In the Pursuit of Happiness through Goaliness

As we all prepare to watch a highly anticipated Super Bowl today,  I wanted to share the next write up from my Marathon Blog. I opened my 2012 list with a completion at the El Paso Marathon from the Lone Star State. I think I cracked the code for coming first (in the South Asian Man category ;), hit El Paso. Your truly was the first in the South Asian Men Category (well I do have to share with you that I was the only one from that category). All kidding aside it was a good run from the Lone Star State. Every mile felt a lot longer in the Texas Size state ;). My motivation this time round was a group of US Army soldiers carrying their full pack and running in formation the entire 26.2 miles. The route took us through the US Army Base of Fort Bliss for several miles. Being an immigrant who came to this country searching for a dream, it was an amazing experience to run through a US Army Base and feel the energy of what it stands for.


This time round I want to write about a timely topic : “Goal Setting”. We are all busy updating our IDP, reflecting on reviews for 2011 and looking forward to big ambitious goals for 2012 – what better time than this.  In a way it does not matter what goals you set and what goals you want to achieve. The main question here is how to set an effective goal that will drive you into taking action. What is the main reason most people fail to achieve their goals is because they are not taking enough action or they simply procrastinate. And why does this happen? Personally for me, the challenge with goals has multiple dimensions. Be it a personal or a professional goal, being able to articulate it in such a way that it captures the destination you want to reach and then being able to work backwards into tangible steps. A second dimension is having the right appetite.  Dining at a buffet comes to mind – usually my brain thinks I can eat lot more than my stomach can handle and typically directs the hand to fill the plate. A third dimension is, how do goals quickly degenerate into tangible actions.


Before we tackle this topic, there is a pre step which will make the rest of this lot easier : spend the time to be clear about the reason for me to achieve my goals. You must know why you want to achieve your goals so much in your life. Without a strong reason I would never be able to put my 100 percent commitment into taking action.  So first step before you touch your pen to paper to write your first goal (pen to paper, does anybody still do it ?) spend some time on what your destination is.  Even though there is a philosophical argument on this topic, my destination is usually big , hairy and audacious. My theory is , if you cannot dream it, you will never get it. Write it down, tweak it, show it to your confidants, get feedback – make it good. Don’t go for perfect on the first round, as they say Perfect is the enemy of good.


So what is the next step?  Given the destination, how can I now translate these into tangible goals. The key word in there is tangible. The goal has to be bound by metrics. This is not an art but it does need practice to do it. My goals sometimes still run into a Masters dissertation on solving the origin of life  before I rein them back.  Using the analogy of a marathon, before I start my run I always visualize the end, the adulation of the crowd, receiving the medal, crashing right after crossing the finish line. Now that I have visualized my destination, the goals to complete the marathon become a lot more easier to handle. Typically my goals at this stage are about where will I be in 60 minutes, by what song in my playlist would I hit the 13th mile etc.,  There is a numeral metric that each of the goals is associated with. Additionally just because I ran a fast 5K, I cannot extrapolate that my 26 miler will be a direct multiplier. There will be a threshold beyond which getting to the next stage of the goal will need more effort. Watch out for those thresholds. Additionally there is a ton of research on what type of goals are the most successful. Several people ask me, “Hey how can you be motivated to run a tons of miles a year while I am not able to continue my goal of working out every day on the treadmill” I typically frame my response in the following way (BTW don’t assume I am the expert): usually my goals are more successful if I create them in the following categories: Goals that show a sense of achieving a expertise  level, goals that show a sense of community that we live in , and finally goals that give me the opportunity to think different. So for me running a marathon was able being part of the broader community of KP and the message on thrive, it was an opportunity to prove that I could do something different (even though I joke about it, South Asian Men are not the cheetahs of the world of running, and finally gives me a sense of competence that I can pace myself for more than 4 hours and able to do it several times a year. In summary the goals have to give you a sense of purpose. My advise to the person on the treadmill, change your goal – it should not be about running 30 minutes every day on the treadmill – it should be about participating in a race in your community, it should be about enabling you to do something different.


Next dimension to this is : appetite. I know my capability on the day of the run. I tend to make my goals achievable even if stretch. The first time you do not make a goal, there is a huge mental down that is hard to recover from. There are numerous cases of what I call the New Year syndrome where people tend to make several goals and when they miss one or more, they tend to lose focus on the rest. Research shows that 79% of people that commit to goals at New Year fail to execute on them. That is a remarkably high number. Be cautious of the appetite. During a run I can recover from one or two goal adjustments/failures but any more I could end up in a slump.


The final dimension to this is : action. Now that you have a destination, you created tangible goals, your appetite is tempered with reality, lets jump into making them happen. I will share my insights even though there are several strategies that work. I think it depends on an individual style on what would work. For me to action a goal I typically end up doing the following three things: write it down (even if  virtually 😉 ), put it in a place that you can see and finally tell your confidants on what those are. Get a commitment from your confidant that he/she will make sure to call you on them. Yes the first time you do it, you may feel embarrassment but research shows that constant reminders of your goals by your circle increases the chances of you achieving your goals by 40+%. Think about it, it almost doubles your chances of succeeding, leverage it.


Finally as I conclude this blog, I would throw a word of caution. You need to have a good base before you can dream about a big and audacious destination. Any sports magazine you open, there are tons of advertisements that within 6 months you can turn yourself from a couch potato to running a 26 miler. Yes it may be possible for a small set of people, but for the rest of us goals need to accommodate why we are on this planet – to have a life. I can guarantee that the person who can turn from couch to 26 in six months will need to spend several tens of hours a week to pull it off, how many of us can spare our time for one goal like that. Going from zero to 26 probably takes a year or more.  Similarly be realistic about your foundation before you reach for a destination.


In the end, only you can decide what destination is right for you, what goals are right for you and finally how long it will need to be for you to achieve them but always take note of the three tenets of goal writing.


Happy Goal Writing !


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