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Resolutions and how to keep them

02-Feb-17

By Alice Morrison

I hate new year’s resolutions but feel obliged to make them every year. It seems to me that no sooner do I say I will do something than I lose all desire whatsoever to do it. Even worse is the 'I won’t resolution' aka 'I won’t eat any more cake'. The very fact of potential denial immediately makes cake the most desirable thing in the universe.

Running resolutions are no different and judging by my fellow sufferers’ blogs and tweets, most people find it hard to stick to them. According to Statistics Brain (1,273 people interviewed) the most popular resolution for 2017 was… yep you have guessed it, 'Lose Weight' at 21.4%.

No surprises there. What WAS interesting though was that 42.4% of people said they never succeeded and failed every year, and 48.4% said they had infrequent success. This means that over 50% of people do succeed in their goals, so they must be worth making.

As one of our favourite running bloggers, Linda Doke put it “I think it’s important to set goals, of course. And whether you want to set them at the start of a new year, or on your birthday, or on an arbitrary Tuesday morning whenever in the year, is not important – what is important is that you DO set them, and that you be determined to achieve them. Without a change in mind-set, there’s no chance you’ll achieve a change in behaviour.”

Rather than give you a list of running resolutions you ought to try out and keep to, we turned to Sarah Cooke, a clinical psychologist and keen runner for some techniques on HOW to keep them.

Q. Is it useful to make running New Years resolutions?

A. This is very individual and depends on the function of running in your life. Some people are goal orientated and need a resolution in order to stay motivated. Other people are happy to keep goals and targets for work and use running as a way to unwind. It is important not to feel pressured into having running resolutions just because you are a runner. However, if you do have specific goals that you want to achieve in your running, then clearly defining what they are and coming up with a sensible plan is a helpful approach. This can be done at any time of year, but January is when many of us traditionally make our resolutions.

Q. What's the best way to frame them?

A. As with any goal, the best way to frame a New Year's resolution is to make it SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-limited

Specific - have you clearly defined your goal or is it vague and woolly? For example, 'I will exercise more' could mean lots of things and how will you know where to start and if you're on track? Define the exercise you are going to do and what you mean by 'more'.

Measurable - you need to set clear criteria that will determine whether or not you have reached your goal. The danger of an immeasurable goal is that may never think you have reached it. If you set a goal to run 'faster' and you reduce your 5k time from 29 minutes to 28 but your running buddy hits 27, that critical inner voice might tell you that 28 minutes is still too slow. However, if you set your goal as hitting 28 minutes by the end of the year then you will know exactly when you've achieved it and are more likely to believe that you have succeeded.

Achievable - a good goal is realistic. That doesn't mean it has to be easy, but if you set the bar too high then you will either feel so overwhelmed that you'll give up trying or you'll do your best but still feel like a failure. Setting unrealistic goals is a common trait in people who struggle with poor motivation, low mood and anxiety. If you currently suffer from shin splints if you increase your weekly mileage, then don't set a goal to run double the miles you achieved last year - chances are you won't be able to. Set an achievable goal instead. You can always set another goal later in the year if you've remained injury free.

Relevant - the most successful people work towards goals that are meaningful to them. If you try to work towards a goal someone else has set for you or a goal you think you 'should' set, then chances are you'll find it difficult to stay motivated. If your coach wants you to run a sub 4 marathon but you find longer, slower races more enjoyable then you won't commit to the sub 4 training plan. Perhaps a more relevant goal would be to run your longest race instead. Make sure your goals are things that fit with your values and the direction you want your life to take.

Time-limited - 'I'll start eating healthily on Monday', 'I'll go for a run when it stops raining'. We've all done it. Most of us have probably also fallen into the trap of impatience and given up when we don't see improvements quickly. Think about how long it is realistically going to take for you to reach your goal - get some advice if you aren't sure. If the furthest you've ever run is 30 miles, then entering a 100 mile race next month carries a high risk of failure. On the flip side, if you set a goal to run a 100-mile race but don't specify any time frame then how will you know when to start putting your plans into action? Will you procrastinate? A good goal sets a time-frame that allows you to know if you are on track and helps you plan how to get there.

An example of a SMART goal that meets all the criteria for success for someone who has completed marathons and 50km races and wants to progress would be: 'I will run the Chiltern Way 50 miler in September'.

Q. What are your top three tips for making yourself stick to them.

A. If your New Year's resolutions are SMART goals, then you are on a good path for success. However, life is often unexpected and there are likely to be bumps in the road. When the going gets tough:

  1. Identify barriers/problems - if you can identify likely barriers before you hit them and plan your strategy then you'll be prepared. If you hit unexpected problems, then take some time to identify exactly what is getting in the way of you sticking to your resolution. Brainstorm all the possible solutions to the problem and identify the pros and cons of each solution. Put the solution that seems most helpful into practise.
  2. Identify your strengths and resources. What qualities do you possess that are going to help you stick to your resolution? These might be physical - muscle strength, speed, fitness; or they might be mental - resilience, determination, focus. Think about how you can build on these. What about other resources? Which people around you can you count on to help you stick to your resolution?
  3. Break the resolution down into manageable steps. Feeling overwhelmed or not knowing where to start is a common reason for giving up on a goal, especially if it's a long-term one. If you identify a series of mini-goals on the journey towards your resolution, then it will feel more achievable and you will be able to monitor your progress. Write down all the things that need to be achieved for you to be successful. For example, if you're aiming towards a 50 mile race, you might include steps such as: entering the race, completing some shorter races, recceing the route, obtaining the mandatory kit, booking a hotel for the race weekend...

You can treat these steps like mini goals - put them in order, decide when you want to have achieved each step by and what will help you do this. Tick off each step as you go and you'll get a motivational boost from seeing yourself moving in the direction of your resolution.

We hope that this advice will help with goal setting or resolutions throughout the year. Personally, I am going to do some February resolutions since January was a bust. And if I fail? Well at least I am in good company. Here’s a final thought from @peteholmes posted on January 1st on Twitter:

"Forgot to make resolutions? Just write out everything you did last night and at the beginning add the word "stop." 8:35 PM - 1 Jan 2014

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