Have you ever been on a long and exhausting ruck that you thought would never end? Or maybe a time where you set a possible yet extravagant goal for yourself, and quickly realized how overwhelming the entire process was? Having an intentional mental skill to more effectively handle frustration and attentional overload can help you succeed in this situations.
Humans are only able to focus 100% of their attention on one target, and thus unable to focus 100% of their attention on multiple targets. What actually happens during multitasking is that we rapidly shift our attention from one target to another. This poses difficulties during longer or more tedious tasks. Sometimes, it may become overwhelming to think about a multitude of components within one performance, or one minute to the next within a longer performance.
Segmenting is a process where one larger task is broken down into several more manageable components. You’ve probably done some form of this during a workout as you break up what’s left to do - “I’ve already done 20 push-ups, so I only need to do 30 more, and that’s just 10, 3 times.” You may naturally have done this because 3 sets of 10 feels more manageable than 30 more. Segmenting can be used for relatively simple things like this, or more complicated tasks. When used, it can help prevent you from being pulled in multiple directions.
Segmenting is effective because it allows you to focus more attentively on what will help you be successful in a particular moment. The same goes for the next moment, and the next, and the next. If you were able to separate yourself from a situation in an effort to identify what the most important issue at the moment was, you’d likely better be able to prioritize the area that needs your attention. Segmenting allows us to do something similar.
According to research (Rushall (1996)), when segmenting or partitioning any given performance, the segments should be short enough for the performer to totally and completely focus only on that given performance for that given period of time. Remember that you can only focus on one thing at a time, so try and limit the temptation to try and focus on multiple targets – it can’t be done effectively. In basic terms, those that segment their performances are purposefully planning to be successful, rather than leaving everything up to chance.
In a more practical example (based on a study conducted by Díaz-Ocejo (2013)), aerobic endurance athletes that used the skill of segmenting within their training were more successful than those that did not due to having more organized and purposeful behavior between each segment. When the athletes who used segmenting to plan, organize and execute purposeful behavior were compared to others, they tended to be more successful.
Segmenting can also be a significant tool for the goal setting and goal-achieving process. For instance, say your dream is to become a Green Beret and you know you need to first pass Special Forces Assessment & Selection (SFAS). With this immense goal ahead of you, it’s reasonable to feel overwhelmed. You can handle this by taking the entire goal (to become a Green Beret) and break it down into smaller, less overwhelming goals. For example, you could at first place your entire focus on learning more about Special Forces. You could then inquire about potential dates to attend SFAS. You might then try to establish a fitness plan, and then take that workout day by day. By segmenting out your goal, it may appear less daunting, and the tasks will feel more realistic to complete. And mentally, you’re helping yourself out by telling your brain specifically what to focus on from step to step. If you think this sounds obvious, consider the alternative where you do one of these tasks at a time, but wind up thinking about the others constantly.
Another interesting note that research has shown us is that when we set more futuristic goals (longer-term), they tend to have little impact on our current performances, compared to more short-term/attainable goals. Also, when we set short-term performance goals that are focused on processes rather than outcomes (i.e., form/technique rather than time of completion), we’re more likely to experience successes (Rushall, 1996). Now that we’ve focused on segmenting a goal and why that’s so important, let’s look at how to realistically begin your goal setting plan.
When setting any type of goal (performance, short-term, long-term, process or outcome), the first and maybe most important step is simply writing it down. Matthews, G. (2015), found that those individuals that write down their goal are 33% more likely to actually achieve them compared to those who just think about it. It makes the goal more “real.”
After writing down your goal, you can best enable your brain by making sure the goal is personally meaningful to you. In our previous example, you might explore this by saying, “why do I really want to become a Green Beret?” This ensures you are activating the amygdala (part of your brain), which is responsible for emotional responses. Getting an emotional response is important because we’re more likely to do what we need to when the end state actual matters to us. Are you really going to go through months of hard workouts if you don't care about the end result? If we are not personally attached to the goal, or don't really care much about whether we succeed or not, we are less likely to have the motivation and drive that we need to work hard throughout the entire process.
Then, by breaking down what your goal entails into smaller pieces, you’re activating your frontal lobe (another part of your brain), which is responsible for problem solving and decision-making processes. This is important because it best enables us to effectively problem solve and make logical decisions when it comes to working toward achieving the goal. In turn, this allows us to navigate any obstacles faced throughout the process.
By activating both of these areas of the brain, you’ll be able to specifically focus on processes and steps that help achieve your goals, while at the same time, ignoring information/situations that would deter us from being successful (Compton, 2003).
That was a lot of information. But to summarize this, it means that by breaking down goals/performances into meaningful, manageable and specific targets, we’re more likely to be successful and stay task focused.
Here’s how you can start to practically apply this skill:
- In your next challenging physical performance, such as your two-mile run in your ACFT, take time beforehand to identify and plan how you will break-down the larger performance, into meaningful and specific segments. For example, you may find landmarks throughout the run that break up the physical exertion (for example, trees, lamp posts, buildings, etc.) and reframe your thinking to focus on the smaller distance from where you begin to your first landmark, and then from that one to the next. This is how segmenting can be used for specific performances.
- Pick a long-term goal, write it down (pen & paper!), and lay out the various components or steps you need to take in order to reach that end goal. Segment out the entire process and focus your attention, effort, motivation and resources onto the first segment of your goal, and then move on to the next, and then the next. This doesn’t mean to ignore items on that list until they are needed, but don’t excessively focus your attention on the items that aren’t pressing. In other words, prioritizing what’s most important first, second, third, etc., may help identify what’s important throughout the entirety of the goal setting process without hyper focusing on things that aren’t relevant to this particular moment. This is how segmenting can be used for goal setting.
Many guides from Blue / Green share mental skills like this that are made relevant to your goals. When our athletes train more than just their bodies, they are able to get closer to their true potential. And our true potential is what we’re seeking.
How can you make this skill relevant to you and your goals? Send us a DM on Instagram and we can help you refine your thought process. Have a specific question or need help in another area? Reach out to us anytime - we’re here to enable you.
Compton RJ. The interface between emotion and attention: a review of evidence from psychology and neuroscience. Behav Cogn Neurosci Rev. 2003 Jun;2(2):115-29. doi: 10.1177/1534582303255278. PMID: 13678519.
Díaz-Ocejo, Jaime & Kuitunnen, Sami & Mora, Juan. (2013). An intervention to enhance the performance of a 3000 metre steeplechase athlete, using segmentation and self-talk.
Korean Society of Sport Psychology Summer Seminar. Seoul Olympic Park.
Matthews, G. (2015). “The Effectiveness of Four Coaching Technique in Enhancing Goal Achievement: Writing Goals, Formulating Action Steps, Making a Commitment, and Accountability.” Presentation at the 9th Annual International Symposium on Psychology, 25-28 May, 2015, Athens, Greece
Revista de Psicologia del Deporte. 22. 87-92.
Rushall, B. S. (1996). Some determinants in human performance: A psychological perspective.