Positive Psychology, Running



I ran 8 miles on Sunday. I was sore, sick, cold and (as stereotypical as it may sound coming from a girl) concerned for the well-being of my hair. This was not new; I have yet to experience a period of optimal health and am beginning to forget what it is like to have simultaneously working nostrils. You may then ask, how it is I have kept up the motivation to keep going?

Having an end goal is important and naturally, the knowledge that in 2 months I am going to be running 26.2 miles is a motivator but that is not what gets me out of the door during storm Doris with a bad head cold.

Incentives for action (or lack of)…

laterIt is well known, especially in the case of new year’s resolutions, that people often fail to achieve or give up on their goals. Lock and Latham (1985) (among others) have revealed that goals which are easy or vague (e.g “I will lose weight” or “I will run today”) are not motivating and so people do not persist in their efforts to achieve them. Furthermore, goals which are set in the future tend to be pushed aside for future versions of yourself to worry about, especially in the presence of other more pressing goals such as work or school deadlines.

This does not mean though, that goals set in the future are unattainable.


It pays to be SMART 

Research on goal setting has revealed that there are “ideal goals,” ones which are made with the acronym SMART in mind. My own SMART goals have formed my training plan and have become what I attribute most of my running success to.

  • Specific – instead of “I will run” my plan specifies on what days and how many I will run as well as how far. Specific goals are important because you have to opportunity to challenge yourself; a myriad of evidence leaves little argument that (if accepted) specific goals lead to higher levels of performance than “do your best goals” no matter what the activity. Physiologically speaking, your body is capable of going further and harder than your mind would have you believe. Having a specific goal helps to cut out the middle man (the mind) and so when motivation begins to waver, you’re more likely to push on.
  • Measurable – quantify your behaviour so you have an indicator of progress, for example I specify how many miles I am to run on my long run each week (this week was 8, next week is 10). Making sure your goals are measurable also ensures your progress is too!
  • Attainable – making sure your sub-goals are attainable are vital to your perseverance, research has shown that a goal that is too hard may result in failure and may therefore be demotivating and one that is too easy will fail to motivate (Bandura, 1977).
  • Relevant – making sure a sub-goal or task contributes to your end goal.
  • Time-bound – specify when a goal should be achieved.                                                  Making Sunday my ‘long-run’ day and specifying how many miles I am to run on that day means I don’t fall behind in my training (the goals are more short-term and so cannot be dismissed as easily as a future goal). Psychologists (Bandura & Simon, 1977) have found short-term sub-goals to be instrumental in achieving future goals; this is because they mobilise effort and directs one’s behaviours.

Goal setting in this way is thought to give you a sense of control in a sort of “I run my day, my day doesn’t run me” kind of way (no pun intended). Furthermore, SMART goals provide you with opportunities for evaluation – either eliciting feelings of accomplishment on completion or allowing for negative appraisal. These self-regulatory strategies form the basis of resilience as they allow you to adapt to unsuccessful strategies using failures as feedback rather than internalising them as faults (theoretically of course, but I have found this to be true).

This in essence is what positive psychology is all about…using effective intervention to aid in the acquisition of a positive outlook and to rid one’s self of a hopeless mindset – Martin Seligman. The power of one’s mindset is made especially apparent when a comparison is drawn between those who are optimistic and those who are pessimists. A team from the University of Paris gave negative feedback to 62 young

The Science of Positive Thinking by Neil F. Neimark.

basketball players after a dribbling trial who were then asked to partake in a second. In the second trial, players who had been highlighted as having an optimistic mind-set had lower levels of anxiety, were more confidence and thus played better than those highlighted as pessimistic.

Fail again, Fail better



  • When striving towards a goal, ensure it means something to you and that it isn’t easy!
  • Provide yourself with sub-goals which encompass the SMART criteria to ensure you are able to assess your progress (self-regulation requires goals, against which one can evaluate their performance).
  • Don’t be your best, be specific! And ALWAYS optimistic.


See you at the finish line.





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