For my 40th birthday, my parents gave me an interesting gift – a treadmill. After getting over the initial assumptive implication… “Hey! What are you implying?”, I was determined not to let this generous gift be reduced to a large clothing rack.
I started by walking. It was nice. I could exercise in the oppressive Texas summer heat in the comfort of air conditioning. It was an improvement over my previous routine. But it wasn’t challenging, and it didn’t get me out of my routine. Walking is easy for me. I can walk endlessly for hours and miles with no problem. Running, however, is a different story. I got winded after a single block if I tried to jog.
And so, I set a new goal – run.
I selected a six-week training series that promised by the end I could run (at a light jog) for 30 minutes straight. It seemed like a modest goal. And it seemed insurmountable. It was perfect.
The journey to reach a goal begins: the first 30-second step
The first session seemed easy. After a five-minute warm up walk, run for 30 seconds than back down to a walk for one minute. Repeat 30 seconds on, 1 minute off for about 20 minutes, then back down to a cool down walk. No problem – I totally got this!
Until about 6 or 7 repetitions in… I don’t got this…
Finally, at the end of the 30 minutes, I dragged myself off the machine as a sweaty mess. It was exhausting and embarrassing but I did it.
The next day, I did it again. And then the next day again… slowly the running time increased, the walking time decreased and day after day I dragged myself off that machine when it was over, an exhausted, sweaty mess.
The journey continues: step by challenging step
On the third week I hurt my knee. I was doing it wrong. Grr…
A week of recovery, a hard lesson on the ‘right way to run’, and a knee brace later, I was back.
So many times I wanted to give up with a “running is just not for me”. But I used my stubborn nature (yeah, it can be a good thing if used properly) and powered through. Step by step, day by day.
Finally, after weeks, I reached the final session.
For the first time in many years, I jogged for 30 minutes straight. It was not fast, it was not impressive as running goes, but I did it and, for me, it was huge! I reached my goal and ran.
The secret to achieving goals: think marathon, not sprint
Achieving goals, whether to run for 30 minutes or to increase diversity throughout the ranks of your organization, is a process and not an instant of time.
If I had tried to run for 30 minutes on the first day, I would have likely failed miserably or hurt myself. Even if I did achieve it, it would not have been pleasant or sustainable and would have probably ended up as a once and done event.
So, for any goal; new year resolutions, corporate strategy, diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives, etc., it is the same. Push too hard, change too much at once, or give it all you have in a mad dash, and you will likely fail miserably, cause more damage than good, or spend all that effort for a ‘once and done’ blip rather than sustained change.
The key to successfully crossing the finish line of goals is:
Commitment: Goals take time and persistence. Worthy goals involve change in process, behavior, and/or approach and it isn’t easy. But if you commit to taking each little step, you’ll soon find yourself reaching the finish line.
Flexibility: Not all steps are helpful for reaching a goal. Sometimes you take a few that are wrong. Don’t stop and don’t continue in the wrong direction. Instead, take the time to learn from those missteps, adjust your approach, and continue down the corrected path.
Realistic expectations: Goals can be lofty, but not the individual steps. Take steps that are too big and you’re liable to hurt something (figuratively or literally). Set reasonable steps that you and/or your team can take without risking (figurative or literal) injury. That doesn’t mean the steps shouldn’t be a challenge or push just a little bit more, but they need to be small enough that you are taking the time to build the foundation and to learn from any missteps.
Celebration: when you achieve your goal or milestone toward the goal, take the time to celebrate. Feel good and proud about the achievement. Not only do you and/or your team deserve it because change is hard, it will also serve to motivate you and/or your team to continue the journey.
Bringing it all together: achieving your goals step by step
As you plan for the new year, new program, new initiative, or add a new personal goal to your roster, consider the steps. What reasonable steps can you commit to in order to achieve the goal over time. How will you ensure you will reflect and learn from any missteps without giving up, and what will you do to celebrate when you get there?
As for my goal of running, it’s been a few more months since I achieved that first goal of running for 30 minutes. Now I run about 3 miles a day and my ‘rest speed’ is the jogging pace I first achieved. I feel better, I sleep better, and I’m happier. Next up, inclines!
What is your goal?