How to stay motivated and on track to reach your goals

By Takia McClendon

Have you ever struggled with finding the motivation to reach your fitness goals? I’ll be the first to admit that even with training schedules, nutrition programs, and all the right gear, sometimes I still lack the motivation to wake up and conquer a long run.  

Even if you have really good intentions, sometimes you need a little push to follow through with your training plans.

In this post, I’m sharing tips to overcome excuses and find motivation. I’ve shared this information with hundreds of new and experienced runners over the past few years and thought writing it down could help even more people reach their running and fitness goals. 

Here’s what we’ll cover in this post:

  • Setting realistic goals
  • Getting prepapred and organized
  • Tracking your progress
  • Dealing with challenges & failure
  • Staying motivated along the way

I recommend using pen and paper to answer the questions posed in the piece. Writing down your answers will help you visualize your goals, plus you can store them for later use and re-read them when you need a little motivation. 

Set a realistic fitness or running goal. 

What do you want to do? This is your chance to get creative. If you could accomplish one fitness goal, what would it be? 

If you already have a fitness goal in mind, continue reading. If you don’t, take a couple minutes to think about a goal and write it down before moving on. 

Why do you want to do it? When you set a new goal, you have to have a great reason to actually follow through with it. Does this goal have personal meaning? Is it for a good cause? What sets your goal apart from other goals you’ve set in the past? 

Once your goal is set and your “why” is clear, it's time to get to work. 

Let’s focus in on our goal a little more. 

Is your goal SMART? So you’ve decided to sign up for a 5K or enroll in a new fitness program. Or maybe you’ve decided to qualify for the Boston Marathon or lose weight. Whatever your new goal is, you’ll want it to be a SMART goal: specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-based. 

Get specific. Instead of just saying “I want to run a 5K” or “I want to lose weight”, you’ll want to fine tune the details. 

Example: “I want to run my county’s 5th Annual Gobble Wobble 5K on Thanksgiving” or “I would like to lose 10lbs by January 31st” are very specific. 

Track your progress with measurable goals. In order to make your goals measurable, you’ll have to set benchmarks or check-ins along the way. This will allow you to stay on track and make adjustments throughout your training. 

Example: “I would like to start training for the Gobble Wobble 5K on September 15. I would like to be able to run 1.5 miles without stopping by October 15th and 3 miles without stopping by November 10th.” 

Make sure your goal is attainable. If you’ve never run a marathon before, don’t be bummed if you don’t qualify for Boston after your first try. Set the bar high, but not high enough that you’ll fall flat on your face.

Your goal should be results-oriented. Goals like “I want to run more” never really work. Remember, they have to be specific and have an end result - otherwise, how will you be able to measure your progress? 

Make your goal time-based. You’ve set a great goal, but when are you going to start working on it? When will you accomplish it? You probably don’t need six months to run a 5K and you need more than a month to train for a marathon. 

What does your personal timetable look like? How much time are you giving yourself?

Get organized: What will you need to be successful?

Once your goals are set and clear, you’ll want to make sure that you have all the tools and resources you need to make your goals a reality. 

Do your research. If you are trying something for the first time, browse the web for blogs, “how-to guides” and other sources of information to get started. What kind of gear, equipment, finances, time, etc. do you need to be successful? Talk with friends, family and athletes who’ve accomplished your goal before. 

Make a list and check it twice. Preparation is key to accomplishing a goal. You wouldn’t want to sign up for a new hot yoga class without having a yoga mat, a water bottle and a good pair of spandex and you wouldn’t run a long distance race without investing in a good pair of running shoes. 

Prepare now so that you can't use your lack of resources as an excuse in the future. 

Schedule everything. Earlier we discussed the importance of tracking your progress. After you solidify your schedule, you’ll want to write it down in a journal, calendar or word document so that you can see how you’re doing along the way. 

Using a calendar to record your schedule also helps you avoid double booking or missing a training session. I’m a huge fan of the Believe Training Journal but products like Passion Planner are also great resources to help you stay on track. 

Create new habits. This one won’t happen overnight but it’s an important step if you want to successfully reach your goal. If you need to ease into your goal by making it a habit first, try that before diving in. 

One of the best ways to create new habits is to pick a trigger that will remind you to work on it. 

Example 1: If your goal is to run 6 miles three mornings per week, maybe start by getting out everyday for 1 mile after your alarm goes off. Once you making running a morning habit, it will be easier to commit to running those 6 miles.

Example 2: If your goal is to prep healthy meals for the week, associate cooking with another activity you like. If you normally listen to your favorite podcast on Sundays, let that be your trigger to prep your meals. 

Measure your progress along the way.

When we discussed SMART goals, we covered both measurable and results-oriented goals. 

Do you have a fitness app that tracks your workouts? Does your GPS watch notify you when you hit a new PR? These progress insights will allow you to see how well you're doing along the way. 

Even if you forget to record your run or workout right after you’re done, try catching up at the end of the week with your journal. This will allow you to reflect on what’s working, what’s not working, and look back on your accomplishments along the way. 

Prepare for challenges -- and failure. 

Life happens. No matter how prepared you are, things will get in the way of your training. Instead of being surprised when issues arise, create solutions to potential roadblocks so that you can easily overcome them. 

My dog ate my homework. While this scenario is unlikely to impact you getting your evening run done, staying late at the office can actually cause you to miss a few miles. If staying late for work can come between you and your workout, think about a solution to that problem NOW. 

Example: If you plan to go to the gym at 5AM on Tuesday morning before you go to work but you were up late on Monday night and slept through your alarm, don’t beat yourself up. Create a backup plan that you can complete like doing a 30 minute home workout or going to a fitness class after work. 

Below you’ll find a list of potential roadblocks that may get in the way of your goals. Think about how you can overcome them. 

  • I overslept so I couldn’t do my morning workout, run or meditation
  • I’m feeling some pain in my calves so I should take it easy
  • I have to pick up the kids from school because the bus is out of service
  • I had to work a double and now I’m too tired to workout

Can you think of any others? What are some potential solutions to these roadblocks? 

  • If I oversleep, I'll take a spin class right after work at the studio near my office
  • If my legs are too sore, I'll do an upper body workout at home instead

Do you get the idea? 

Manage failure and setbacks. Even with hard work, dedication and effort, there will be times when you don’t reach your goals or the benchmarks you set for yourself along the way. This isn’t the time to be hard on yourself. Instead, use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate your goal and pinpoint what went wrong. 

Was your goal clear from the beginning? Was your “why” strong enough?

Did you have a SMART goal?

Recognizing and accepting your mistakes will allow you to do a much better job the next time around. 

Don't lose your motivation. 

What is your personal mantra? Having a personal mantra - a statement or slogan repeated frequently - may help you get through challenging times. If you find yourself doing a workout that seems tough, start repeating your mantra until you feel better. 

A few mantras to try:
“You can do this”
“Just one leg in front of the other”
“Slow or fast, a mile is a mile”
“Train smart, train strong”

Yes, they are all a little cheesy but repeating these positive quotes can help you reach your fitness goal, especially when you're in a rut or lacking mental toughness. 

Get accountability partners. Luckily, I get to run with a supportive community and work with athletes who make fitness a part of their everyday lives so finding accountability partners is relatively easy.

If you don't have access to a running group, find a friend or relative who can commit to help you stay on track to reach your goals. Ask them to check in on your progress from time to time and feel free to reach out to them when you're struggling or in a rut. 

You can also make a public announcement at work, school or via social media letting everyone know that you set a goal and you intent to complete it. 

A little reward never hurt nobody. Will run for ice cream is more than a popular City Fit Girls shirt. It’s a reminder that after toughing out a 3-5 mile cross-training run or trekking 3 miles across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, a delicious ice cream cone will be waiting for you at the end. 

If you have a favorite treat, hobby, or activity that you would like to use as a reward to yourself, use that as motivation. 

Go forth and be motivated.

Whew, I know we covered a lot but if you want to stay on track to reach your goals, the tips in this post will definitely help you along the way.

Can you commit to creating a realistic SMART goal? Will you prepare for challenges so they won't interrupt you during crucial training moments? 

If you need a little help in the accountability department, be sure to join City Fit Girls on Facebook and Strava. 

Do you have tips that weren’t mentioned? Feel free to share them in the comments section. 

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