It’s early January, and like countless others, you’ve started working at your New Year’s resolution. Whether your’s is a specific race goal (to run your first 5K or tackle your first marathon), a process-related goal (to be more consistent with workouts or to start a strength routine) or is more health-oriented (to drink more water or eat less processed food), we want to make sure you’re successful. Sticking with New Year’s resolutions is notoriously difficult, so use these tips to help you stay on track all year long.
Give yourself parameters and start small
Ambiguous goals, like “this year I’m going to start running” or “this year I’m going to be more consistent with speed workouts” are harder to stick to because they have no structure. Give yourself some parameters so you have something tangible to shoot for, but make sure they’re realistic. Too often, people get overly excited in the new year and set unrealistic goals, like “I’m going to run every day,” when they haven’t gone for a run in over a year.
Start small so you can have some success early on. This will help you stay motivated as the year goes on. For example, start with something like “I’m going to run for 20-30 minutes, three times per week,” or “I’m going to do one strength training session per week for the month of January.” Once you’ve managed to do that consistently, you can build on your early success, whether that means adding an extra strength training session or increasing the length of your runs.
Make one goal and break it into steps
Having a big goal can be very motivating because it’s exciting, but can quickly become overwhelming when you start to tackle it and realize how hard it’s going to be. When you break that goal into smaller, sub-goals, it gives you the opportunity to feel successful early on (see above) and helps you focus on the process, rather than the outcome. This makes the journey to achieving that goal much more enjoyable, which will help you stick to it.
For example, if your goal is to run your first 5K, start by choosing when you’re going to do it (there are plenty of 5Ks that happen all across Canada in the spring!), and make sure you sign up for it right away. Look at the timeline you have to get ready for it, and break that timeline down into smaller goals. For example, if your 5K is in April, perhaps your first goal is to run two kilometres without stopping by the end of January, 3K by the end of February, 4K by the end of March et voila! You’ve reached your 5K goal just in time, and your sub-goals kept you focused and on track to get there.
Reward yourself along the way
As you reach these smaller, process goals, don’t forget to celebrate yourself for a job well done. Too often, we put all the emphasis on the end goal and refuse to allow ourselves to celebrate until we get there. Running your first marathon? Give yourself a prize every time you surpass your longest long run. Trying to be more consistent with weekly speed work? Reward yourself at the end of every week that you haven’t skipped a session. Creating a new habit is hard, so don’t be shy about giving yourself a pat on the back when you manage to stick to it.
Re-think your failures
On the other hand, life isn’t perfect and neither are you, so there’s a good chance that somewhere along the line, you’ll stumble. You miss a speed workout, skip your strength training sessions or don’t manage to hit your 3K target in the timeline you set for yourself.
Instead of looking at these moments as failures, consider them a step toward your goal. Take a moment to think about what worked and what didn’t. Was your goal a bit too big? Do you need to break it down into even tinier steps? Is there something you’re prioritizing over your goal that you can give less importance to? Every time you don’t hit a target, it’s an opportunity to learn and improve.
Ask for support
You don’t need to tackle big goals completely alone. When you’re trying to make a behaviour change, keeping it to yourself gives you an easy out because you don’t have anyone else to be accountable to. Once you’ve set your goal, tell someone you trust and ask them to regularly check in with you to see how you’re progressing. Often, we are OK with disappointing ourselves but are less inclined to disappoint a friend or loved one.
Alternatively, getting the help of a coach or inviting someone to join you in your quest can do wonders for bolstering you when you are struggling with motivation, so grab a friend, join a group or ask for help from an expert to keep you going.