September 20, 2019
Why I’m only setting goals I think I might fail…
(Important caveat to this post, I am a -mostly – physically able bodied woman, writing from that lense, and appreciate for those with physical limitations there are very real reasons why things become impossible. I am not saying that physical disabilities can be overcome by thinking yourself out of them. Likewise I know that are other barriers to participating in sports, be that financial means, mental health barriers, safe spaces to run etc. This post is just me wanting to share what helped me achieve new things, but as I say, that comes with my own lense. Perhaps it’s more a note to self than anything else…)
‘only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go…’T. S. Elliot
For years it’s been easy to find excuses. Things are too hard, too far, too insurmountable for whatever reason. I’m just not made to be athletic. Sometimes we don’t realise we’re sat happy inside a comfort zone of can’t, blaming our physical ability for what is actually a mental hurdle.
There are things I know I can do now, but only because I pushed myself outside my comfort zone. In January it was running a sub 30 minutes 5k (or even, to start, to run 5k without walking any part of it), by May that became sub 25. By June it was cycling 67 miles less than 2 weeks after surgery, and August cycling 100 miles and climbing the highest mountain in Britain. By September it was completing a triathlon and skating 40 miles. In less than 24 hours it’s swimming 2 miles. In October it’s attempting to run a half marathon in less than 2 hours, and by the year end it’s covering more than 1000 miles running in 12 months.
But at the time all of these goals involved recognising that I might fail. That I was setting goals which for me were ambitious. No one wants to get to the start of something and accept this might be the time they have to quit part way through, or let go of a goal, even if temporarily. And yet, in that state of potential failing, it’s also where I begun to work out what I was actually capable of achieving. Once I stopped telling myself ‘I can’t’ and limiting my ambition, I found myself achieving more than I had ever dreamed possible.
Attitude is everything, and yet the hardest thing to shift is a mindset. Yes, reaching goals takes hard work. This year I have dedicated myself to running every day, taken up various cross training activities, I have cycled, swum, lifted weights, and exercised even when the temptation has been to curl up with a book and a glass of wine. But the hard part of that isn’t the physicality of it, it’s knowing that when it’s cold and wet, that twenty minute interval session I hate will reap rewards later. But it’s also liberating, you stop questioning if you’ll run, and instead the only questions are, how far and how fast.
It’s taught me about mental grit and resilience. I haven’t met my goals every single time I have wanted to. There have been times where within 5 minutes of a race I have known there is never going to be a fast time, and that the goal has to be modified somehow. But by going in with a mantra of seeing just how close to failing I can get, I have achieved more than I ever thought possible. And there’s one single thing that has enabled me to do that – setting myself goals which seem impossible, but then telling myself I can do it. It’s finding a way to have an unwavering sense of commitment to trying and accepting that even if I fail on the goal, I inevitably achieve more than would have otherwise been possible. Cliché though it is, if you reach for the moon, you do normally land among the stars.
I am never going to be an Olympian. I will probably never win a race or take a podium position. But I will achieve more and more by a small, but not insignificant shift in mindset. So for anyone sat saying ‘sure but I can never do the things you have because of xxx’, you may be right right. As long as you keep allowing yourself to believe that, it will be a billion times harder to achieve things. Telling myself I could, and giving myself permission to try, and risk failing, changed my ability far more than any degree of training or physical preparation.