Jeff Gaudette— As the New Year approaches, many runners and athletes will be making their resolutions and striving to better themselves in 2014.
While we can endlessly argue the efficacy and usefulness of New Year’s resolutions, I believe the underlying concept is important to explore. In short, how do we effectively make changes in our behavior?
In this article, I am going to outline the four principles I believe anyone needs to follow if they want to make changes in their life. While I will focus on how we can use these principles to become better runners, I believe this advice is applicable to any goal you may have.
Take Things One Step At A Time
When most runners set a goal, it’s something ambitious, like finishing a marathon, becoming a vegetarian, finishing a race under a certain time goal, losing a certain amount of weight, etc. Being the ambitious, sometimes OCD personality runners are known for, we jump right into that goal and try to make a big, drastic change right away.
Personally, I think that’s the problem with New Year’s resolutions. They have this all-or-nothing connotation about how you’re supposed to approach effecting change in yourself. However, making a drastic change to your habits and routines is difficult to sustain and it’s a frequent reason resolutions typically fail.
A better approach is to breakdown your goal into a manageable, step-by-step process.
As an example, if you want to become a vegetarian you shouldn’t try to stop eating all meat on January 1. Instead, you should start by eliminating four-legged animals from your diet for a month or two. That’s a pretty easy change since it leaves chicken and fish and it allows you to gradually adapt to the new lifestyle. After another month or so, whenever you’re comfortable, eliminate two-legged animals from your diet. Continue the process until you’ve met your goal of becoming a vegetarian.
By breaking down your goal into a slow, step-by-step process you’ve effected major change to yourself in a matter of a few months but because of the gradual nature, you likely didn’t even recognize the difference in your routine.
Enjoy The Small Wins
After you’ve created your step-by-step process, don’t forget to celebrate the small victories along the way. Making lifestyle training changes is mentally draining and you need to reward yourself to stay motivated.
As an example, if your goal is to finish a marathon, don’t forget to celebrate your farthest ever long run or your highest mileage week, especially when it puts you at the “minimum” many coaches recommend before starting to train.
Use these small victories as markers and an opportunity to reflect on how far you’ve come already. It’s easy to become so caught up in our currently reality that we can forget about the progress we’ve already made.
As an example, I worked with a few runners this fall training for their first 10K. Both started with 3 miles as their longest run for the week. After two months they were comfortable running 6-7 miles at a time, but they were frustrated and ready to give up after a tough 9-mile long run. However, I asked them to think back two months and remember how daunting running 7 miles seemed. After reflecting, it helped them appreciate their progress so far while providing much-needed motivation.
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It's OK tto Press the Reset Button
One thing I remember about playing Nintendo as a kid was how easy it was to hit the reset button when things went wrong. I could always rely on that reset button to make all my mistakes go away. Along the same lines, remember that no matter your goal, you’re going to encounter setbacks along the way.
Rather then let those setbacks throw you completely off course, hit the reset button.
Whether you need to reset that day or the entire week, it’s OK. Hit the mental reset button when you go to sleep and clear out all the mistakes and bad things that happened. When you wake up, it’s a fresh start. What happened yesterday or the week before doesn’t matter.
Today is a new day and within your control to make it a positive step forward.
Stop Looking for Shortcuts
Finally, don’t waste your time with secret tricks, hacks and the latest magazine headlines about how you can run faster without training or lose weight and eat whatever you want.
Real change takes hard work and effort.
In essence, that’s the real satisfaction that comes with meeting your goals — the hard work, dedication and perseverance it took to achieve them. Qualifying for Boston wouldn’t be so great if it was easy, right?
By not wasting your mental and physical energy on “secrets” and hacks, you have more time to devote to the hard, unglamorous work you need to do to achieve your goal.
As you begin to think about your New Year’s resolutions this year (or anytime you want to set and reach a new goal), keep these tips in mind and help yourself make a lasting, positive change to your health, fitness and running.