Professional mountain biker Jeremiah Bishop laughed when I asked him to create a training program to get me ready -- in three months -- for his 100-plus mile, four-mountain-climb Gran Fondo. Then he agreed.
But he gave me a training plan only for the first two weeks.
Hold that thought.
The Problem With Huge Goals
Partly that's because we know ourselves better than anyone. We know what we like. We know what we don't like. We know our habits and routines.
Most of all, we know our limits.
And that's where it falls apart, because most of our limits are self-imposed. You can always do more than you think.
Navy SEALs call it the 40 percent rule: When you think you're done -- when your mind says you're exhausted, fried, totally tapped out -- you still have 60 percent left in your tank.
Yet your emotions -- in this case, your emotional response to the fatigue, effort, or mental challenges you normally don't face -- get the best of you. Change is hard. Adding something new to an already packed schedule is hard. Those first few days of trying to create a minimum viable product, or cold-calling in search of an enabling customer, or training for a marathon, or embarking on any difficult long term journey towards a major goal?
When You Start Slow
That's why the plan, process, or routine you create for yourself rarely work. You're willing to work hard, but not too hard. You're willing to work long, but not too long. You're willing to push yourself, but certainly not too hard.
So you start slow. You start soft.
You start with an emotional safety net.
And within a few days, the resulting lack of progress -- because there's no way to make a meaningful improvement toward any major goal in just a few days -- forces you to confront the huge gulf between where you currently are and where you someday hope to be.
And that's the moment, and the reason, we usually quit.
Not because we didn't want it badly enough. Not because we don't have the mental toughness. Not because our goals weren't important or meaningful or worthwhile.
But because you started slow, and soft, and safe.
And never gave yourself a real chance of success.
The Two-Week Rule
"Why just the first two weeks?" I asked Jeremiah
"Dude," he laughed, "First let's see if you make it through that."
At the time I thought he figured the plan he created would be too physically difficult. (With just a few months to train, it needed to be difficult.) Why waste time creating a 12-week program?
But later I realized the emotional aspect of the first two weeks was just as important.
After all: You can do anything -- you can make any change, or embrace any new routine -- for two weeks. (If you can't, then you've clearly chosen a goal that doesn't mean enough to you.)
If I couldn't stay the course for two weeks, then I definitely wouldn't stay the course for three months.
Keep in mind giving up in the first two weeks wouldn't make me a failure. There's no way to know what it takes to achieve a certain goal until you embark on the path toward that goal; that's when you find out what you really want.
Or in some cases, don't want.
Since we can't do everything, knowing what we aren't willing to do, based on the tangible or emotional return on the investment of time and effort required, keeps us from dreaming about a destination we will never reach.
So if I made it through the first two weeks, that means the goal really did mean something to me.
And then there's this: At the end of that two weeks, I would have enjoyed some level of success. Of improvement. Of return on effort. After two weeks -- especially of a training program that required me to go for a three-hour ride on the very first day -- I would be a little stronger. A little fitter. A lot more comfortable on the bike.
I would realize that the distance between where I was and where I wanted to be may be huge, but not insurmountable.
That "all" I had to do was keep doing the work -- secure in the knowledge that I had proved, to myself, that I was capable of doing the work.
After two weeks, my emotions started to work for me, not against me. I had gained a little confidence. I had gained a little pride. I had gained the kind of satisfaction that only comes from facing something hard, and actually doing it.
Next Time, Commit to Two Weeks
Pick a goal. Pick something you feel you want to achieve. Create a daily process or routine you will follow. (Better yet, ask someone who has done what you want to do to create a routine for you.)
Then commit to following that routine for two weeks. For each of the next 14 days, keep your head down and focus solely on what you need to do that day. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year.
At the end of two weeks, you'll know whether you want to keep going. You'll know whether the goal you chose means something to you or was just a whim. (Either outcome is fine; "wasting" two weeks only to find out you don't want to run a marathon is better than spending the next 20 years feeling like a failure because you think you want to, but haven't.)
If you want to keep going, the tough two weeks you just put in will make it much more likely that you'll stay the course over the long term. Partly because of the improvement you've made -- improving is always fun, and we all like to do things we're good at -- and because your emotions will start to work for you, not against you.
The pride you'll feel in having stayed the course will help fuel future effort. The fulfillment you'll gain from doing something most people can't will do wonders for your confidence. The knowledge that you can achieve more than you ever dreamed possible will inspire you to reach even farther.
Pick a goal, and commit to two weeks.
Because if you can't do something for two weeks, the goal didn't mean enough to you.
But if you can do it for two weeks, then the odds are good you can, with time and effort, achieve what you really want to achieve.