The gym is packed. You find yourself waiting for the machines, and spin classes are filled to the brim. You’re sharing your lane at the pool with six other swimmers when you used to have it all to yourself. And the roads and trails are crowded with hikers, bikers and runners. What’s up with this?
It’s the start of a brand new year. Resolutions and goals flow easily on New Year’s day when the promise of a new start makes anything seem possible. This is the time of year when alarms are set early. Bikes that have been stored for the winter are dusted off and tires filled. Gym memberships are renewed and pool schedules checked. Motivation is running high.
At least for a few weeks.
Whether your goals include an Ironman, a sprint tri, a 5K personal best or a lifestyle focused on fitness, the path to success is much the same, and it includes not only that first burst of motivation but a long-term commitment.
Let’s take a look at an approach that will help you take that initial enthusiasm and make it work long-term for you.
Set Your Goals
- Make certain that what you want to do is realistic. Is an Ironman goal reasonable for you if you’ve been doing sprint triathlons or should you first work to accomplish a half Ironman? If you’ve never been to the gym, does it make sense to set a goal to be there three days a week? Is it possible to do more than one Ironman event in a year?
There are no right or wrong answers to questions like these. Everyone is a unique case. Base your goal decision only on what you know about yourself and how you operate, not on what others might tell you.
- Look at your personal life. If you have young kids or a big, demanding job, be realistic about how much time you’ll have to pursue your own athletic or fitness goals. If you have major events in your family life (e.g. a child graduating high school and starting college), you’ll want to factor that in so you’re not having to make either/or choices at critical times.
- Do a gut check: How much do you want it? Are you willing to make some sacrifices, to challenge yourself, to get outside your comfort zone, to go it alone if necessary? Is it important enough to you that you’ll stay the course when other options (often more fun) come along? If you can’t pass the gut check, revise your goals.
Build a Plan
- Goals are met by taking small steps and meeting intermediate objectives that will lead to your goal. Lay these out carefully. If your goal includes a competitive event, pull out your calendar, write in your goal event and all other events that will be used as training to guide you towards your “A” event. (This is a good approach even if your goal does not include a competitive event)
- Determine if you’ll need help from a coach, trainer or advisor. If so, get that set up. If you know that you’ll need a companion to keep you on track, find someone who is like-minded and is working towards the same goal or is willing to help you meet yours.
- Make sure that the plan you build is realistic and flexible so that it will hold up over the long haul when enthusiasm wanes and life gets in the way. Bend and go with the flow when necessary, but stand firm and loyal to your schedule if at all possible.
Share Your Journey
- It’s so much more difficult to throw in the towel when others in your life are onboard with what you’re trying to accomplish. Telling your friends and family of your plans is a built-in form of accountability, which works very well for many folks.
- Sharing your journey also provides a great source of support. When you get an e-mail, tweet or old-fashioned phone call with “Great run today!” it’s a real boost. Makes you anxious to do it again tomorrow.
- You’re setting out to accomplish something you’ve never done before. Having others share in that can make it even more rewarding.
Track Your Progress
- If yours is an athletic challenge, test yourself every few weeks with a time trial. If improvement is being made, you know you’re on the right track and it’s a great confidence builder. If you’re not making improvement, look over the plan and make modifications.
- If your goal is less competitive and more in the area of general fitness, the same concept applies: Test how quickly you can walk a particular hill. See if you can do a yoga pose you couldn’t previously. Try turning the knob to a harder position in spin class.
- Never get discouraged when there are plateaus or if you have a bad day. This is how the process works. Stay positive and keep moving forward.
Do the Work
It’s all just talk and will quickly go by the wayside if you’re not prepared to do the work. If you’ve set your goals properly, accomplishing them is going to be difficult and will require effort somewhat harder than you’ve done previously. It’ll also force you to think of this hard work as a necessity, and sometimes a priority, that must be scheduled into your already busy life.
This isn’t rocket science: You know what you want to accomplish and you understand that to get there will take a strong commitment. You’ve made the plan, now follow it. Always work around the obstacles rather than giving in to them. When the going gets tough, think how gratifying it’s going to feel when you get that tweet or e-mail saying “Wow – You are a Superstar! Congrats on…”