On Turning Pro — One Year Later

What a year.

On January 4th, 2013, I wrote a post called On Turning Pro, about my plans to overcome debilitating anxiety by “growing up and turning pro” in just about every area of my life.

I was not in a good place, coming off the most worried and powerless six months I had ever experienced. But the new year had brought me the first glimmer of light at the end of that dark tunnel, and in this post I wrote about my plans to navigate the rest of the way out.

Here’s the last paragraph:

January 1st has passed. Another year of your life is gone. And before you know it, this one will be over too. My challenge to you — before another day goes by — is to find the place where you need to grow up and turn pro. And then do it.

I hope you’ll join me.

Fast forward 10 months from when I wrote that post …

It’s October 30th and I’m in San Francisco, sharing a stage at Samovar Tea Lounge with Jesse Jacobs, the owner and founder of Samovar, and Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits and one of my personal heroes.

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5 ‘Easy’ Steps for Making Your Unrealistic Goal a Reality

iStock 000020646047XSmallWith the book tour just about wrapped up, it’s great to be sitting at my own desk in my own house writing a blog post again.

The tour has been amazing. So many roads, people, stories, hotels and cities, and so many delicious meals (especially once I hit the west coast). There are still a few events left, including Charlotte, Raleigh, and my hometown of Asheville this Thursday, but these and the remaining dates in Raleigh and Atlanta (maybe) are short drives away. The hard part — all 11,000 miles of it in my Hyundai Elantra — is over. The goal, achieved.

Yes, this self-supported book tour was like any other goal. It started as a speck of an idea that hit me on a run one day, a ridiculous and unrealistic idea. Then the day of intense, excited research to answer the “Is this possible?” question — knowing that no matter what the facts were, I’d somehow bend them into the shape of “Yes.” Finally, going public with it and creating the accountability. At which point it became real … then the rest was just details.

I’ve got plans for a book tour wrap-up post with photos, links, stories, maybe even a recording of my talk … but this is not that post.

My talk each night focused on three topics: running, the plant-based diet, and setting big freaking scary goals. Far more than the other two topics, the ones I thought were a safe bet, it was the talk of goals that people really cared about.

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The One True Secret of Endless Motivation (And 12 Ideas for Finding Yours)

matt on bridge

The final “point 2″ of my Boston-qualifying marathon.

People often ask how you stay motivated. For getting in shape, running a marathon, or tackling an endeavor entirely unrelated to fitness.

I’ve never really had an answer.

I was a motivation machine when I was training to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I was so focused on the goal — obsessed even — and that alone proved to be an endless font of giddy-up. I couldn’t answer the motivation question, because I didn’t have a problem staying motivated.

The 100-miler was different. The idea of training for it overwhelmed me so much that the first time I signed up for one, I never even started training! Ultimately, it took a two-year plan, knowing that tackling a hundred would first require me to get back into marathon shape, then back into 50-miler shape, and finally into the uncharted territory of whatever 100-miler shape was.

Staying motivated for two years wasn’t easy. I call myself a runner, but I don’t have whatever the it is that compels other runners to religiously put their miles in, running just for running’s sake.

Instead, I’m prone to violent ups and downs. Seventy-five straight days of running, then a month of almost none. That feeling where all you want to do is run, followed by the struggle to get yourself out the door at all.

How to Stay Motivated

That was 100-miler training, for me. In hindsight, I’m amazed that I made it happen.

But in the process, I discovered the secret to staying motivated. Ready? Here goes:

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The 5 Most Valuable Lessons I’ve Learned in a Month of Living on Purpose

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post called On Turning Pro, about my new mindset for the new year, one of discipline and responsibility. The post really struck a chord, even though it wasn’t specifically about running or diet (but the ideas in it could, of course, be applied to fitness and food).

This is the first of several follow-ups I’ll write about my progress. If I were writing this post at the end of January, which I had every intention of doing, I would be celebrating a month of huge success at what I set out to do.

As it is, I’m still celebrating success, but of a different kind — this week, I finished writing my book! There’s still lots of revision and editing to be done, but the hard part — the sitting down, facing the Resistance, and writing — is finished. The cost of finishing, unfortunately, was abandoning many of the healthy habits and disciplines I had developed in January.

But I’m not deterred. The idea of the meta-habit (perhaps better called an “anchor habit,” by Brett and Amber) is a comforting one — rather than feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of having to restart 10 or 12 different habits, I know that all I have to do is get back to my daily habit of reading and listening to positive material, and the others will fall into place like dominos.

I’m excited for things to return to the way they were before the huge push to get the book finished. Reading over the journal I kept in January, I’m astounded at how much I learned about myself in so short a period.

I learned way more than I can fit into a single post, but I figured I’d start with the five most important lessons I learned during this month of dedication and discipline. I hope you find them useful, in some way, for your own life.

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Start

2011BRLogoSM2I started. Really, actually, started.

The timing is good. This Saturday marks the end — of the hard part, at least — of writing my book. (I thought the same thing three weeks ago, but this time it’s for real.)

And last Saturday marked exactly 24 weeks until the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run, my “A” race for this year.

Twice in the past I’ve had plans to run 100-milers, even picked out the races. Once I even signed up, and wrote a blog post about it for a little accountability. So why am I not the proud owner of a badass 100-miler finisher’s buckle?

Because I failed to take the single most important step toward finishing anything:

I didn’t start.

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On Turning Pro

In a post called In Defense of New Year’s Resolutions at the end of last month, I wrote a little bit about my own resolution of conquering the anxiety that effectively ruined much of the second half of 2012 for me. (Or, to take responsibility for it, the anxiety that I employed to mess up the second half of the year for myself.)

It turned out that people were more interested in those few paragraphs than they were in the other 1500 words in the post, so today I’m following up on that topic with some more details. Not so much about my own issues — that’s a bit too self-indulgent for my liking, and probably not universally applicable — but instead, about how I plan to fix them.

And that “how,” I think, is immensely applicable.  Whether you’re an athlete, a mother, an artist, a business person or, well, a human.

The real reason to set goals

I’ve read many times that the real purpose of setting a goal isn’t the achievement of the goal itself. Instead, the reason to set a goal is because of the person you will have to become to achieve it.

On the flip side, I believe that’s also the best place to start making plans to take on the goal. Instead of asking, “What do I need to do to make this goal happen?”, the better question to ask is, “What type of person do I need to become to make this goal happen?”

Conquering anxiety, although my most important goal, is not my only goal. I also set goals for running and fitness, goals for my relationships with my wife, son, and future daughter, and financial and business goals. When I asked myself, for each goal, who I needed to become to make it happen, I found that the answer was the same across all of them.

You need to grow the hell up.

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In Defense of New Year’s Resolutions (and Why NOW Is the Time to Declare Yours)

iStock 000022459583XSmallI know: New Year’s resolutions aren’t exactly fashionable these days.

Far cooler than telling someone about your resolution for 2013 is to go around quoting stats about how ineffective they are, and how many well-intentioned self-promises are forgotten by the end of January every year.

Or you can point out that January 1st is arbitrary, just as good (or bad) as any other day to start something new.

Not me, though. I’m not ready to give up on New Year’s resolutions just yet. Here’s why.

2 reasons why New Year’s resolutions can still work for you

I’ll admit the track record is embarrassing. There’s a reason for this, though — it’s that most people treat their resolutions like wishes from a genie in a bottle. They mistakenly assume that when the calendar flips, so will some switch in their brains that makes their willpower appreciably stronger than it is now.

But if we’ve learned anything from the study of habits, it’s that willpower is not enough. It’s an exhaustible resource, and while you can coast by on willpower alone for maybe the first week of January, your willpower is going to fade at some point. And if that happens before your new habit has become, well, a habit, your resolution fades too.

So there’s the first key to making a resolution that’s not just another wish: make it about changing the habits that are necessary to create the bigger change you really want. For instance, if you resolve to lose 20 or 50 or 100 pounds, don’t get up on January 1st and try to lose 20 or 50 or 100 pounds. Instead, wake up on January 1st and begin creating the exercise habit — which likely means starting with just 5 minutes. Physically, you accomplish next to nothing, but far more importantly, you begin re-wiring your brain for exercise in a way that’s so painless you can’t possibly flake out.

And what of this business about January 1st being arbitrary? Agreed, the actual date doesn’t matter. But here’s what does.

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How to Create Healthy Habits: An Interview with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits

“The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, add to it another filament, until it becomes a great cable and binds us irrevocably, thought and act.”

-Orison Swett Marden

By far, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned this entire year is that habit change is a skill. Learn the skill, and you take control of your actions and life.

Fail to understand your habits, though, and you’re a creature of circumstance — controlled by distractions and a slave to the whims of the present moment. I’ve had plenty of experience with this situation, as most people have. But the important thing to know is that you can learn to change.

You can get a sense of the excitement I felt upon discovering this and putting it into action in my post from the summer called How I’ve Begun Changing My Life, One Habit a Time.

I have Leo Babauta to thank for introducing me to the power of habits, and teaching me to take charge of my own. As most of the internet knows, Leo writes the blog Zen Habits, and I’m grateful today to have the chance to share this interview I did with him earlier this week.

I hope you enjoy it, but more importantly, I hope you use it.

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