Setting goals is easy. Pick something you want to do or have and follow the SMART formula. Sticking to the goals you've set is an entirely different story. Some goals are slippery - they never really seem graspable, and before you know it you've forgotten all about them. Really meaningful goals are sticky - they take on a life of their own, and you can't help but work on them consistently and tirelessly until you reach them. I ran 21 miles this past weekend (yes, me!), something I never thought would be possible, and it got me thinking about sticky goals - and how I've been able to stick to my marathon training.
The following strategies have helped me stick to my goal and get to the point where running the marathon actually seems possible and enjoyable. I give all of this information with the caveat that I have *not* actually achieved my ultimate goal yet (finishing the marathon in October) – but I feel successful (and like I've learned a ton) having even come this far.
How to "Stick" to your Goals:
Get Inspired I had been tip-toeing around the idea or running a marathon for almost a year before I finally committed to doing it in June. My friend Laura trained for a marathon on her own last year, and I was completely awestruck and inspired that she could do it at all, let alone on her own. That got me thinking, then someone – a complete stranger - gave me the last little push I needed.
Mark, author of the blog Marathonomy, read a blog post of mine and commented about running. I wrote back to thank him and told him I "was still too scared to train for a marathon...can't tell you why." He wrote back with a link to the following video: Running My First Marathon - and I was so inspired that I made a decision to commit right then and there, and haven't looked back since. What struck me most about the video is that the woman running wasn't an Olympic marathoner - she was just like me, and if she could do it, then so could I!
Even though I’ve never felt like a natural-born runner (did I mention I was the last one to finish the 25K earlier this summer?) I’ve also been inspired by my Dad, who ran several marathons in his lifetime in cities like London, Greece, Paris and San Francisco. When I find myself questioning my motivation, I ask him to tell me stories about his experiences (one involved getting booed by thousands of people as he passed an 80-year-old man at the finish line).
Getting (and staying) inspired - whether by videos, friends, family or a cause that's important to you - is an incredibly important part of sticking to a goal - its what recharges your battery when you're ready to quit. Set-up Regular Accountability As soon as I committed to my goal, I called my Dad and let him know. I also wrote 10 questions on a piece of paper, and asked if he would help keep me accountable by reviewing them with me every Sunday. Questions like, "Did you do your long run?", "What did you learn from running this week?" and “Are you having fun?” help keep me on track and focused not just on the goal, but on the process too. Plus – I know I can’t get away with completely quitting – otherwise what would I tell my Dad on our Sunday call?! Visualize Success I can’t stress enough the importance of visualizing success – seeing yourself from the perspective of someone who has already achieved their goal. It creates a positive reality to work toward, and cements what success will be like. I designed a SELF magazine cover and taped it to my bathroom mirror to visually represent my goal. I also wrote a "feature" article as if I were being interviewed about the diet and exercise habits that led to my success, and how great I felt as a result.
When my morale dips during a run, I reconnect with my original vision - picture myself crossing the finish line at the actual marathon, surrounded by friends and family, and how elated and proud I will feel. Consider the Alternative - Not Sticking to Your Goal The alternative to sticking to my goal is giving up. When I think about giving up, I think about how that would make me feel. I would feel deflated, discouraged and disappointed.
As challenging as it can be to get motivated sometimes, I know it would feel far worse to let myself down. If my mom taught me one thing throughout my years of sports and after school activities, it's that I am not a quitter. I learned the value of sticking with something even when it gets rough, knowing it will make me a better teammate, and ultimately a stronger person, in the end. Avoid the 'All or Nothing' Trap Maybe you've experienced this before: giving up on a goal after just one slight misstep. On a diet: I ate something I shouldn't have for breakfast, so the whole day is shot and I might as well go completely overboard for the rest of the day. Or, I didn’t go to the gym on Monday, so the whole week is shot and I might as well not start again until next week.
I call this the ‘All or Nothing’ trap - its the feeling that if I can't do something 100%, I shouldn't do it at all. Or if I veer off course, I might as well stop and let everything fall apart rather than make an adjustment and get right back on track. There's a Wikipedia article about Perfectionism that references this negative type of thinking, “where [people] believe that an achievement is either perfect or useless." So how does this apply to running, or sticking to your goals? It's important for me that if I miss one run (or more!) that I keep going and start right where I left off. Take Your Goal One Hour, One Day, One Week at a Time At many points in my early weeks of training, I got completely overwhelmed at the thought of running 21 miles on my own, let alone a full marathon. At that point I felt like 8 miles was my max. I had to constantly remind myself not to worry about the future weeks – just next Saturday’s long run. I told myself I’ll have plenty of opportunities to worry about those longer runs later, so why start now?! And little by little, week by week, I built on the previous weeks' accomplishments and was able to achieve just a little bit more, to the point where the next leap didn’t seem so impossible anymore.
The same goes for when I am actually on the long run – I take it one step, five minutes, one hour at a time. I don’t worry about how I am going to finish, or if I can make it the full 4:45 minutes. I just GO.
The point here? Don’t let yourself get scared away by the magnitude of your goal. What makes it sticky is that you break it down in to smaller steps that seem more possible, and that build on each other to create confidence and stickiness! Plus, once you've built on your goal over time (and told friends, family and your blog readers!), you're truly invested and it's a lot harder to just give up and walk away. Don’t Forget About Gratitude Rather than complain about how miserable I am during my run, I focus on everything I am thankful for. I’m thankful that I am able to run at all. That I am healthy and strong. That my body is willing to put up with me throughout this crazy training process. That I get five hours outdoors, to think and be alone. I am thankful that I get to enjoy nature – the blue sky, the birds, the water and the people-watching. I am thankful for the huge boost in self-esteem I feel after I finish a long run. I am thankful for my supportive friends and family, who encourage me every step of the way. I am thankful for my blog readers (especially those who made it to the end of this long post!), who help encourage me and keep me accountable, and who allow me to have an outlet for sharing this great experience.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts or tips for how you stick to your Big Scary Hairy Goals - and have them stick to you!