Setting out to achieve anything in life (fitness milestones or achievements especially) isn't a fingers-crossed situation. Other than the lottery, there's no wishing and hoping on the path to success — there's just doing and planning. And while hiccups and curveballs are bound to come your way, with the right strategies, you can absolutely tackle any goal you set for yourself.
Before you set your sights on your next target, make sure you're setting yourself up to succeed from day one with these top methods.
You can't possibly hope to achieve your goal if you're not able to make time for it. Schedule a designated time to devote to your training and indicate it on your calendar just as you would a work meeting or doctor's appointment.
Visually and mentally carving out time in your schedule signals to your brain that this task is something important and not to be missed. Soon enough, you'll start identifying this specific time as routine. And don't be afraid to say no if something interferes with your set-aside time. For me, this comes as a total block on my calendar every Sunday, which is reserved for my long training runs. I don't accept invites during this time, I set my phone to "do not disturb", and I make sure to plan my day around it.
Acknowledge that the time dedicated to your training, meditation, hiking, running — whatever it may be — is just as important as the other things in life. Not only will you find that eventually you'll become used to this activity, but it'll be much easier to switch to the right mindset and face your task head on with your best effort.
This should seem obvious, but really dig deep and understand the why behind your goal. Is it something you feel passionately about? Goals we don't really care about are the first ones to go. It's your time and your energy; you must be the one who is passionate about the end result!
This reflection can surprise you. I have dozens of races of all distances under my belt, but it wasn't until recently, when I made a goal to run yet another half marathon, that I found my long runs challenging. I was feeling tired a few minutes into training, and the few miles I could muster the energy for felt heavy. What's more, I clocked in a much slower pace than my normal training pace. Needless to say, I was feeling discouraged. And then it hit me: I didn't want to run another half marathon.
I wanted to get faster, and I wanted to do that with shorter distances. I adjusted my goal from "finish another half marathon" to "drop a full minute off my 5K finish time." And with that, training became much easier and much more enjoyable, simply because I wanted to work toward my goal.
A walk-before-you-can-run mindset is always good to remember. Trust me when I say that I didn't set a goal of "running a marathon" before I felt comfortable with that first 5K. There's nothing wrong with starting with a bite-size target. Oftentimes, this makes it easier to visualize yourself achieving the goal and helps you to prioritize and incorporate it into your daily life.
But more importantly, not all goals should be ones you can simply cross off your to-do list once you've achieved them. You'll be more likely to keep your motivation up if your goal is something that you can continually build upon.
A tactic that has worked for me in the past to maintain momentum and a goal-oriented mindset is to set buildable goals. Before I even finished my first 10K race, I had already signed up for a half marathon. I found that in the process of working toward one goal, I was enjoying it so much that I wanted to set myself up to hit my next goal. In this way, one check mark on the list spurred another one, and then another, and so forth. To this day, I'm continually able to stay motivated simply because I pick goals that allow me to build upon the work I've already put in.
It's been said before and it bears repeating: fitness friends make everything better. Relying on a community is always beneficial for any athlete at any stage of the game. If you're newer to fitness and need help identifying the right strength workouts for you, talking to a friend who knows their way around a dumbbell can help you feel geared up for success. On the flip side, if you're like me and have run dozens of races, you still may need a little nudge to up that pace from time to time. Everyone can benefit from the power of community.
Turning to friends, partners, workout buddies, coworkers, and even online friends can be the motivation you need to stay on track on the days that are more difficult. Because yes, there will be difficult days. There always are when you're working hard.
One of the best ways I've found to build up a routine is to simply train the brain to associate what you're working toward with something you already love.
This could be as simple as using an app like MapMyRun so you end right by your favorite coffee shop and can treat yourself to a drink after a training run. Or, if you're trying to master your Crane pose in yoga, bookend in your Crane practice with other flows you love.
As someone who has favored cardio day in and out, I was intimidated by strength training for so long. But once I started adding some bodyweight exercises to the end of my morning runs, I found myself becoming accustomed to the feeling of strength work. Eventually, I was graduating to more advanced weights and movements all because I paired my goal with something I already knew I could do well.
In partnering something I was working toward — and admittedly, intimidated by — with an activity I knew I could do and do well, I was able to train my body and my brain to associate the once-hard activity with an endorphin-filled one. Soon enough, I was able to have a positive, not fearful, association with strength training.
This could be the number one crusher of goals — and it absolutely doesn't have to be. If you get sidetracked or have to skip a day of training, move on and pick up where you left off the next day. It's as simple as that!
It's easy to give into the mindset of "well I missed this morning's training, so I guess I'll just take this whole week off." If you need the break, take it. But if you're letting that all-or-nothing mentality kick in, think again.
Learning to forgive yourself when you fall short or life gets in the way is just as valuable, if not more valuable, as the workout you may have missed or the miles you didn't log. If you truly want to crush your goals, you first have to crush anything that stands in your way — even if that's your own mental barriers from time to time.