Mount Everest. The Badwater Ultra-Marathon. What do the these things have in common? They are Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG) that are achieved by putting one foot in front of the other. And they are rarely achieved. The only person who’s both climbed Everest and run Badawater is Marshall Ulrich. In his autobiography Running on Empty, Ulrich’s recommendation for achieving BHAGs is to “focus on the present and set intermediate goals.” And the best Sport Psychology research points to the same thing. Setting intermediate, or “process goals” are vastly superior to BHAGs.
So why are BHAGs so common in January? Because let’s face it, BHAGs are sexy. Telling people your BHAG usually results in “oooohs” and “aaaaahs” followed by those same people telling you how brave and courageous you are and how they could never do something like that. And heck, what feels nicer than people telling you how brave and courageous you are?
How about actually achieving your goals?
Setting process goals is simple, but not easy at first for most people. We get distracted. We lose focus. We get stubborn that there’s a “right” or “perfect” way to our BHAG. But perfection is a distraction in itself. All that matters is momentum. All that matters, according to Ulrich, is “putting one foot in front of the other, millions of times.”
Here is path I start my clients out on. The path may change, but the courage it takes to keep moving forward will not.
1. Don’t start with “what do I want to do,” but “who do you want to be?” Describe the kind of person you want to be at the end of this journey, not what you want to achieve. Do you want to be more disciplined? Making better health choices? A better example for your children?
2. What does that person do every day? Take that description of the person you want to be and make a list of kinds of things that person does every day. What are their habits? It helps if you talk to or read up on what people like the person you want to be actually do because it’s often WAY less than you think. For example, Tommy Kono, the only person to hold World Records in four classes of Olympic-style Weightlifting (and from an era that predates the invention of steroids), only practiced 3 times a week. He says anyone lifting more than that has a bored coach.
3. Have the courage, the bravery, the sheer audaciousness to pick ONE of those habits to start with. Just one. I can’t state this more plainly, and yet everyone chickens out. Pick. One. Habit. ONE. Uno. I know it’s not sexy, but it’s brave. It’s easy to get distracted thinking about those sexy “oooohs” and “aaaaaahs,” when you tell people about a BHAG but they’re just distractions. You’re doing this to become the person you want be.
4. Ask yourself, “am I 90-100% confident that I can do this habit every day for 2 weeks?” If the answer is no, have the courage to make it smaller. Are you unsure you can go to the gym every day? How about waking up earlier? How about just setting the alarm on your phone? You just need to get started. All that matters is momentum.
5. Find a trigger, like setting an alarm, you can rely on to remind you. All habits need a trigger or we often just forget. Life gets in the way, so make sure you have something you can’t ignore in the way of the status quo. Block your door with your running shoes. Set a recurring 6am alarm on your phone. Ask a friend to remind you.
6. Do that habit, or something that makes that habit easier to do tomorrow, every day.Just show up. Put one foot in front of the other. Even if it’s a single step, all that matters is momentum. All that matters is momentum.
7. Track your process. Make a hash mark on your wall. Make a note in MyFitessPal. Tell a stranger on the internet that you put on your running shoes today. You need to see it. You need to celebrate it.
8. Forgive your slips ups. It doesn’t matter if you miss a day. It doesn’t matter if you miss a week. All that matters is momentum and that means all that matters is today. You have to be obstinate about the present. Have the courage to see your slip ups as progress. Because the obstacles are the path. And all you have to do, is keep moving forward.