A few days ago, I got an email from a woman named Lynita. It’s what today’s post is about.
Here’s what Lynita wrote to me:
I’m four weeks into the Marathon Roadmap training!! I felt the need to tell someone…but preferably someone who has no vested interest in my life in case it turns out to be an epic bust!!
I ran my first and only half marathon August of last year. I’ve been running regularly since but haven’t had anything to train for until now and my running, even though enjoyable, had been stagnant. So, I decided I needed a goal, and if you’re going to set one, set one BIG, right??
I thought [the half marathon] would suffice! But, apparently I was mistaken. Something inside me desired to do so much more. I’ve set my sights on running a full 26.2 miles. I haven’t had meat in four weeks and am continually trying to clean up my diet. I feel the foods I eat affect me possibly even more than the typical person.
So, we’ll keep this on the down low for now – you know, in case of that epic failure thing. However if these crazy joints carry me 26.2 miles across a marathon finish line, you’ll be one of the first to know.
Thanks for the inspiration! Keep it up…please
On the surface, these look like the words of someone destined for success. But if Lynita doesn’t change something, I’d bet against her.
Lynita has done a lot of things right. She set a big, inspiring goal. She’s got strong reasons (which I omitted when I shortened her email), for wanting — no, needing — to do this. And she made an investment in it. The fact that it’s my program doesn’t matter, what matters is that she bought any program — committing actual money to something tends to motivate us, if only to avoid feeling dumb for never using something we spent good money on.
But there’s one thing wrong with Lynita’s plan, and as minor as it might seem, it has the power to undermine the whole thing. (I told her this in my reply, of course, and got her permission to use her email in this post.)
“If you want to take the island, burn your boats”
This cliche gets tossed around a lot, especially in business books, but I love it.
When we set goals — especially, the big, scary, exciting ones that move us to act — our natural tendency is to leave ourselves an out. Just like Lynita did here, right before she put her first smiley face.
We’ve learned that sometimes we fail, and it’s not much fun. We’ve also learned that when we fail publicly, in front of our friends, it sucks even more.
And so when you set that crazy goal, the one that has the potential to change your life or even define it, there’s a decision you make at the outset, often without realizing it.
The decision is to either bet on yourself — by telling every single person who will listen to you what you intend to do — or to bet against yourself, by keeping it a secret.
You know, just in case you fail. Smiley face.
“I’ll surprise everyone,” we say. “I’ll make all these huge changes in secret, and one day, when I run my marathon / finish my triathlon / celebrate my year as a vegetarian / quit my job, then everyone will see what I’m capable of.”
This, of course, is total bullshit. It’s fear, and all that stuff we tell ourselves is just rationalization.
So what do you do instead?
Tell everyone. Put it on Facebook. Put it on your blog. Set up a public Google Doc where you’ll track your progress, and invite the people you most respect to keep you in line. Find a partner. Write it on your forehead if you have to. Make a deal with a friend that you’ll pay them 100 bucks if you quit. Or that you’ll donate that money to a charity that you hate.
Whatever your boat is, burn it. Instead of protecting yourself so that failing won’t hurt, use that fear of failing as one more reason not to fail.
And if you fail — and make no mistake, you might — I promise it’ll be good for you. While everyone was sitting on the couch watching Dancing with the Stars, you were out there trying. Making progress towards something that matters. Doing instead of watching.
If it doesn’t work out, is that really something to be ashamed of?