The arrival of the New Year creates a natural mental shift, a time to view our lives with fresh eyes and set goals for the future. But research suggests that only about 8 percent of us who make resolutions on Jan. 1 end up fulfilling those promises.
We don’t lose the desire to run a personal best, shed a few pounds or better ourselves in other ways. It’s just that the optimistic thinking brought on by the new year fades behind busy schedules and the mind’s natural inclination toward excuses. Goals are crucial in that they provide direction and motivation, but it’s our attitude that ultimately shapes our year and determines if we meet our goals.
I learned this firsthand when I was 23 and just starting out as professional runner. My coach, Joe Vigil, used to always tell me to “bring a good attitude” to practice. At first I thought this meant being cheerful, and I made a point to be upbeat during training. Quickly, though, I noticed that focusing on supporting my teammates and staying positive kept my mind off my own fatigue. I began paying closer attention to my thoughts and attitude, and when they were negative, I found a positive alternative. The energy shift each time was immediate. My stride opened up. My motivation increased. And I realized my perspective was the most powerful tool I possessed, so I developed it throughout my career.
Here are five mental practices I use for a positive, productive attitude. Incorporate these and those resolutions, as well as other goals throughout the year, will be yours for the taking!
1. Pay attention to your perspective.
We can only change our thinking when we’re aware of the thoughts running through our head. So when you feel your motivation slump, take note. Are you begrudging the alarm or dreading heading out in the cold (or heat)? Those thoughts only make it harder to get out the door. How can you look at the situation differently? Make sure your alarm offers a pleasant sound that will remind you of how good you feel once you are up and moving. And getting out the door to run is part of the equation that allows you to meet your goal. Remind yourself why that goal is important.
When a slump in motivation strikes me, I excite myself by exploring a new running route. When it comes to being enthusiastic about training, some days it’s more challenging than others. But I’ve learned that I if I keep exploring for motivation, I’ll find it. Some days, I picture the mountain vistas where I do my tempo runs, and the desire to see them gets me up and out the door. Other days, I simply glance at the calendar and realize how crucial each day is and see right before me how it all stacks up to race day. I want the upcoming Boston Marathon to reveal the training I did, not the choice to miss a day. Experiment with how shifting your thinking affects your energy and motivation. Have fun playing with your own mind games, and you’ll likely find it’s easier to work toward your goals.
2. Give gratitude.
There’s a quote by the ancient Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero that reads, “a grateful mind is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” This has certainly been true in my life. Gratitude fills us with strong, positive emotions that move us away from poor-me thinking and into a place of opportunity. Nowhere was this more evident for me than during a race early in my career. I was running behind the competition desperate to be with them and feeling sorry for myself. But when I reminded myself to be grateful for the opportunity to compete and thankful for the fast girls who were pulling me to a faster time, I ran with greater drive and purpose. Over time, with that attitude, my performances improved.
One of the best things about gratitude is that no matter the situation, you can always find something to be grateful for. Freezing temps? Give thanks to the founders of hot hands and the goose in your down gloves. Annoyed at the boss who scheduled a last-minute meeting? Remind yourself you’re blessed to have a job and reschedule the workout. I often think about what I’m grateful for first thing in the morning. It sets the tone for a positive day. Similarly, I end the day thinking or writing down what I am grateful for and fall into a luxurious slumber. Bookending my day with gratitude creates a virtuous cycle of it.
3. Be in the moment.
I went crazy with my goal list this year: Hike with the dogs every day. Learn Spanish with my family. Do random acts of kindness. Read with my daughter Piper each day. Meditate. Volunteer. Purge closet. Purge garage. Get back on a weekly massage routine now that I’m training hard again. Add afternoon runs to build my fitness. Start stretching. I thought about all this while listening to Piper read and felt overwhelmed. Then it dawned on me: What good is doing something on my list if my attention is on other things I want to do? So I focused only on the moment I was in.
I hiked with the dogs, while talking to them, sprinting with them at times, and working on commands for their discipline. Our 140-pound English Mastiff was immediately better behaved. I cherished the jump in Piper’s reading ability, softly praising her when she nailed a big word. To no surprise, meditation got easier. Approaching each task with a singular focus enhanced the enjoyment of the task and moved me into the next one with more energy and determination. At the end of the day, when previously I was too physically and mentally tired from thinking of everything all at once, I now have the energy to close the day with a short stretch session.
READ MORE: Make 2018 Your Best Year of Running Yet
4. Strategically add joy.
When you lose enthusiasm for your goal, or it begins to feel burdensome or stale, add a little flare. Staying hydrated has always been a challenge for me, until I bought some nice water glasses and began to keep filtered lemon water in the fridge. If getting out the door to run becomes mundane, buy a new outfit or new shoes to make running feel fresh again. Feeling challenged by your attitude? Spray paint a wall with chalkboard paint and use it as a space to write motivational sayings to inspire you and your family on a daily basis. Adding joy makes what you are doing more pleasurable while also making yourself more valued in the task.
5. Recommit: Day to day and moment to moment.
In the coming year, there’ll be mornings when the temptation will be strong to stay under the covers instead of going for a run or nights when the desire to head out with friends changes your workout plans. But I’ve realized that to reach goals, every day, and every moment in the day, is a chance to recommit to the best version of yourself. Every thought, perspective and subsequent action builds the habits of mind for the next day, making it easier to stay positive and stick to your plan. The commitments you made to yourself on Jan. 1 started it. But right now, moment to moment, you have the opportunity to think and act in a way that will move you toward your goal. If you take advantage of maximizing the potential in each moment, to stay focused on it, you end up living the potential of the day, the month and, eventually, the entire year.