Runners tend to be very committed and self-motivated once they set their mind to something, especially their run training. But what about goals that affect other areas of their lives, or even other modes of training, that may help them perform better on race day?

Most of us want to avoid becoming stagnant, and we know there are always things we can do to improve. But most of us struggle to implement these new goals into our lives. So here’s a practical strategy that can help you become a better racer, and a better you, throughout the year.

Starting today, pick up one fresh habit a month that you’ve been meaning to work on. Remember, it takes most people 21 days to develop a new habit. Focus those 21 days on your single goal, and when a new month arrives, move on to your next goal.

Below are 12 detailed suggestions on to focus on each month of your personal transformation. Not all of them have to point directly toward running—but they can improve the health and strength of your body and mind. Remember: One focus per month is key.

Month 1: Let the past go. One thing about runners is we don’t let things go easily. We remember training plans, miles of running, successful and not-so-successful races, and the hard work it takes to train. So, keep this thought in mind: It’s a new month—a new book with empty pages to fill, right? Whether you’re facing previous expectations or miles you feel you need to make up, let it go! You don’t owe anything to past training plans or “unsuccessful” races. Start fresh, and start again.

Month 2: Sleep. For some reason our society thinks we’re more accomplished or somehow more noble if we sleep very few hours. Where has such a foolish idea come from? Yes, some individuals need less sleep than others, but we all need enough to be healthy. This month get to bed on time every night, and sleep the hours your body needs. Your training and your attitude will thank you!

Month 3: Change up your workouts. If you’re one of those people who tend to do the same thing season after season, try something new. Your body will respond to the changes you make by becoming stronger, faster, and healthier. You can start implementing strength work, add speed sessions, or gradually build up your weekly miles. Whatever you think you can do to up your game, implement it in your regimen this month.

Month 4: Practice mindfulness. Throughout the month take the time to focus on one activity at a time. When you’re visiting with your family, turn off the electronics. While you’re eating, enjoy the food and savor the flavors. Put your phone down as you walk and smile at those passing by. Mentally prepare for your workout before you start. Ponder what you can do and make a conscious effort to be more focused in the days ahead.

Month 5: Manage stress. I don’t even need to ask who feels stressed on a regular basis. Most everyone does. Stress isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, some stress is good for you. The stress of a challenging workout will help strengthen your body and your mind. But watch out for too much stress too often. In those moments, slow down, relax, and take care of negative stressors. Meditation, yoga, coloring, a massage, reading a good book, or a comfortable walk may help. Schedule time to regularly relax this month.

Month 6: Eat more fruits and veggies. Do you find it difficult to get in all those fruit and vegetable servings every day? We know we need them. Our training improves and we feel better when we eat well. This month make it a goal to get in all your fruits and vegetables each day. Maybe you can make smoothies, eat more salad with lunch and dinner, or try out produce you’ve never purchased before. Your body will love the nutrients and the variety.

Month 7: Experience LIFE rather than THINGS. I once heard that people who DO things are happier than people who BUY things. This month I’m going to encourage you to test that theory. You could be as elaborate as planning a full-scale vacation or as simple as going on hike to someplace you’ve never been. Throughout the next 30 days, consciously think of things you’ve been wanting to do—and make them happen.

Month 8: Drink all your water. For the next month, don’t miss a day of getting in all your water. Eight full glasses of water a day is the minimum. If you’re exercising you need even more than that. Do what it takes to stay hydrated all month long.

Month 9: Change up your training. As mentioned above, doing the same thing over and over will lead to slowed or no progress in training. Try cross training to work your muscles in different ways or hit muscles you miss in your day-to-day workouts. Have you always wanted to try pilates? Start this month.

Month 10: Control your portion sizes. This goes along with mindfulness. We all know the American Way of eating is to go big. In the days ahead I encourage you to take smaller portions, listen to your body, and stop when you’re full. Remember moderation. Do you find yourself eating foods you don’t particularly care for? If so, don’t eat those calories and find a healthy option you enjoy. Pay attention, go smaller, and see how you feel.

Month 11: Learn something new. If it’s been awhile since you tried a new activity, what are you waiting for? Take a class in pottery, dance, rock climbing, skiing, martial arts, or even yoga. A new hobby is something you can try with your family too. Find something you haven’t done, plan to do it, and get out.

Month 12: Be grateful. In a society flooded with social media, it’s easy to drown ourselves in a state of self-pity, unhealthy comparisons, ingratitude, and depression. Social media shows us all the highlights of our peers, but not the struggles they face. This month take time to ponder the blessings you have. Write down at least one thing you’re grateful for each day. When you notice yourself feeling down or inadequate, let that signal you to remember what you have. If you struggle through a workout, remember how lucky you are to be able to freely move your body. There’s always something to be grateful for.

Take time the next 12 months to develop new, healthy habits; at the end of your 12-month challenge you’ll see all that you’ve accomplished in a year. Our guess is, you’ll not only be a better runner, but you’ll have a better life.

A true love for sports

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