How To Use Index Cards To Achieve Your Next Fitness Goal

Over Memorial Day weekend, I had a front-row seat to an incredible athletic feat. David Willey, who just stepped down as the editor-in-chief of Runner’s World magazine, ran the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan, aiming after multiple attempts to finally earn a Boston-qualifying time.

I ran the same race exactly 10 years ago and finished fast enough to earn my own Boston bib for the first time. So it was an honor to go back both to cheer David on and to report on his quest for The Runner’s World Show podcast.

I won’t spoil the outcome—you can listen to the episode I helped produce to hear all about it! (Honestly, even if you did hear about his finishing time, it’s still an epic tale.)

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This runner isn’t me or David–but the shot shows how breathtakingly beautiful the Bayshore course is.

What I will say is that I learned a ton from the culmination of David’s journey, as well as the other installments of the series he’d released along the way (links to them all on that same page). I know I’ll be thinking, writing about and applying them all for years to come.

One small, concrete bit of advice that came from the next-to-last episode – one we also discussed when I was in Michigan, though that part of it didn’t make the final story – is one of several techniques David got from sport psychologist Bob Swoap of Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C.

Swoap advised writing down specific, confidence-boosting messages on index cards – simple, clear phrases that ring true to you personally. They should be in the second person, using “you” instead of “I,” because research shows that’s an effective method of positive self-talk.

Keeping the cards with you, flipping through them regularly, adding more to them as you feel inspired – all this helps you internalize the messages and remember them when you need them most. David chose messages like “You have a great team,” “You are physically ready to do this,” and, touchingly, “Your coaches are proud of you.”

The weekend after I got home, I ran a 5K race of my own. As anyone who’s truly tried to do their best in a 5K (including one of our recent guests on the #WeGotGoals podcast, Heather Mayer Irvine) knows, they’re far shorter than a marathon but challenging in an entirely different way. You’re running fast from the gun, and by the finish, your legs and lungs are screaming at you to stop.

At least, if you do it right, they are! I ran an OK time, thanks in part to applying some of the lessons I’d learned from David and his expert team. But I know deep inside me that if I tried, I could push a little closer to my limits, endure more of the lung-and-leg protests, and run even better.

So while I’m also training to run the Berlin Marathon in the fall, I’m going to try another 5K in two weeks. In addition to some tweaks in my training to prepare me, I’m also trying the index card tactic.

I suppose you could do this digitally too, but there’s something about holding thick paper in your hands – especially secured with a binder clip (I love binder clips, for some reason) – that seems extra effective. I wrote down a few messages that resonate with me, notes about obstacles I’ve overcome in the past and advantages I have now. This includes one of my all-time favorite mantras, “You do hard things.”

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A few of my cards and the ever-important binder clip.

I’m looking at them at least twice a day and will likely add to my collection before my race on June 24. And while I obviously don’t yet know the outcome – the day will bring what it will bring, including potential heat and humidity – I know I’ll line up feeling far more prepared and confident. The mere act of writing them out gave me an instant boost.

I’ll let you know how it goes, and if you feel compelled to give it a shot, I’d love to know what messages you choose, and how it works for you!

Goals Think & Feel

About Cindy Kuzma

Cindy Kuzma is a freelance health and fitness writer and a contributing editor at Runner’s World magazine. She grew up in Texas and moved to Chicago to earn her master’s in journalism at Northwestern University; once she saw the lakefront running trail, she decided to stay. She’s finished 19 marathons and also loves lifting heavy weights, yoga, live music and running to the Green City Market from Andersonville and taking the bus home with a ridiculous haul of fresh veggies. Cindy is the producer and co-host on aSweatLife's podcast, #WeGotGoals. She’s written for Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention, Shape and other publications as well—you can read her work at