2019 Cooper River Bridge Run MedalBy February, the vast majority of individuals who crafted New Year’s resolutions have given up. The way we create these goals often sets us up for failure. I’ve learned what works for me—and many others: reframe my objectives as commitments I make to myself.

As an example, a key commitment I make to myself involves attending to my health. At the beginning of the year, I made a commitment to walk or run a specific number of miles. Notice my objective isn’t “lose 20 pounds” or “exercise four days a week.” For me, those lead down a big road straight to failure. My goal is aggregate miles. If I meet my mileage goal, I know I will have consistently contributed towards my health.

One way I ensure I act in accordance with my goal is to track how and when I walk or run. Interim goals for distance and speed help me know whether I’m tracking to intended progress. Periodically, I enter events to be timed independently. So how do I keep myself motivated to stay on track?

After moving to Charleston, SC, I was inspired to participate in the Cooper River Bridge Run 10k race. At the time, CRBR was considered the second largest event of it’s kind, with 40 thousand participants from elite racers to walkers. Finishers get a medal.

I’m never going to place in this event. My first year, finishing the CRBR was my “win.” The second year, I set a time goal and beat it—again, a “win” for me. I’m not going to fib; I love my medals. Each is a tangible reminder of a personal win. More importantly, these represent keeping a commitment I make to myself.

We all have rewards that motivate us. For me, there are all kinds of intrinsic reasons for maintaining my health. But honestly, that’s not what keeps me going. It’s the medals. I love the visual reminder. Seeing the rack where I hang the medals creates a statement about my progress. It’s also a subtle suggestion to keep at it if I want to earn more.

As much as this specific reward motivates me, physical (in “real” life) races or events may not always be nearby or conveniently scheduled. There are entry fees and, perhaps, other costs such as a hotel and meals for out of town events. Waiting too long between medal fixes seemed problematic. And then I discovered “virtual” races.

Anyone can sign up for a virtual race. Several providers have offerings for this market and most assign a portion of fees to causes and nonprofit organizations. Fees are comparable to or less than a major event. Signing up nets buyers event medals, and some also have race bibs and shirts.  Virtual events align with seasons, holidays, cultural concepts (May the 4th be with you, anyone?), and more. Participants can do the event on the same day or at a more convenient time. We track our own distance and time and report our results.

Medals have become my health candy. I go through my favorite site (Moon Joggers) and order a batch of “events.” Then, whenever the Nike Run+ app tells me I’ve hit a personal record (PR) on a distance I’m training for, I give myself one of my medals. I keep all unearned medals in the original shipping envelopes.  If I’m going to try for a particular distance PR, I go through my stash and pick out something cool. Then I go for it. No PR, no medal. I have to earn them.

I’ve been out of commission since before Thanksgiving last year with a badly broken foot. The bone, I’m told, will take a year to heal. While waiting for the release to actually bear weight on the foot and walk normally (no racing for me in the near future), I went online and ordered a number of new medals to commemorate milestones for the healing process: walking my first mile, my first 5k, my first 10k. Then, as I’m cleared to do more, I’ll start to work on rebuilding speed on a given distance. I have a T-Rex medal that I am totally ready to earn. Fingers crossed for “weight-bearing” at the next ortho appointment.

I share my medal story because keeping commitments to yourself is not a “one-size-fits-all” prospect. Perhaps you like crossing things off a list. Maybe a vision board would provide the inspiration to “do all the things” that lead toward your commitment. You might need a buddy or accountability partner, or even a group to help you move forward. And you might need some aspect of all these things to succeed.

I absolutely believe you can achieve big, life-changing goals by making and keeping the commitments you make to yourself. If you need help along the way, reach out. Here’s my challenge. Pick something. Make it big. Take some time to think about the impact of succeeding. Brainstorm what it will take to get there. Then get started. Be sure to post in the LEADistics community what your big goal is. And if you want the latest news and leadership insights, join the LEADr Board (see form, below).

Go forth and do great things.

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