“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

I love that quote from Albert Einstein. Obviously he was one of the greatest minds of the modern era. And without a doubt he was much smarter than I am, but even he recognized that it wasn’t merely his intelligence that helped him solve problems. He realized the importance of focusing on the things that he wanted to accomplish. In other words he realized the importance of being dedicated.

I’ve written previously about the importance of having the desire to achieve your health and fitness goals and also about ways to stay motivated. But as important as desire and motivation are to making your plans come true neither of them will matter unless you maintain a high level of dedication as well.

Now I know that some of you may be thinking “but motivation and dedication are the same thing.” Well I am here to tell you that they aren’t. Motivation is based on external forces that influence our behavior. Motivation can be found by working out with others, joining a gym, or focusing on some event in the future that you are training to complete, such as a marathon or an Ironman. Motivation is very important to achieving any goal that you set for yourself. But the problem is that motivation can be, and often is, fleeting.

Dedication is something completely different.

Dedication is an internal contract that you write with yourself. It is your own source of internal motivation. It is the means that drive you to achieve your goals when the external motivational forces don’t do the trick. When you set out to achieve a goal and you lack the dedication to see it through to its completion, you will fall short.

Last year, I watched the show “The Men Who Built America” on the History Channel. Prior to watching the show, I didn’t know much about Andrew Carnegie other than he was a magnate in the steel industry. But by watching the show I learned that he was responsible for building the first bridge to cross the Mississippi River. The dream started with his mentor, Thomas Scott, who owned the Pennsylvania Railroad. But Carnegie’s desire to build the bridge was met with great adversity. He ran almost two years over his completion date and was millions over budget. The project pushed Carnegie to the brink of bankruptcy. But he believed in his dream and was determined to see it through to its completion. In the end, he was able to line up additional financing and complete the project.

Your health and fitness journey is no different. You have the desire to make a change and you’ve been inspired to make those changes. You plan your course of action and you start out on your journey. You are motivated by the encouragement you receive from others and you have modest success. But then something goes wrong and you revert back to your old ways. All of the gains that you have made are quickly lost. Without determination you will not successfully achieve the success you desire.

So how can you train yourself to maintain that internal level of dedication so that you can see your goals through to a successful completion?

The first thing you need to do is to set incremental goals for yourself. As you are able to successfully complete smaller goals you start to develop the belief that you can achieve your ultimate goal. The repeated, incremental successes at the smaller tasks help you to develop your determination to see your plan through to its completion. So once you complete your 1st 5K, you need to focus on your 10K. And then once you complete that, focus on a half-marathon. Or if you’re focused on weight loss, set a goal of a few pounds. And then once you achieve that set another small goal. It is so much easier to take those small steps than it is to take huge leaps.

The second key is to think, speak, and act in a positive manner about the changes that you seek to implement. This forces you to be pro-active about the changes. Think positive thoughts about where you are and what you’ve accomplished. Speak positive reinforcements to yourself. Take positive actions to continue making the changes you seek. As you begin to reach your incremental goals you will begin to believe that the changes you are implementing can be permanent. By continuing your positive thoughts, words, and actions toward achieving those small goals, you will become more determined and eventually will reach your ultimate goal of being healthy. Congratulate yourself on your successes. Remind yourself of where you once were and how much you’ve accomplished. Become your own biggest cheerleader. It sounds strange but over time these techniques will become invaluable to you.

As we head into the heat of the summer months it may be difficult to maintain your motivation and your dedication. But don’t let your health and fitness goals get derailed. Think about those incremental goals that you’ve set for yourself. Spend some time refining them if you need to. And then be positive about those goals. Remind yourself of what you’ve accomplished and what you what to achieve. You CAN do this.

Stay focused and stay dedicated.

Mark Rucker is a Lexington attorney and a contributing health and fitness columnist for Hamburg Journal.