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.
This sounds harsher than it feels. It doesn’t feel harsh; it’s not an insult. It’s just the truth.
What do I mean? I mean that scattered all throughout my life, there are areas where I’ve allowed an apathy or laziness creep in, where there was once only discipline.
Slowly, imperceptibly, the weeds have taken the garden.
Take, for example, fitness. I’ve had a grand old time “staying healthy” the past few years, running when I feel like it, for as far or as short as I feel like, however fast (or more often, slow) I want to. Or dropping running entirely to hit the gym for a few months, to see how much weight I can pack on with a vegan diet.
Fun times. Easy times. It’s been like that, really, since I qualified for Boston in 2009, or at the least, since I ran my two 50-milers in 2010. Since then, I haven’t committed to anything but the loosest of training plans, and I’ve run my races just to finish them. “I deserve a break,” I’ve let myself believe. And maybe I did.
But this isn’t me. If nothing else, this anxiety is a sign that the break is over. It takes work and effort and discipline to do more than this, but that work used to be the reward.
Like the semester in college when I first took it upon myself to get in shape — getting up early every day to hit the gym before classes. Following my first fitness program (Body for Life) to a tee, flat-out refusing to eat anything but the approved foods unless it was my once-weekly cheat day. I remember that semester as one of the happiest times in my life, and I’m coming to believe that is wasn’t the results I was getting that made me so happy, but the discipline itself that was so fulfilling.
Same with training to qualify for Boston. Sure, the memories of actually qualifying are wonderful. But the memories of the work are the best ones, the defining ones. And without the work, things fall apart.
You need to rediscover that discipline.
Running (or more generally, fitness) is just one area. When I look at my relationships, I know I need to do the same. I can be a better husband, one who my wife can lean on for support. And I need to fully embrace being a dad, and to stop resenting the fact that having a child means more responsibilities, which sometimes means I can’t do the things I used to. When I was a kid.
I could go on and on. But in the other areas of my life, the story is the same — a lack of discipline, either in action or in thought. In the moment it’s the path of least resistance, but the path ultimately leads to a place of pain.
It’s time to grow up, dude.
Make no mistake. I’m not wallowing in self-pity here or being overly hard on myself. I know I’m a good husband, a great dad, a pretty fit guy who eats very healthily, and extremely proud to do what I love for a living … but I also know I can be more. I need to be more. I owe it to myself and the people I love to be more.
I know I don’t usually write about topics like this. Partly because they’re personal, but mainly because I never want this blog to become a place for me to air my dirty laundry. But I’m comfortable writing this today because my mindset has already begun to shift. I’ve already begun to change.
But mostly, I’m writing this because I bet there’s somewhere in your life where you could stand to grow up. I’m hoping to help you see it.
Turning Pro isn’t my phrase, but I’ve adopted it as my mantra for the year. It’s the title of a book by Steven Pressfield, his followup to the War of Art. I’ve read it twice since I bought it on December 30th, after having the ah-ha moment where I realized that the same issue underlies all the areas in my life where I’m feeling the pressure to change. I think it’ll become something of a bible for me this year. (Not an affiliate link, by the way.)
But how do you go about making such pervasive, yet really sort of nebulous, changes?
I’m not sure. This is new to me. But I think I have a good plan.
Goals are supposed to be specific. How do I know, specifically, once I’ve beaten anxiety? Grown up? Turned pro? It’s not as cut and dry as a goal like learning to play the main riff of Smells like Teen Spirit on the guitar.
But I can set specific goals in each of the areas where I’m lacking discipline. (So can you.)
I can set a specific goal of carving out time each week for a date night with my wife. I can set a goal to run a 100-miler.
The only way to achieve these goals, of course, is to be disciplined. (Remember the real reason for setting goals?)
Each of these goals, and I’ve got a bunch of them, will require their own habits. Getting up earlier. Following a training schedule. Writing every day. Making sure there’s time each day for uninterrupted fun with my little boy. Changing the way I think.
Of course, there’s still the issue of how to take on so many new habits. I’m a firm believer in taking on only one habit at a time. But then to look at all the habits I’ve got to change, one at a time, is overwhelming. Patience is good, but too often, I’ve laid out plans for creating a bunch of changes over time, only to lose steam a few weeks in.
I have a solution.
Enter the meta-habit
My solution is to create a meta-habit. A habit about habits, one that will ensure that I don’t give up on creating positive changes and introducing new disciplines into my life. A system to make sure that I don’t lose motivation, or just plain forget to keep improving.
Years ago, I used to have a long commute to grad school, and every day I’d listen to something motivational the entire time. It was great for me. I craved it, and I’d read personal development books too before I went to bed.
I remember telling myself, “As long as I keep listening to and reading this stuff, there’s no way I could get off track.” That flood of inspiration each day is just too much for anything negative to stand up to long enough to affect me.
But now, I don’t have that commute anymore. And over time, especially since No Meat Athlete has become a full-time gig and I’ve become a parent, I’ve let demands on my time prevent me from reading these types of books too. And I think that’s where I’ve gone wrong.
So I’ve committed to a single habit that I will do every single day this year, without fail, a habit that (if my plan works) will keep me motivated to create the others.
That habit is to read or listen to something positive, inspirational, or instructional for an hour a day. Every day. No exceptions.
I’m sure this habit isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t respond to motivational and inspirational books and audiobooks the way I do, I know. Some people find them cheesy. That’s cool.
But is there a single habit that you could commit to that would serve the same purpose for you? Something that, as long as you kept it up, would keep you energized and excited to make more and bigger changes?
I bet if you think hard enough, you’ll find it. Maybe your meta-habit is meditating or yoga or running or painting or writing or having tea with your spouse every day. You’ll know when you’ve hit on the right one, because it’ll give you a feeling of certainty. That if you could only keep up this one habit (and you can, here’s how), you’d have nothing else to worry about. Because it would take care of the rest for you.
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.