A few years ago, a good friend of mine convinced me to begin training for a marathon. It’ll be fun he said. It will give you a sense of accomplishment he said. For some unknown reason, I said yes. The months and months of training that followed changed my life.
It’s hard to run when you are overweight, and I was overweight by nearly 70 lbs. As I began to train, I was highly motivated to eat properly and to run the miles that I needed to get into shape. Miraculously, the weight began to drop off. I was able to run longer and longer distances and what seemed utterly impossible was looking like it was going to be possible after all.
I lost the weight, got into shape and ran my marathon. I was shooting for a goal of 3 hours 45 minutes which was an 8 minute 35 second pace. I ended up at 4 hours 3 minutes due to an injury but I finished! Along the way, I learned some incredibly valuable life skills; like if you are determined to accomplish something, nothing can stand in your way. The most important lesson I learned was that if you can just stick with it…you’ll get better.
I think it is interesting that in the above experience, I had been wanting to loose weight for several years prior to my friend convincing me to run a marathon. I had tried dieting, exercise, all manner of tricks to try to lose the weight and I wasn’t able to do it. Why was this different? I had want and desire prior to my marathon training but couldn’t lose the weight. It is human nature to put off things that are unpleasant. Losing weight isn’t easy; pounds seem to go on much easier than they come off. For me, the difference was a goal…one that had a deadline attached. I had roughly 8 months to lose 70 pounds, build my endurance and go from barely being able to run a block to running 26.2 miles. On the face of it, it was a seemingly impossible task. I look back and I’m still not quite sure how I did it but I DID!
Having a deadline really helped…a fixed point in time that I could measure. Another key help was my friend. Saturday mornings were our joint training days. We would get up at 7am, one of us would pick up the other, and we would go to a large park that had an 8 mile running loop. Many a Saturday came that I didn’t want to get up and go but I knew my friend would be waiting for me. If I didn’t get up, he’d call me wondering where I was and would likely shame me into going so I rolled out of bed every Saturday and ran 8 miles. Because I knew I was going to have to run 8 miles on Saturday, I was fully aware that I needed to train during to week in order to be ready. I ran an average of 4 miles a day getting ready for my Saturday runs. Having a champion to help you stay motivated is critically important.
I’ve been talking about running but these principles apply to just about any goal that you want to achieve. When you set your goal, you should have an endpoint in mind. You should be fully committed to the goal and you should be very clear on what it is your are trying to accomplish. Many people begin setting goals and aren’t really clear with themselves on what it is they actually want. Don’t fall into that trap. Your goal should challenge you. If its easy to attain, its not all that worthwhile. You should have to work for it. Finally, you should reward yourself as you hit milestones along the way.
When done correctly, goal setting is effective and often critical to success. Goals that are specific and challenging lead to higher levels of performance and also to greater personal satisfaction. When we set and achieve them, we set the bar higher and higher for ourselves and that pushes us to to accomplish things that we didn’t even know were possible. If you’d like a detailed “how to” on goal setting, I’d recommend the article “What is Goal Setting and How to Do it Well”, by Elaine Houston. I found it very helpful.