Starting Slow Is Still Starting

As a society, we have a tendency to focus on the results instead of the long journey it took to get to those results.I was reminded of that last week when my company hosted its first-ever employee summit.

My company has been around for over 25 years. But it’s not a well-known name. It’s a software company that doesn’t act like your typical software company. They’ve never had any investors. They started small and kept building out slowly. And now, one of the founders joked that people in the industry who are taking a closer look are calling us an “overnight success.” To which the founder responds “Yes, a twenty-five-year overnight success.”

It was a great message. Like the company I work for, the successes you and I will have in our lives will more likely come from a lot of hard work that doesn’t get recognized, that feels mundane at times, that is consistent and sometimes boring, that is slow and doesn’t actually look or feel like success for a really, really long time.

And that’s hard. Really hard. It is not easy to persevere when it seems like no progress is being made. It’s a lot easier to just give up and turn back. All the stress you put on yourself to achieve a certain goal, all the sacrifices you’ve made – wouldn’t it just be nice if you could just relax and take it easy and not worry about achieving your goals every single moment? We’ve all been there.

Giving up is easy. But make no mistake, it’s just as hard as persevering. The feelings of guilt that you could have done more will weigh on you just as heavy as the pain of sacrifice and commitment.

As someone who grew up with the nickname “Turtle,” I want to help you be more okay with starting slow and progressing slow. And I also think you should be able to relax once in a while. All while keeping your eye on a long term goal.

 

Long term goals vs. short term goals

First off – A quick google search shows that long term goals are considered 5 years and up whereas short term goals are days, weeks, or months from now. Well, okay, that’s cool and all, but for the purposes of this conversation, I’m going to be talking about a long term goal in terms of anything over 6 months and short term goal as anything under 6 months. Don’t get me wrong, super long term goals that last 5 years are definitely something to consider, but I find that a year is plenty long in our minds for what I want to discuss.

With that said – I have a bias towards long term goals (which, to be clear, I’m thinking about in terms of 6 months to a year).

Long term goals are great because…

They give you room to breathe. If you screw up one day, that’s okay! You can just start again the next day. Not progressing your goals for one day out of 180 days or 360 days is not going to make you a failure.

There’s more than enough time to experiment and learn. This is especially important if you’re doing something new. When you’re starting out and you’re trying to see what works and what doesn’t work, you need time to be able to assess the path that you’re on.

You can actually become an expert in something, given enough time. Have you ever set out to do something new and you weren’t sure how it would go so you set your expectations low, but then it quickly became apparent to you that this new thing actually was going really well and maybe it’s a hidden talent of yours? I can’t say it happens often, but there have definitely been times where I built up in my mind that something would be hard or intimidating, and then as soon as I started, I realized it was a lot easier than I thought and that I actually had to increase my goals because I set the bar too low. That’s what’s nice about a long term goal where you find out you excel – it really gives you time to nurture that passion.

There is such joy at the end of a long term goal. Finishing a long term goal is way more satisfying then finishing a short term goal. You finally have the proper perspective to see all your hard work, the ups and the downs, and really take stock of how far you’ve come. Even if the finish line isn’t exactly what you aimed for, it’s still way better than where you started. I’m reminded of the phrase, “If you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still end up among the stars.” (The only person who wouldn’t appreciate that is an astronaut trying to get to the moon, but I digress). If you set out to lose 50 lbs and by the end you see that you lost 30, are you going to think it was all for nothing? Of course not! So what if it takes a little longer to reach your true goal. Big whoop! You’ve already come SO FAR. It’d be silly to turn back now.

But of course, there are some down sides to a long term goal…

It is hard to see the finish line. Finish line? What finish line. All you see is a path of impossible little milestones stretched over a super long period of time. As with any long term goal, there is a rush of excitement in the beginning, and then the middle just stretches on and on, endlessly! But eventually, the end will be in sight. But it is HARD to get to a point where you see the end in sight, make no mistake.

Progress doesn’t always look like what you think it will. When you’re setting out on a long term goal you have an end result in mind. You are going to look or feel or think a certain way. That’s what defines success. But when you don’t start to see progress on those fronts, the doubt starts creeping in. You should be happier by this point. You should have lost more weight by this point. You should be smarter by this point. And when you can’t measure up to those subjective measures or where you think you should be, you start to wonder if you’re even meant for such a lofty goal.  But you are. You’re always meant to fulfill your dreams. No matter what they are. You are worthy!

Short term goals are good…if they’re positioned as milestones on your way to a long term goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I hate all short term goals. I just think that if they function in a silo – like if they’re not connected to anything, they’re not as satisfying.

Short term goals are good because they give you somewhat-instant gratification. Where long term goals have you struggling with perspective, short term goals give you a view of the finish line almost as soon as you start. So each day seems really important because you see that you’re getting closer and closer to the finish line.

But sometimes they’re too short and that’s why you can’t look at one short term goal as a barometer for success. If I set out to workout five days in one week and I only do four days because of life getting in the way, I have a momentary feeling of failure. Why can’t I just stick to doing one thing for one week? Why couldn’t I just figure it out and make it happen? This attitude torments many of us.

To overcome that, you need to have many short term goals that add up to a long term goal. That way you can think “I didn’t hit it this week, but I almost got there and next week I can try to do 100%.” And then you can look at ways to improve your upcoming week, remove some obstacles before they become obstacles so that you can fulfill your promise. Then after a couple weeks of short term goals, you won’t think “I failed” you’ll think, “I didn’t do perfect, but I did pretty good!” And then, even better, at the end of your long term goal you’ll think “WOW. I went from 0 workouts to now regularly working out 4-5 times a week. That’s incredible!”

 

Be super honest with yourself

Okay – so you know the difference between long term and short term goals and how they both are needed at varying times. Now it’s time to put it into action.

When I start to craft a long term goal, I think of what I want my future self to be like. And it needs to be crystal clear. It’s not wrong to set a goal like, “I want to be a better role model for my kids” or “I want to have more confidence” or “I want more balance in my life.” But those are goals that could look differently to everyone. So if you’re going to shoot for something like that, then you next need to answer the question “What does that look like for me?” “What does being a role model mean to me?” And then out of those answers, that’s where you start to put together long term goals. Because at the end of the goal, you will need to measure how well you did.

Now, what works best for me may not work best for you. However, I’m just going to throw this out there – and it might not be a favorable opinion – but it’s how I really feel.

I think your goals should be selfish. I think your goals need to be something that you do for YOU ALONE and not some hallmark channel, feel good goal. That is utter CRAP. That is not real life! That is the stuff you see on Pinterest boards and mommy blogger sites (no offense, I still like mommy bloggers) and Instagrammers who are trying to sell you this wholesome life they’ve crafted. But you know what? Underneath it all, we ALL have the real goal in mind. It may be something we don’t want to share with others because it seems narcissistic or petty, but it is the goal we hold in our hearts of who we want to be or how we want to live or what we want to look like.

And I am here to tell you that that is PERFECTLY OKAY. When you’re working late hours because you want that promotion, is the thought of you having financial security for your family going to be the thing that keeps you going? Or is it going to be the thought of you seeing that first big paycheck and the things you now don’t need to put on a credit card? If you answer with the first, I call BS. YES of course you want financial security, but that’s not what’s going to push you on those long hours. It’s the physical money. Be honest with yourself.

The same goes when you’re on the treadmill (the “dreadmill” as it’s aptly named sometimes). You’re sweating. You’re in pain. You want to quit so badly! In that moment are you thinking “I need to keep pushing on so I can be a good role model for my kids.” Or are you thinking, “I want to see the look of stun on my classmates face when I show up at our 20-year reunion looking amazing.” DING DING DING. You know what you’re thinking. So do I.

And that’s OKAY. If that’s what pushes you to complete your goal, then do that!

So to let some of my skeletons out of the closet, I’ll be honest and say that the goals that I publicly talk about are not always the goals I really have in my heart.

Last year, when I first got into remission from cancer, I was very open about the fact that one of my goals was to run a half marathon in June. It’s no secret that I was a runner before cancer and I’ve run plenty of half marathons in the past, so to set this as my first goal in remission came as a shock to very few people. There were people who thought maybe it was too lofty for what I’d been through…maybe too soon. But no one was like “That’s impossible.” So, I felt okay telling anyone/everyone about this goal.

But to be honest…that was just my “nice and shiny” public goal. People rally behind training for events. I was not ashamed to talk about training for a half marathon. But the real goal? The real goal was to lose the weight I’d put on during cancer. I’d put on over 20 lbs. And no, most of it was not from the chemo drugs. It was the fact that I just ate as much as I could because there wasn’t a whole lot else making me happy during that time. I don’t hate myself for doing that. But I knew as soon as I got into remission, I wanted to drop that weight FAST. And in the past, training for a half marathon was always one of the quickest ways I knew to drop the weight (remember this was pre-keto days).

And to peel that onion a bit more…it wasn’t even just to the lose the weight. The goal was to get my pre-cancer body back. The one where I could wear a bikini. The one where I could wear a size 8. The one where I could wear a small t-shirt and not have it cling to every curve. The body that I had in college where I would dance the night away with my girlfriends. The one where I could look at myself and think “I could pass for late 20s” (You’re laughing, I know! But it was a fantasy).

It was my super narcissistic REAL goal. I knew my hair wasn’t going to grow back quickly, so I thought, maybe if I could have a rockin’ bod, my version of a rockin’ bod, I could still rock a pixie cut and be okay with that for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I also wanted more energy to play with my kid, but that wasn’t the primary goal. 

So how did I fare with that goal? You know that moon I was shooting for? Well, this was a case where I ended up among the stars. Yes, I ran and finished a half marathon. Not my best time, but I did it. But did I drop all the weight? Not even close. I dropped some. But I learned some super valuable lessons. Doing this taught me that I can’t rely on techniques of my past. A lot has changed for me after cancer. But did I lose all the weight by the end of the year? HECK YES I DID. I even just bought a new bikini that I’m super excited to wear when we go to Wisconsin Dells in late February. So overall – it did take me longer to get to where I was going, but I got there.

I swear not all my goals have to do with weight loss. I won’t go into too much detail but another goal I had was to write a book. My public goal was to write a 100,000 word draft within a couple months. The goal in my heart though? It was to get published and become so successful as a full-time author that I could quit my job. And maybe also build a writing shed out in the backyard. The good news – I did complete that 100,000 word manuscript. The bad news is I didn’t follow through with the rest. But the point is, I felt weird telling people that I wanted such a big thing. Telling them I wanted a small, manageable thing that a lot of people do felt easier.

So for you – when you’re thinking about your long term goal, think about the version of you you want to become, not the version of you other people want you to become. And if you have to craft a “publicly acceptable goal” then do that! But in those hard moments, get into that selfish side of you to keep you going.

It’s gotta be for you or you won’t sustain it.

 

Think big…but start small

Long term goals are meant to be…well…long. If your goal is to chop your hair and dye it purple and all it requires is the courage to set up the appointment…that is not a long term goal. That is a wish that you could easily make come true. There is no path leading up to the goal, it’s just…done.

So you have to think big. Even if thinking big means you might not achieve that goal for years. Think super big. Think, I want a house in the Hamptons and right now I share an apartment with four other people…big. Think I want to open a sanctuary for pitbulls and all I have is $2 in my bank account…big. Think I want to own my own yarn shop and i’ve never picked up knitting needles…big. Think I want to completely switch careers and be an AI expert but I have no idea how to code…big.

You get the picture. Think big. Think unrealistic. Let your mind go there.

Got it? Got that vision? Okay. Now, let’s unpack it. What would it take to get there? And how long do you think it will take to get there? If you’re sharing an apartment with four people, maybe don’t make living in the hamptons a 1 year goal. But also, be aggressive. Make it a 5 year goal. Shoot for the moon, ya know? Have that big goal in mind with that pretty big timeline and then unpack it some more.

What is possible in the next year? What steps can you take to get you to that final vision within 1 year. And if that seems too long, back it into 6 months. What can you do in the next 6 months to take even the smallest steps towards that goal.

Let’s use running a half marathon as an example. Last year around this time, that was my goal. And the half marathon I wanted to do was in June. Since I hadn’t been running for over a year AND my body had been through a lot of changes and I was still experiencing some unpleasant side effects of the chemo, it was an aggressive goal, to say the least.

So now I need to back into that. What would it take to train for and run a half marathon in 6 months? For me – the path to success was already pretty clear in my mind since I had done it so many times in the past. That doesn’t mean it went according to plan, I definitely had to make adjustments along the way, but overall, I knew what it would take to complete this. So here’s what I think you should do – and then how I executed on my plan to run a half marathon.  

    1. Write down your long term goal.
      Run the Grandma’s half marathon on June 16, 2017 in Duluth, MN.
    2. Write down ways you can achieve your long term goal.
      • Find a 12-14 week half marathon training plan for beginners (because that’s basically where I was at)
      • Download a “Couch to 5k” running app and complete that program in the first two months.
      • Purchase new running shoes and socks
    3. Start to formulate ideas on how you could work towards that goal month over month, making sure you have a clear metric for success every month so that you can measure if you’re making progress.
      This is where I started to put the pieces together. First 12 weeks would be working up the ability to run a 5k without walking. The next 12 weeks were devoted to following the actual half marathon plan.
    4. For each month, write down specifics on what you need to do each week to work towards each month’s goal.
      The first 12 weeks doing the couch to 5k program, the goal wasn’t a weekly one, it was to complete the program overall, so I really focused on just getting to each new level – and not how long it took me to get to each new level. When I started the half marathon training, though, I did have “Weekly mileage goals” to make sure I was building up the stamina needed to run long distances.
    5. Tell someone about your goals. The tactical goals. But not the ones in your heart if those are too personal.
      I trained for this event with two of my closest friends, so they were always in the know about what I’d done that week, how it went and then I also listened to how they were progressing. Doing it with someone is great, but even if you can’t do that, be vocal with those around you so that they can keep you accountable by asking about your progress.
    6. PREPARE for starting towards your goals. What do you need now? What will you need soon? Get all of this figured out before you start so you don’t start on day 1 thinking “Wait, i have nothing I need to even accomplish day 1!”
      For me, it was laying out my plan, and making sure I had all the necessities of running – both indoors and outdoors. Remember – I started training for this in January…in Wisconsin. So I had to have good running gear for crazy winter weather and for indoor treadmill/track runs. There’s a lot to this, so I’ll break that down in another post.
    7. Finally, START! Start somewhere! Even if your goal for day 1 or week 1 is so far off from where you are, just start!
      I don’t know if you’ve ever taken up running before but it is really, REALLY hard in the beginning. Some days I would be like, “Yes, I nailed that!” But most days, I would think “Oh my god. I am such a wimp! Why can’t I keep up?” It is very frustrating in the beginning. But it is a start. And luckily for me, I know that it always starts like this, so I don’t get too down on myself. But if you don’t know that starting is hard, well it is! Regardless of your goal. But starting is KEY. Even if it’s a fraction of how you thought you’d start, just START. Because it will get easier. I promise!
    8. Then keep going. Then keep going. Then keep going.
      Okay, remember when I said long term goals are hard because there’s no end in sight. Okay, well this is why it’s hard. Your day to day might not be that hard, but staying focused on the long term goal is hard. I knew what I was doing day to day for the half marathon training, but keeping up with it and staying focused was not easy. So don’t go too hard on yourself. Take a break once in a while. And then come back to it. But always come back!
    9. Look back. Measure what you’ve done. Measure what you’ve accomplished. Look at what you still need to accomplish.
      Each week and each month, I would take a look back. How much progress have I made? What have I accomplished? It helps to do this periodically so that you don’t feel like you’re stuck in a never ending loop of day-to-day moments that don’t always show progress.
    10. Then repeat #8 and #9 until you’re about one month from your goal end date.
      Yes, repeat this. Again and again. I know it’s hard! But each time you do something for a while and then look back you’ll see more and more progress.
    11. Then…eyes on the prize. You’re almost there!
      Push harder. Hit every milestone. You’re almost there! Dig deep during the last month. Give it all you got!
    12. VICTORY
      So you’ve done the thing. You’ve finished your long term goal. VICTORY! Even if it isn’t the finish you originally imagined, it is still a success. Did you land on the moon or did you end up among the stars? Both are reasons to celebrate. Be proud of your success in whatever form that takes! As I mentioned earlier, I ran the half marathon, but it wasn’t my best time, and I still didn’t accomplish my personal goal of dropping all the weight I wanted, but it was a huge victory, nonetheless. And it gave me the confidence to keep progressing towards my ultimate goal and to try new things.

Slow starts are where it’s at!

I know how intimidating it can be to start something new. There’s no doubt about it, it’s scary.

Back when I was a sophomore in college, I could count on one hand the number of times I had run a mile – because they were all in gym class when I was forced to do such a ridiculous thing. At that point, I was convinced that I would never have what it takes to be a runner. I didn’t have a runner’s body. I was convinced my lungs would burst at some point if I really tried. And the burn of lactic acid every time I tried? Those were all clear signs that this was not something I should do. I had built this HUGE mental wall up in my head of all the reasons why I couldn’t do it. But then one day in college I just got fed up. I just wanted to see what would happen if I tried. So I started slow. Real slow. Mostly walking and maybe 30 second jogs every couple minutes. Even that was hard. But like all things, it got easier with practice.

When I was on the treadmill in the student union gym, I was also embarrassed. I definitely did not have the body shape that most of these kids did. I probably looked completely inept trying to run on a treadmill. But I forced myself to just tune everybody out and try not to think about that. And then one day, a friend of mine came up to me while I was on the treadmill. And by friend I mean, a REALLY muscular guy friend who was light years ahead of me in the ways of physical fitness. Yes, we had lots of conversations in the past – we were in some of the same classes, but it still shocked me that he would even want to be associated with me…in this place. Wasn’t his reputation on the line? That’s how warped my perception of this place was. That people were all playing by these high school rules I’d built up in my mind.

Anyway, he just came up and started talking to me. “Hey…is Jamie short for anything? Like Jamison?” That was it. That’s all he said. I laughed out loud (good thing I was walking at this point). I said, “Nope. Just Jamie.” And then he laughed like, “Duh! I’m an idiot” and said, “Okay. Yeah, I don’t know why but I kept thinking about that after our last class and I just had to know.” And then he waved and walked away. Now besides the fact that he may have been flirting with me but I didn’t get it at the time, I was just still completely in shock that with that one little conversation he had made me go from feeling like a complete loser and an outcast in the gym, to feeling like I belonged there. That we all belonged there, REGARDLESS of how any of us looked.

Fast forward to a couple months later when I ran my first 5k. It was a local one hosted by some dental office. I had the same thoughts screaming at me of “I DON’T BELONG HERE!!” and I was so nervous for that race. Did I finish dead last? Did everyone glare at me as they ran past and shout “LOSER!” and “YOU DON’T BELONG!” Of course not! In fact, no one said anything, because no one was focusing on me during the race. Not one person! And no, I didn’t finish dead last. I was somewhere in the middle, which was also completely shocking to me.

I could go on and on with stories like this, but my point is, new things are WAY scarier in your mind than what is actually happening. I could seriously even say the same for chemo treatments. Yeah, they suck. Don’t get me wrong. But the actual process is more so annoying. Not the end of the world. And probably less painful than pushing out a baby (just being real here, folks!!).

So start. Just try it. Start as slowly as you feel comfortable. And then keep building on that – as slowly as you want. In fact, I even recommend this over jumping full force into something because chances are you’re never as prepared for the big jumps and you’re more likely to give up when you do this.

Start today. Start slow. And soon enough you’ll be looking back thinking, “I should have started this years ago.”

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4 thoughts on “Starting Slow Is Still Starting

  1. tahenryauthoress says:

    I love to take on new challenges. My biggest problem is tackling too many at once. My second biggest problem is knowing when to quit. I’m always wrestling with the idea that it’s time to let things go, long before I can.

  2. Canuck Carl says:

    Losing 20 pounds, running a half marathon after cancer treatment, writing a 100,000 word draft are all amazing accomplishments in themselves, To do all three is really incredible. Well done Jamie! 🙂

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