The 20 mile march towards your goals

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes.

Here’s one of my favorite stories from the book “ Great by choice” by Jim Collins. I am reproducing it verbatim here.

“Imagine you are standing with your feet in the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, CA looking inland.  You are about to embark on a 3,000 mile walk from San Diego to the tip of Maine.  On the first day, you march 20 miles, making it out of town.  On the second day you march 20 miles.  And again, on the third day you march 20 miles, heading into the heat of the desert. It’s hot, more than 100 degrees, and you want to rest in the cool of your tent.  But you don’t.  You get up and march 20 miles.  You keep the pace, 20 miles a day.

Then the weather cools and you are in comfortable conditions, with the wind at your back, and you could go much further.  But you hold back, modulating your effort.  You stick with your 20 miles.  Then your reach the Colorado high mountains and get hit by snow, wind, and temperatures below zero – and all you want to do is stay in your tent.  But you get up. You get dressed, and you march your 20 miles.

You keep up the effort – 20 miles, 20 miles, 20 miles – and then you cross into the plains and its glorious springtime, and you can go 40 of 50 miles in a day.  But you don’t.  You sustain your pace, marching 20 miles.

And eventually you get to Maine.


Now, imagine another person who starts out with you on the same day in San Diego.  He gets all excited by the journey and logs 40 miles the first day.

Exhausted by his first gigantic day, he wakes up to hundred-degree temperatures.  He decides to hang out until the weather cools thinking “I’ll make it up when conditions improve.”  He maintains this pattern – big days with good conditions, whining and waiting in his tent on bad days – as he moves across the western United States.

Just before the Colorado high mountains, he gets a spate of great weather and he goes all out, logging 40- to 50-mile days to make up lost ground.  But then he hits a huge winter storm when utterly exhausted.  It nearly kills him and he hunkers down in his tent, waiting for spring.

When spring finally comes, he emerges, weakened, and stumbles off towards Maine.  By the time he enters Kansas City, you, with your relentless 20 mile march, have already reached the tip of Maine.

You win, by a huge margin.”

The location references might be difficult for any one not familiar with the map of The US, but the message is crystal clear. Consistency is the key.

The 20-mile-march principle is all about consistency. It tells us that it is consistency and perseverance that get us to goals and not just motivation.

The principle is relevant in all areas of life and business.

Want to build a great business, identify your core area and deliver there consistently and relentlessly. Google might have ventured into and be successful in a thousand different domains, but they continue to develop their search algorithms consistently.

Want to run a marathon? Get out and run every day. Great athletes are not always the most talented. They are the ones who are consistent. Michael Jordan is one of the most talented and successful basketball players who ever played. What we don’t hear about him often is how he never missed a training session.

Want to write a novel, write those 500 words every single day. For all his initial novels, John Grisham wrote for 3 hours every morning before he had to go to the court (He was a lawyer). Even now, despite being hugely successful, he keeps a similar schedule. He writes for a few hours every day, and completes one novel every November. The same goes for other writers such as Haruki Murakami (He wakes up at 4:00 a.m. and writes till noon. Every day), and Kafka.

My goal is to publish a 100 articles a year, and my 20 mile march is to publish 2 articles every week. What is your goal? And what is your 20 mile march towards that goal? Identify the 20 mile march and keep marching. You will reach your destination soon and sure.