probability of goal achievement) starts with honest conversations (the most important of which is with yourself) and properly managed expectations. As you navigate this process, there are some important questions that you can ask yourself (this is by no means an exhaustive list):

  • What are the stressors in your life?
  • How much time do you actually have to allocate toward a goal?  (Related: How much time are you willing to spend on/allocate toward a goal?)
  • What are you actually willing to do? 
  • What are you unwilling to do?
  • What brings you joy?

I’ve been touting the benefits of putting things into real words and writing down (with actual pen and paper) goals, dreams, and notes for years. Data and science backs up what I have anecdotally observed to be true: People who write down their goals are 1.5 times more likely to succeed at achieving them than those who keep their goals as nebulous thoughts in their mind. (Secret goals really are harmful!)

There are two reasons why this is true: Encoding and external storage.  Writing something down with an actual pen and an actual sheet of paper stores the thought externally outside of your brain, thereby giving you a visual reminder of what is important.  Encoding is what happens inside the brain itself; by writing something down, your hippocampus (a structure within your brain) analyzes it and recognizes that what is written down must be important (since you took the time to write it down), so it organizes that thought into the long-term storage bank of the brain.  Thus, it is far more likely to be remembered (and achieved).

I want you to have the highest probability of success possible, and I don’t want you to be part of the 91% of folks who are unable to see their goals through. This week, I encourage you to thoughtfully and honestly assess where you’re at relative to the goals you’ve set for yourself this year. Carve 15 minutes of time to sit down with a pen and paper, and write down the answers to the questions above. Let that inform your thoughts and choices moving forward about realistic goal setting, and then write down the goals you decide on. Finally, share those goals with a trusted person who can serve as an accountability buddy - a friend, family member, or coach. Share your progress with them and be open to their honest feedback as you move along your journey toward achieving your goals. With this combination, you will be an unstoppable, goal-accomplishing power house.

Don’t just think about what you want to do.  Go out there and actually do it.


Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at

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