Far too often we set a goal that we’re super amped up about at first. We write out a plan and we’re consistent for a few days. Then somewhere along the way life happens and we lose steam. Eventually we give up. We revert back to our old routines and give in to our favourite vices; our goal seems so out of reach and unachievable that we throw in the towel.
Then there’s people like my friend, Emily Rudow, who set a goal to break a world record by running a half marathon every day for 70 consecutive days. And she did it! Even more than complete 70 days in a row of running 21.1km (13.1 miles for my American friends), is that she didn’t stop at 70 days, she continued running a half marathon for a total of 74 days!
Where does this superpower-like motivation come from?
So how is it that some people like Emily are able to reach their goal that seems nearly impossible, while us mortals struggle to keep our goal of running 15 minutes a day three times a week on the treadmill?
The difference? Self discipline. Over the course of the challenge, she built self discipline through consistency. How? Well, one of the keys to building and maintaining this self discipline is deciding ahead of time what you’re willing to sacrifice.Those decisions need to be made ahead of time and we need to be honest with ourselves on what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to achieve our goal.
What we want to happen
Usually what happens is we feel a spark of inspiration to achieve a goal – let’s say for example, getting into the best freaking shape of our lives because we have a beach vacation coming up in a few months.
We want to have a rockin’ bod on the beach. So we set a goal. Then we make a plan. We say we’re going to go to the gym 3-5 days a week no matter what and this is the year we’ll get in shape. We’re going to be consistent this time. We’re going to go to the gym after work, we sign up for a gym membership and we are excited about the image in our minds of having the abs we’ve always dreamed of.
What actually happens
We’re motivated and for a while, we stick to the plan. We go to the gym. We feel sore but we love it. It’s a deep, wonderful burn. We can’t walk after doing legs but we’re okay with that because we know that means we’re getting closer to that bod we dreamed about. We stick to our plan of going to the gym 4 days the first week. We keep it going another week, maybe two. Then at some point we take our foot off of the gas. We feel less motivated and decide to sleep in one morning instead of hitting the gym. “One day won’t hurt” you say. “I’ve been working so hard, I deserve this.” Then there’s a work trip and our routine is thrown off so we don’t go to the gym that week. Then next week something else comes up – there’s a birthday dinner for a friend so we can’t go to the gym that night. Then something else comes up. Before we know it, it’s been three weeks and we haven’t been to the gym once. We decide to give up altogether and that dream of shredding fresh cheddar on your abs is now a distant fantasy.
Why does this happen?
Well, for many reasons. We haven’t decided ahead of time what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to reach our goal. We have an idea of what our plan is, but haven’t thought through the impact of this plan. We haven’t gone through all possible scenarios of life events that will likely happen and throw us off. We haven’t decided what we’re willing to give up to reach our goal in the end. So when these curveballs get thrown our way or we have to decide between going to the gym or going out for our friend’s birthday dinner, we choose the birthday dinner and skip the gym.
Any goal you set or plan you decide you want to execute will involve sacrifices. To say YES to one thing, you need to say NO to other things that want your attention and time. When Emily set her goal to break a world record of running a half marathon every day for 70 days in a row, she thought about what she’d have to give up before starting the journey.
Running a half marathon every day takes time. For Emily, it took about ~2 hours to run, at least 20 minutes to stretch after the run, followed by 15 minutes of icing her knees, and usually an hour nap to recover before starting a full day of work. That meant she had to be up extremely early every morning. It also meant she had to go to bed early every night so she’d have the energy to get up and run a half marathon (have I emphasized how she ran a half marathon every day enough yet?)
Emily knew this required making sacrifices.
Emily knew this goal meant she had to sacrifice sleeping in, going out with friends, spending time with family, spending time with her partner, and the list goes on. When she set the goal, she knew fully well the pain she’d have to go through to reach it, and she made the conscious decision that she was willing to make those tradeoffs.
When setting goals for myself, I try to think through a plan; how will I get there and what will I need to sacrifice in order to reach it? Going through this process helps solidify the goals I truly care about and am committed to, and cuts the goals I’m not actually willing to follow through with. This helps me decide which goals to seriously pursue and which ones to let go of instead of torturing myself or feeling shitty about not reaching them.
Setting goals shouldn’t be something you do on a whim. Setting goals should be something you think through to make sure you’re investing your time into things that will be worth the investment and that you’re committed to seeing all the way through, no matter what curveballs get thrown your way.
Decide ahead of time what you’re willing to sacrifice
The next time you set a goal for yourself, before committing to it, take 3 minutes (it doesn’t have to take longer than this) to ask yourself these questions. Answer them truthfully:
- What am I going to get out of this goal?
- What are the things this goal will require me to sacrifice in order to reach it?
- What will be hard about sacrificing those things?
- Is it worth it to sacrifice those things for this goal?
- Why do I want to achieve this goal?
After answering these questions, if the answer to that last question is “yes”, then you know you’re serious about this goal. As you’re pursuing this goal and you have to make sacrifices in the moment, you can remind yourself why it’s worth the sacrifice and what you’ll get out of it. It will also make it easier to stick to your commitment because you’ve already made the decision ahead of time, so you don’t have to think about it and risk flip flopping or convincing yourself out of it.
This technique isn’t fool-proof because at the end of the day we’re still humans and us humans make mistakes. But it does increase our odds of sticking with our goals and being consistent more often than not.
So I’ll leave you with these questions to think about. What’s that goal you’ve been thinking about and are serious about achieving? What will you have to sacrifice to reach it? Are you willing to make those sacrifices? Why?
Then my friend, go forth and fucking do it! I believe in you.