Positive Psychology, Running

I run now. I am a runner.

This tomato is me after a run. I run now. I am a runner.

It is, apparently, important to tell yourself that you are already what you aspire to be when striving for a particular goal [1]. I tell you this because I am currently taking a module on positive psychology in which you are required to apply its principles and theories to achieving something; possibly (and most definitely in my case) something you never believed you could achieve before. On the 28th of May, I along with my peers and lecturers will run the 26.2 miles of the Liverpool Rock and Roll Marathon! So, for all intents and purposes – I am a runner.

Sound challenging? Good. It turns out that people perform better when confronted with a challenging goal than one that is easy (bear with me on this one). In reviewing a myriad of goal setting research, Locke found that motivation to achieve a goal is related to subsequent feelings of accomplishment [2]; in other words, challenging goals are seen as more rewarding and worthwhile, which means you work harder to achieve them. Looking back over the passed few years as an aspiring runner who always seemed to lose motivation, I cannot help but agree with Locke. I realise now that it was not that I couldn’t do it, I had no direction or sense of purpose – I was simply running.

Goals are often neglected when there is no specific plan in place to encourage goal-directed behaviours [3] and i must admit, had my lecturers sat us down in the first seminar and simply thrown the marathon at us, I would have curled into the foetal position in search of my happy place never to be seen again. Instead (and to my great relief), they encouraged us to create a plan which would break the mammoth task down into smaller, more achievable goals. On a calendar I am to assign a specific time or mileage to run each day that I intend to do so and each week this time or mileage increases slightly, until the mileage is marathon worthy. These plans can also be referred to as implementation intentions and are ways to link a future goal with specific goal-directed behaviours (“when a specified time for running arises, I will run the specified distance”). Empirical support for the success of implementation intentions for achieving goals are strong [4], especially when considering physical exercise [5].

I currently feel as if I am a case study in my own masochistic, yet fulfilling experiment as I find myself reviewing literature alongside my own experiences. So far, I am not an anomaly; the gravity of the challenge excites me and I am running more frequently and further than I have ever been able to (4.5 miles this week)! My own implementation intentions have made the marathon a more attainable goal, whilst telling myself that I am a runner does make me feel like one as well as instilling in me a confidence that I can tackle each step of the process.

Over the upcoming months I will continue to put these theories to the test and look forward to using positive psychology in overcoming the dreaded wall!

See you at the finish line.

References

Snyder, C. R. (1994). The psychology of hope: You can get there from here. New York: Free Press.

Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari, L. M., & Latham, G. P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969-1980. Psychological Bulletin, 90(1), 125-152. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.90.1.125

Sheeran, P., Webb, T. L., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2005). The interplay between goal intentions and implementation intentions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(1), 87-98. doi:10.1177/0146167204271308

Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist, 54(7), 493-503. doi:10.1037//0003-066x.54.7.493

Luszczynska, A., Sobczyk, A., & Abraham, C. (2007). Planning to lose weight: Randomized controlled trial of an implementation intention prompt to enhance weight reduction among overweight and obese women. Health Psychology, 26(4), 507-512. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.26.4.507

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