(A featured post from my side-project blog, The Half-Marathon Project – following my experiences in training for a half-marathon this October)
Why a half-marathon?
Because goals unleash energy.
The more clearly defined the goal is, the more energy I feel to pursue it.
For instance, for a long time, it has been my goal to increase my health. We all know the benefits of good health: increased energy, better mood, better sleep, lower medical costs, longevity, better enjoyment of life. But “increase health” is a vague goal – I need something more concrete.
For a long time, I tried using health measures to clarify my health goal: get cholesterol below 200, get my weight down to 180, maintain a healthy blood pressure. These are good things to shoot for, but there is a problem with goals like this. They will only motivate for a brief time. Why?
They are uninspiring and drab. They don’t reflect anything about me or who I am. For longer term motivation, I need something that speaks to my heart.
The more personal a goal is, the more energy I feel to pursue it.
Try this – transform your health goals by making them a unique expression of who you are. Find an activity that you love: yoga, basketball, swimming, tennis, golf, etc. Learn how that activity can be best used to promote your health, and then use that activity as the lynchpin for your health goals.
I happen to love running. I ran cross country in high school. Running has been my default exercise. I like being outdoors, I like the feel of running. I like the excitement of a road race. I enjoy that running is, for the most part, a singular sport, but it can be enjoyed in a very social atmosphere. By using running as a way to ground my health goals, I not only have goals that are good for me, but goals that bring me joy and delight.
It’s important to remember the larger purpose, though. The purpose behind a goal affects the process by which you pursue that goal. We can participate in a sport or activity for any number of reasons: it makes us more attractive, its a social outlet, it passes the time. If your purpose is simply to make yourself better looking, then you may find yourself pursuing the goal in a way that undermines some other purpose, like health. You may be tempted to take shortcuts such as crash diets or shady pharmaceuticals. You might completely neglect nutrition altogether.
When I remember the purpose, though, the goal unleashes greater energy to achieve the purpose. Running brings me joy. As I train for the half marathon, the delight in running that I experience makes me more likely to act on everything else I know about health: good nutrition, adequate sleep, stress management, etc.
The more a goal is both challenging yet attainable, the more energy I feel to pursue it.
A goal that I can accomplish today isn’t a goal, it’s a present reality. Goals, by their very nature require effort. They need to challenge us to change the present reality. They also need to be attainable. I could set my goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That might be attainable someday; it might even be a really good long term goal. But for me to make progress, I need something a little more achievable. For me, the half marathon is a great distance – it stretches me beyond the 5k and 10k races I’ve done in the past. It can be a stepping stone to bigger challenges later, but it is in the realm of possibility.
Put another way, you have to believe “yeah, I could do that.” If you don’t really believe you can accomplish your goal then you’ll never summon the strength to endure the difficult times. There will come a time when you just want to quit. If you never really believed you could attain the goal, you will.
So my pursuit of a half marathon is in support of my overall hopes of improving my health, it is something I personally enjoy, and it is something I really believe I can attain.
What’s your goal? How have your goals unleashed energy in your life?