So I’m preparing to do a 10k this week. For many runners, this isn’t a great feat, but I’ve never been much of a runner so it’s taken some serious planning and training for me to feel ready to do well. As I’ve been preparing myself mentally and physically, I had the thought that some of the things I’ve learned in this process are strategies that you can apply to any long- term goal. I’ve learned a lot about goals in this process, and wanted to share some of the lessons I will take away from this experience.
- Set a goal ahead of time. I decided that I would do this about 6 months ago. The decision to seek out a big goal is often made up of smaller, seemingly minuscule decisions. But, it takes time to resolve each of those. I had to decide to do it, decide to pay for it, look at the training program, and decide each week to commit myself to that program. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all those steps if I had waited until two weeks before the race to get started! So, here’s the gist– it’s good to consider the long-term. Especially for something that will take a lot of preparation and planning to do well, set your goal well in advance. It will help you to think about and identify everything you will need to actually reach your goal, which is the next lesson learned.
- Understand what you need to succeed. When embarking on a big goal, it is well worth your time to sit down and think about how you can best set yourself up to succeed. What are the things that will be easy about the process. What will be harder? How can you prepare to combat the barriers you will face in the process? For me, I knew an important part of the process would be committing to actually jogging on the days I was supposed to according to my training program. That meant planning out my week to make sure I wouldn’t find excuses to just skip a day. It also meant getting some new shoes because I typically hadn’t jogged more than once a week consistently. For you, it might be setting up a deposit to your savings account just like it’s a bill, or sitting and talking with your partner about how the household will need to adjust to you going to back to school. Whatever the case may be, planning for the possibilities sets you up better for success!
- Prepare for discomfort. This one is a tough one. When we embark on a goal, we tend to have a rosy view that is focused on the outcome we desire. While it’s certainly important to be excited when you start out, not carefully considering the challenges can actually make it harder for us to persist. One of the things I’ve learned through this process is that if I know the discomfort is coming, I won’t be so discouraged by it. I knew I would experience some soreness after my first 5 mile run, so I prepared for it, and it was fine. I knew that I would need to stretch my legs more diligently so I could manage tightness in my muscles, so I did. What are the areas of discomfort you might experience? When do you anticipate it will be hardest to stick to the plan you’ve set? What can you do about it?
- Seek out support. There are very few (if any) situations where support doesn’t make things better. It’s one of the reasons all the research indicates that support groups are helpful for anything from chronic or terminal illness, to weight loss, to parenting. Having support serves the important functions of having an arena where we can commiserate or celebrate, and having a method of accountability. For me, that support was my church training team. I knew that at least once a week, I wouldn’t be running alone. I knew I always had someone to check in with out be my progress, to hold me accountable for sticking to the program, and to encourage me when I didn’t feel like it. Having support, whatever the form, is a constant reminder that you are not alone. This support can be spiritual, social, or functional in nature. For some goals, you might need a little of all of those elements. It depends on the person and the purpose.
- Celebrate your success. Finally, plan to celebrate when you reach your goal! Knowing that a celebration will come with the achievement of your goal can act as a reward to keep going. It is also a monument to all the hard work you put in. When you reach the finish line, you deserve a pat on the back!
So, the moral of the story is that if you really want to last for the long haul, planning, support, and celebration are all important pieces of the puzzle. Whether it’s weight loss, or running, or a savings plan, or an educational goal, you will do better if you can set yourself up for success. So don’t wait. What do you want your future to look like?