We all know the sad stats about New Year’s resolutions: Most people who start one on January 1 don’t actually hit their goals by December 31. Still, we make them anyway. The secret to success is to make manageable goals that we can track, measure and accomplish, and then cross off the list for 2017. To do this, here are a few resolution-setting rules that will help.
FIND MEASURABLE GOALS
This one’s old-school, but it’s certainly worth mentioning: A general goal won’t happen, but a specific one can stick. Studies have shown this since as far back as 1979, and a 2013 study at the University of Liverpool even showed that people suffering from depression tend to have unmeasurable, generalized goals. Instead of saying “run more” in a long list of resolutions, set a running goal that’s quantifiable, like running your first half-marathon or running a marathon in under four hours. The more specific the goal, the better.
READ MORE > IS IT BETTER TO HAVE BIG OR SMALL GOALS
MAKE A PLAN
According to a study in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, physical activity is is heavily impacted by an intention-behavior gap. That’s why a resolution to start “running more” is easy to forget or bail on after a few days. “People regularly set physical activity goals and find themselves frustrated or disappointed by their failure to engage or persist in physical activity,” the authors write.
A marathon takes training, but so do a 5K and getting to the point where running for 30 minutes doesn’t feel like death. Break down your resolution into manageable chunks and actually plan it into your schedule. Most of the people in the study found that weekends were the hardest times to work out because they found themselves with too much freedom and a lack of routine — so plan your weekend runs and don’t let that happen to you!
DECIDE ON A MEASURE
Measuring helps keep you honest and progressing toward your goals. If weight loss is part of your resolution, the Journal of Obesity recently studied the effect of daily weighing versus not hopping on the scale and found that daily self-weighing can produce clinically significant weight loss. If weight isn’t your focus, you need some other metric to keep you honest — like charting your mileage within a certain time (i.e., how far you can run in 30 minutes) or your heart rate at a certain miles-per-hour pace (which should lower as you get fitter) — and you need to check it regularly.
Make sure you pick a measurement tool that you’ll actually use: a cool heart rate monitor or a nice digital scale — and don’t forget an app like MapMyRun or a journal dedicated to tracking these metrics!
Visualization has been proved time and time again as a way to improve performance. Before every race, you should spend at least a few runs — or a few minutes before or after runs — visualizing what the race will look and feel like for you. Think about how that finish line will feel and really see it in your mind.
As you make your resolutions, pause and visualize yourself succeeding. You should have a goal that will be a stretch for you to achieve, but if you can’t even reach it in your imagination, you likely won’t be able to stay motivated enough to get there in reality.
STACK YOUR RESOLUTIONS
You don’t want to have a massive list of resolutions, but most people have at least a couple of things they want to achieve in any given year. This year, if you’re serious about a run resolution, try to add habits that you can pair with it, like eating more vegetables or hydrating properly. A 2013 study at Stanford showed that combining a change in diet and exercise habits had a better chance of success for both.
TELL YOUR CREW
These days most runners don’t just crave that finish-line medal — they crave the social media aspect of posting a picture of that medal so friends and family can see it. A 2012 study actually suggested that posting to Facebook was more motivating than the trophy itself. Find an online community that cheers you on. You might already have that with your current set of friends, but if you don’t, there are plenty of running forums and Instagram hashtags you can adopt to start cultivating a community that will keep you running through those rough days.
FIND A BUDDY
Don’t just lean on your online community. In 2012, yet another study showed that the influence of close friends and family members matters to your exercise habits. And another 2012 study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, showed that a virtual exercise buddy could be effective, so if you have a close friend who doesn’t live nearby, you can still hold each other accountable.
DECIDE ON YOUR REWARD
Treat yourself. It might be monthly, or you could settle on one rad year-end goal, like a trip or a big purchase. Just don’t make the mistake of rewarding yourself with the antithesis of the goal. That means no “eating a whole pizza on Saturday” because we’ve managed to eat healthy or stick to our running goals all week. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has “rewards” (well, non-food rewards) listed as one of the top recommendations for a reason. Think: new running shoes, a trip somewhere warm for a week of training, some snazzy new leggings, a massage — you get the idea. These are all healthy rewards that actually further your running goals, not hinder them.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN