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Keeping New Year's Resolutions Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

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By Caitlin McKay, World Vision Canada

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Last year, I ran the Boston marathon with Team World Vision to raise money for clean water projects in developing countries. I'm planning on doing so again this year. Training for marathons requires discipline and motivation over a long period of time, much like what's required to form any new habit or routine. Going smoke-free, for instance, or changing your diet.

Now that we're in the thick of January, many of us are working diligently to keep our New Year's resolutions. The first couple of weeks are usually easy. But now is often around the time where motivation begins to wane. With half of us trying to make changes, big or small, only 19 per cent of us will keep them, says Psychology Today.

There are a few reasons why I think people don't keep their resolutions. For one thing, people make their goals too vague. Say you plan to hit the gym 'more often' but don't commit to a schedule. It's easy to put off the workout until tomorrow, and before you know it, the week has flown by.

Here are 10 principles that can be applied to achieving any goal -- from saving money to getting healthier. I'll use running as an example.

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1. Choose reasonable goals. As a life-long runner, I decided a half-marathon would be a good challenge. From there, I challenged myself further to run a full marathon. For a non-runner, though, starting with a marathon is a really big leap. Better to set goals you know will be a stretch, but attainable. This will give you the confidence to set an even bigger goal next time.

2. Break down your goals into smaller challenges. If you're a beginner runner, signing up for a 5 km run will be a challenge, and a great jumping-off point for longer runs. Set short-term goals in addition to long-term goals so you can see successes along the way. The same might apply for a new diet. Add in a few changes a week, rather than giving up everything you like cold turkey.

3. Follow a plan. If you have a solid plan about how to achieve your goals, it takes the thinking out of it, and the questioning. Your plan makes the decision for you. If you're interested in trying running you can find great plans online.

4. Be specific about the details. Having a plan helps with this. If your goal is to run 5 km, commit to training for 30 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

5. Find ways to be accountable. Entering a race can cost hundreds of dollars, so once I'm signed up, I'm motivated to make it a good investment. Having a friend to support you is always a great idea, but don't count on them too much -- if they sleep in some mornings, you need to stay on track. Also, find friends who are at the same stage as you. If you're just starting up, don't pick a seasoned runner as your partner. Find someone to go toe-to-toe with (literally)! Healthy competition is a wonderful motivator.

6. Know that change is hard and at times you'll want to give up. That's part of the process and you need to develop the discipline to keep going. It's OK to walk some of the time, and it's better to slow down than to quit. Just start running when you can.

7. Reward yourself for achievements in healthy ways, and celebrate small change along the way. Hint: Try to pick rewards that aren't based on junk food!

8. Play positive mind-games. If your goal happens to be something that can be measured in time (like running), try 'The 10 Minute Game'. Run for 10 minutes, and after that if you still want to quit then you can call it a day. By the time you've done 10 minutes, you'll likely decide to keep going.

9. Just go! If you wait for better conditions or situations before starting something, you'll never start. The other day, I decided to skip my run because it was too cold. I knew this was an excuse, not a reason -- but hey, I'm human too. Running is a real challenge -- mentally and physically. It can be easy to make excuses, but getting back at it can be tougher than sticking with it in the first place.

10. Make a connection between your personal goal and the big picture, perhaps by helping others. I run to raise money so that children in developing countries can have clean water -- an amazing motivation. For a dieter, perhaps funds saved on junk food could be donated to a food bank.

I'm certainly not perfect, and there are days when my running is really hard and I don't enjoy it. And sadly, there's no magic pill to create motivation and discipline. But I've found that after doing something long enough, this new way of life becomes 'who you are.'

Also, things that feel like changes can eventually become habits. In time, new habits naturally become part of who you are as a person. While there are still challenges, the behavior becomes an outflow of who you are.

If you have a New Year's resolutions, how are you staying on track? I'd love to hear your tips and tricks to help me get through my long, cold runs.

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