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.

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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.

Long term goals – How not to let them die short term

Estimated reading time: 8 min.

I want to learn 4 new languages by December 2016. That’s my latest long term plan. I actually set this about a month ago, followed it up for the next 4 days by taking Portuguese lessons on Duolingo and then forgot all about it.

This is not the first time that a long term goal of mine has had a short term death. It has happened multiple times. And I am sure it has happened with most of you too.

So, what is it that makes long term goals more difficult to achieve than the short term ones. Actually, just the fact that it is long term. Like I had mentioned earlier in article 5 (4 War strategies to build better habits), our brains prefer the pleasure of achievement now to the pleasure of achievement a year later.

So, are there strategies to make long term goals more attainable? Of course yes. Most of you have heard of setting SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound goals. I am not going to talk about them here. (If you have not heard of SMART goals and would like to read more about it, you can follow this link). The SMART goals strategy works for both long term and short term goals. Instead, I am going to talk about 5 strategies that will help you specifically with long term goals.

1. Find the why?

Why do you want to lose those 10 kilos or why do you want to learn a new language?

The why is the most important part of a goal, short-term or long-term. It is much more relevant for long term goals because without a concrete emotional why, you will not be able to sustain the motivation required for any long term goal.

The why for a long term goal has to be both concrete and emotional. For eg, don’t say that you want to lose 10 Kgs to be healthy. To be healthy is a very abstract concept, and your brain won’t be able to visually store “to be healthy”. Instead, say that you want to lose 10 kgs so that you can play 4 games of badminton without huffing and puffing. Now, that’s a concrete image that your brain can store. The image of you playing badminton.

By emotional, I mean that it has relate to something close to your heart. Something that you love. If for the same example of you losing 10 kgs, you think that you want to be able to play with your kid or your nieces or nephews, the brain can connect to the emotion related to it.

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2. Believe in them

A couple of my long term goals have gone unattained because I didn’t believe in them completely. For eg: I wanted to open 3 branches of my institute in 3 different cities by the end of the 5th year. It didn’t happen. There were many reasons, but the major one was that I wasn’t sure about it. I wasn’t sure that it was the right path to take.

My ambivalence was even more damaging because despite the lack of complete conviction, I still tried taking the goal ahead and failed. In the process I also lost valuable time which I could have otherwise used for another goal.

Ambivalence can be a real goal killer. Long term goals demand from us complete dedication, and complete clarity and belief. Even the tiniest amount of lack of conviction can derail them.

The next time you set a long term goal, take some time to address the concerns upfront. Ask yourself if you completely believe in it. If not, you might want to rethink the goal. The chances of goal completion increase manifold with absolute belief.

3. Take an action every day till you internalize the goals.

You have definitely experienced that rush every time you set a long term goal. You were excited. You were energized. Till the end of the day, all you could think of was the exciting goal that you were going to achieve. Fast forward 30 days, or 60 days. Were you still that excited, still that energized. Most of the times no.

Most long time goals die an untimely death. Most within the first 30 or 60 days, or even less. Long term goals are like new-borns, they need constant feeding in the first month or two of their lives. Without that they will grow weak, and if ignored, will die an untimely death.

The way to nourish a long term goal in their infant hood is to act on them. Every day. Take a tiny step towards it. Even if the goal is a year away, or two years away, take a step today, and take a step every day for at least 30 days. This will help sustain it. This will plant the goal firmly in your brain and the brain will start building it a permanent home inside.

4. Set mini goals to add up to the big goal.

Like I already said, the brain prefers pleasure now, to pleasure 1 year later, and therefore it makes it easier for it to work on super short term goals than long term goals. So, set super short term goals which will ultimately lead to the long term goal. For eg: The long term goal for me for this blog is to write 100 articles in 1 year. But I very rarely think about the number 100. I don’t want to scare my brain with such a big number. Instead, I think about 2. I focus on publishing just two articles a week, and thereby reach 104 articles in 52 weeks.

5. Track:

I like seeing those numbers. I bet everyone does. 10 push ups yesterday. 15 today. 30 clients last month, 45 this month.

Tracking is an extremely effective strategy that will help you achieve long term goals. They act the same way mini goals do. They give you concrete evidence of progress or even regress. They are visual representations of your goals.

I prefer tracking week to week. You might like it month to month or day to day. Whatever the frequency, make sure you track. By tracking you automatically increase the chances of achieving the goal.

So, go ahead. Set the next long term goal. Try these strategies and let me know if they work for you.

1 not-so-secret tip that will save you 1000s in credit card interest.

I used to be the king of credit. Credit card used to be my best friend. A slightly expensive friend to hang out with though. I used to feed it 1000s of rupees in interest every year and it used to be happy.

I can’t say it didn’t help. It helped me fund two honeymoons and to an extent, a wedding. It helped me survive in a business where cash flow was very unpredictable.

The banks were happy with me and they offered me EMIs after EMIs and I took them all.

Till one day I discovered something.

Part of the discovery came when I started using YNAB, a software which tracks and helps you manage your finances. They had a simple idea. Anticipate your regular expenses and save for them.

It was quite simple. For eg: I knew that every year, I had to pay the insurance for my car. It was unavoidable and would come at the same time every year. It came to about 12000 every year.

Earlier, I would have simply swiped my card and paid it off in three or six EMIs. But now, with this new idea, I went on a different path.

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I started a recurring deposit. I started an RD of Rs. 1000 per month as soon as I paid off my first insurance. In 12 months, by the time the next insurance premium came knocking, I had more money than necessary. I had almost Rs. 12580 including the RD interest I had accrued over the year. Add to this the interest of at least Rs. 1000 I would have paid on my credit card EMI, I have easily saved a good Rs. 1500.

All it took was a little bit of planning ahead.

I have become an RD zen now. Here are some of the RDs I have opened in the last two years.

  1. A pregnancy RD: I just became a dad. (Just 2 days before this post), and this RD has helped me build a nice little saving for the post-delivery expenses.
  2. Car maintenance: Rs. 1000/- per month for 12 months – Rs 12580 on maturity
  3. Vacation fund: Rs. 5000/- per month for 12 months – Rs. 62902 on maturity (I can travel almost anywhere reasonable with that amount, and all it takes is Rs.5000/- per month)
  4. Gifting fund for anniversaries and birthdays.

You can be an RD zen too. Here’s how.

Start with a list. Make a list of all expenses you know that will come at fixed times – insurance premiums, annual gym membership, annual vacations etc. Look at how much you need each month to achieve the goal. Start an RD for that amount. Place a standing instruction. That will make it easier for you to keep depositing.

And yes, they are super easy to start. Just log in to your banks site and create an RD in less than five minutes.

This might look like too simplistic an idea, but I guarantee. Try it once and you will see how simpler your financial life becomes.

So, what are you waiting for?

Go ahead, start an RD now. Or two, or even three.

Happy RDying.