If you read my column last month, you’ll remember that I spent much of it relaying some lessons I learned from pushing a little too hard to finish a particularly brutal adventure race. But that isn’t going to stop me from offering some counterbalancing advice here.
Because while you don’t want to wipe yourself out attempting to complete goals you’re not yet ready for, it’s also not a good idea to habitually abandon or slack off on goals that really matter to you.
So this month, I’m going to make a case for finishing what you start, doing what you set out to do, and really sticking your landings.
Success in most endeavors comes from the clear, precise and thoughtful setting of goals, combined with a real commitment to making them happen — even if it takes a while.
“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle tells us. “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The problem is, mediocrity can also easily become a habit. Giving up can become a behavioral norm. We can and do get used to anything. If we repeatedly set goals and then forget about them, or we create a pattern of coming close but not quite finishing, or of getting Cs and Ds in school, rather than As and Bs, that becomes a comfort zone for us.
The way we conduct ourselves also sets a sort of cultural expectation that can affect those around us, for better or worse. That’s why, both in your personal and professional life, it’s so important to establish a habit of finding and gently stretching your own comfort zones, of reliably accomplishing the challenges you set for yourself, and inviting those around you to do the same.
Over time, this creates a culture of growth, a culture of celebrating successes. And, believe me, that culture is a much more rewarding place for you and everyone around you to be in than a culture of disappointment, apathy and half-hearted excuses.
The truth is, the pursuit of ambitious goals often involves some developmental phases that masquerade as obstacles, or even impending failures. These are the “wow-this-is-harder-than-I-thought” and “I-don’t-know-how” moments that hold the greatest potential for our personal evolution.
In my mind, this is the whole point of setting goals in the first place: It forces you to be conscious of where your own current comfort zones, skill limits and set points are, and it gives you a golden opportunity to nudge beyond them.
So, as this year comes to a close, I invite you to think a little about the goals you may have set for yourself last January, or at any point along the way: How serious were you about making those goals happen? What level of commitment did you invest in achieving them? Do you even remember what they were?
If you realize that you let one or more goals fall by the wayside, then first take a moment to reflect on how that happened. Did you get distracted by other things? Did you run into a barrier or fear you didn’t know how to get past? Did you shy away from success once it started feeling within reach? Or did you just take on too much and wind up running out of steam?
Whatever your answers, take note of them. Because chances are good that whatever held you back from achieving one or more specific goals this year is also holding you back in many other areas of your life. Quite likely, it’s some learned behavior or limiting pattern that’s just begging to be noticed. And if you can address and overcome it in the pursuit of a single, meaningful goal, you may be astonished at how it transforms other sectors of your experience.
Once you’ve gotten a handle on forgotten or abandoned goals, select the most important goal of the bunch, the one that you know would have the greatest positive impact on your life if you achieved it. Write it down. Then write down the three most important steps you could take toward achieving it — actions you are willing to take in the next 30 days.
Envision yourself doing each of those three things in turn. Imagine how it will feel to do them. Now, pick one of those things that you can do, or begin to do, today.
Expect resistance, and greet it with excitement when it comes. That’s your opportunity for growth, right there. Nothing succeeds like success, and if you can get closure on even one tiny little piece of your goal today, I suspect you will feel a rush of motivation that will entice you to accomplish another little piece tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.
Before long, your own personal finish line will come into view. And, when it does, you can sprint those last few yards with well-earned confidence.
Bahram Akradi is the founder and CEO of Life Time Fitness.