I’m going to run a half marathon at the end of September. When I started training in July, I could manage about three of the 13 miles. But I put a plan in place, and when I enact a plan, it typically includes lofty goals.
Here are my 12 top tips for making them happen:
1. Start with a grounded possibility.
This isn’t intended to be a downer, just a reality check. Be open to possibilities and achievement, but make sure you have access—or can get access—to the tools and resources required. This sets you up for success.
2. Give yourself a realistic timeframe.
Among the most important resources is time. If you have two weeks, you can aim to lose five pounds, not 100. Assessing an appropriate timeframe can help guide progress and make sure the goal isn’t too overwhelming.
3. Write down, and commit to, the goal.
Once you set the goal, own it. Put it in writing and put it in a place where you’ll see it regularly: your date book, bathroom mirror, or computer screen, for instance.
4. Use affirmations.
Tell yourself you can do this. Use strong, optimistic language. Support yourself and cheer yourself on.
5. Break the big goal into mini-goals.
My next goal for this half-marathon is not the 13-plus miles of the actual race. It’s five miles. That’s the goal I am focused on. I need to be able to run just two more miles at one stretch to meet that goal.
6. Don’t look past the next mini-goal.
When I’m focused on a mini-goal, such as adding two miles to my running distance, I keep my eyes on that mini-goal. Anxiety can creep in if I let my mind sweep ahead to the finish line of the half marathon. My brain becomes filled with questions, such as: Can I do that? I find that it’s best to just not go there.
7. Recognize progress.
Even before I hit five miles—when it gets much easier to make 3.5 miles, for instance—I’m going to acknowledge that. And I’ll incorporate that progress into an affirmation, perhaps. Something such as: “You’re building your endurance and getting stronger.” It might seem crazy, but it works for me.
8. Reward gains along the way.
When I get to my five-mile mini-goal, I’m going to celebrate by buying a new running skirt. (Love the gear at SkirtSports
.) Little rewards along the way make meeting the mini-goals even more worthwhile.
9. Regard some setbacks as inevitable.
Progress toward a goal is not a straight line. It rarely is, anyway. Miss some training days? Get slightly injured? It’s OK. Cut yourself some slack when the progress is not all onward and upward.
10. Let slipups strengthen your resolve.
But use them to reconnect with your focus and plan. After giving yourself a break, don’t let yourself give up. Instead, reaffirm the commitment and remind yourself of your progress and success so far.
11. Enlist support.
Tell people who will be in your corner about your goal—and only those people. No need to invite smirks or snide remarks from any doubters. You need people cheering for you who know you can make it. (Hint: You might find great support online with others who are tackling a big goal similar to yours.)
12. Believe you can do it!
This sounds like it might be simple or maybe less important. But when I think of the big goals I’ve set—which include running two marathons and losing 65 pounds—just believing that I could do it was essential. I had to believe that no matter how big the goal seemed, I could get there.
These are my best tips for reaching a big goal. Do you have others? I’d love to hear them.
Becky Gaylord worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C., Cleveland, and Sydney, Australia, before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. You can read Becky’s blog here. A version of this story first appeared on the 12 Most blog.