November 5, 2014

How to Stay Committed to Your Goals

Last week, I alluded to the fact that I was starting to think about running another marathon. In short, I need to be in Florida for work at the end of January, and I knew that was right around the time of the Miami Marathon. Out of curiosity, I went to check the dates – and saw that while Miami was actually the weekend prior, that weekend was the Melbourne Music Marathon. Florida is already an appealing destination in the winter, but Melbourne is a special course because it’s largely waterfront, with four bridge crossings in the full marathon. I love running along water – I find it so relaxing! Plus, I’m also really excited for the 20 bands that are along the course, and the beer and pizza at the finish line. #WillRunForGoodFood

I’m really looking forward to an end of January race to keep me running through the holiday season. If you’re interested in coming and running Melbourne too, you can get $10 off entry with discount code RUNWITHLAURA. This coupon is also valid for the half marathon, if that’s more your preferred distance! But in order to keep me from dropping down to that myself, I need to make sure I stay focused on running through the holiday season.

With only about three months till race day, it’s really important for me to stick to the plan I created. My idea was to do a long run every Saturday (increasing it by 10% each week), and then do one run during the week of 3-6 miles. Ideally I’d be working on speed for the weekday run, but honestly, I have no speed ever since I moved to Colorado, and it’s a struggle just to hold a 10 minute pace – so I might just take it easy and do whatever I do for that run.

But as far as the long run goes, I realized that I already have some barriers to getting it done. It’s easy for me to prioritize my long run when I get to go have fun doing it with my Saturday morning running group. But this week, I’ll be on vacation on Saturday (I know, poor baby), and I don’t really want to do my long run in Mexico! Instead, my plan is to do it at 5am tomorrow before work. Or at least… that was my plan. Now that the day is actually approaching, I’m not so sure, and sleep sounds really good! So I decided to do some research into commitment, and how I make sure that I stick with my training plan even when I’m not feeling totally motivated to do so.

How To Stay Committed To Your Goals
Photo taken by me at mile 3 of the Prince of Wales Island Marathon in Alaska

So first off, a lot of the research I turned up online around commitment was about goal setting in general. Make sure your goal is something you’re passionate about, make sure it’s SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound), make sure you have a good plan in place to help you reach the goal, and try to ensure public accountability. And of course, the contrary piece to all of that is don’t get so focused on your goal that you let it get in the way of enjoying the ride. I’ve talked about a lot of these topics before, so I won’t talk much about them here other than linking those posts.

Studies have shown that individuals with high commitment outperform those with low commitment – which basically means you can do better just by being motivated! Not surprising, since those who are highly committed are probably going to expend more energy, But looking into commitment turns up the fact that there are three different types of commitment – so I thought it might be a good idea to think through each of those separately.

Affective commitment is when you feel a strong emotional attachment to your goal. When thinking about my goal as “run a marathon,” this one is a little bit tricky. I’ve run a lot of marathons, and while each one definitely is special to me and often makes me tear up in the moment, it’s hard for me to get super excited ahead of time about finishing one. But if I think about my goal as “completing my training plan” rather than the end goal of the marathon – I definitely feel a strong emotional attachment. In case it hasn’t been obvious from all my posts about running in Colorado, I just love running here – it makes me so happy! Getting an early morning run in absolutely starts my day on the right foot (and left foot… har har). So for this one, I just need to remember how amazing I feel when I do my runs according to plan.

Next up is continuance commitment – when the pros of your goal outweigh the cons. In this case, what are the pros of completing my training as planned? This is a great place to try “contrast therapy.” Fantasize about what would happen if you quit, then metaphorically dump a bucket of ice water by thinking about the associated cons if you turned that fantasy into reality. So, I might imagine sleeping in till 7am tomorrow instead of getting up to run, and how great it would feel to sleep that late. But then I think about how sluggish I’ll feel the rest of the day if I don’t start it with a workout, and how pissed I’ll be at myself next week if I have to jump all the way up to a run off 11 miles without having done 9 miles. I made this plan for a reason – so that each mileage increase is small and manageable – so I don’t want to screw it all up just out of laziness. The contrast technique is especially effective when your expectations of success are high. In my case, I know I can run 10 miles tomorrow, and I know I can complete my training plan and run a marathon in January… so I just need to overcome the mental barriers to making it happen.

The final form of commitment is normative commitment: your sense of obligation to keep going. This is where you have to know yourself. What is going to make you feel obligated to do something? For me, a total people-pleaser, it’s telling other people about my plan (so I’ll be totally embarrassed if I don’t do it). For others, it’s money – check out websites like Gympact or Dietbet that make you pay money if you don’t stick to your workout plan. (Or Stickk if your goal isn’t fitness-related.) Maybe you’re a slave to your to-do list or calendar, in which case, block off time for your goal or add it as a task for the day.

So with all of this in mind… I’m setting my alarm for 4:30am tomorrow and actually am really looking forward to tomorrow’s long run. It will get my Thursday off to a great start, and I can always catch up on sleep on vacation, right?! 🙂


9 thoughts on “How to Stay Committed to Your Goals”

  1. I looked at Melbourne (my parents have their winter house close by in Sebastian) but decided I wanted to chill out for the holidays with training. I ran Chicago and NYCM and my final full of the fall will be down there as well, I am running Space Coast Thanksgiving weekend. Convenient since I will be at my parents! so my sis and I are sneaking away for a marathon (funny how that seems like a fun weekend idea to us!). I worry about the heat since I suck at warm weather running. My first full was Miami last year and oof that was a rude awakening. Most concerning for me is going from cold weather running to hot and humid. But I am running with little expectations other than enjoy!
    But I love having something on the calendar to hold yourself accountable over the winter/holiday period.

    1. Ohhh I have heard great things about Space Coast! You’re right though about it being difficult to transition from winter to spring running. I’m hopeful that February 1st will be still in the 50s/60s rather than heating up too much 🙂

  2. Laura, I’m leaving for Australia in two weeks from today. I expect to end up in Melbourne for at least six months. You should email me and we can meet up!


  3. Laura, I just discovered your blog via Pinterest. I can’t stop reading! Im training for my first half marathon right now and looking forward to trying a marathon after. I love the 50 states challenge. I’m inspired!

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