I know it’s hard to stay motivated to train, especially with the onset of the colder weather and the darker mornings. And to be honest, I find that exercising just to improve the way I look is often not sufficient incentive to get me out of bed. I need a goal, a goal that excites me, and I need to have a training plan to achieve that goal. I have found over the years that a goal such as this is a far more powerful motivator than trying to look good in those skinny jeans (which is never going to happen for me anyway with my rather large calves!).
So how do I stay motivated all year round, even in the depths of winter in the pitch black dark? I enter an event. A triathlon, a 10km race, a half marathon, an obstacle race or, my latest challenge, an adventure race. I have participated in heaps of events over the years. I have the medals to prove it. And not all of them are for participation only I might add. I have won several local triathlons for my age group. One particularly memorable event was the ‘Tour de Tri’, which was a 24-hour triathlon event. I am proud to say that my good friend Rachel and I won the mixed teams event. We were the only team of two girls!! Anyway, enough gloating and reminiscing.
Crossing the finish line of a race for which you have trained hard for, sacrificed for and pushed yourself close to your limits for is one of the most rewarding experiences on this planet – well at least I think so anyway. So if you are finding that you are lacking the desire to put on your running shoes at 5:30am in the morning, I suggest that you sign yourself up for a local 5km running race. Or try something different, such as an obstacle race or a sprint distance triathlon. There are so many events to choose from. If you have not competed in any sort of event before, I suggest you start with your local 5km parkrun. I can guarantee you that the idea of competing against other people and having a goal to work towards will fire up your motivation.
Still not convinced? Let’s have a look at the research into this topic. I came across a study published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis entitled ‘Using goal setting and feedback to increase weekly running distance’. I thought this study was particularly relevant. This study tracked the weekly running distance of healthy female participants before and after goal setting. After obtaining a baseline running distance (before goal setting) the participants were asked to set daily goals consisting of a long-term distance goal (the distance the participant aimed to run in a single running session by the end of the study) and a short-term distance goal (the distance the participant aimed to run in a single running session for that week). The participants were told to set a goal to run three times per week and, in order to allow them to increase their short-term goal, or distance for a single run session, they had to complete at least two of the three runs at or above their short-term goal. If the participants did not meet their short-term goal, they could choose to stay at the same goal or lower the goal.
Three of the participants failed to reach their daily goals, so during the study, the researchers told the participants to change from daily goal setting to weekly goal setting. Now the participants were told to set their short-term goal based on a weekly running distance rather than a daily running distance. To increase this goal, the participants had to be running at or above their short-term goal for at least 2 weeks.
All participants in the study increased their weekly running distance by setting either daily or weekly goals. One participant went from not running at all at the start of the study to 9.2km/week after 13 weeks of goal setting! Although this study only consisted of 5 participants, the results were conclusive (1).
There are actually hundreds of studies investigating the effectiveness of goal setting for changing physical activity behaviour. A review conducted in 2004 of 28 peer-reviewed studies on this topic concluded that in adults goal-setting does show promise in promoting physical activity behaviour change (2).
- Wack, S. R., Crosland, K. A. and Miltenberger, R. G. (2014), Using goal setting and feedback to increase weekly running distance. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis, 47: 181–185.
- Shilts, M., Horowitz, M., Townsend, M. (2004). Goal setting as a strategy for dietary and physical activity behavior change: a review of the literature. Am J Health Promot. 19: 81-93.