Head Down, Don't Look Up

Ok, occasionally look up...

They say that if you actually want to achieve your goals, you should write them down. Something along the lines of the physical act of putting pen to paper, and having evidence and reminders of what you want to achieve is proven to help bring them into reality.

Vividly describing your goals in written form is strongly associated with goal success, and people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals than people who don’t. - Neuroscience Explains Why You Need To Write Down Your Goals If You Actually Want To Achieve Them, Forbes.com

I've never really been very good at this, which probably explains a lot, but I have become pretty good at formulating a vision in my head of what I want to achieve and then constantly reminding myself of what I need to do in order to achieve it. So kind of the same thing, but without the action of actually writing it down.

I know of people who have short, medium and long-term goals for everything. I think I had those too at one point in my life, but more recently I feel more at peace with myself by setting immediate short-term goals and getting those done, rather than fantasising about grand long-term visions and all the could-be's and might-be's that tend to come with them. I tend to get lost in fantasies, and in doing so lose my way, getting demotivated when the grand, long-term vision doesn't materialise quick enough.

I've also tried to scale back my fantasies because ultimately I find them to be pretty destructive.

Small steps, always move forward, celebrate the small victories.

This is something I adopted not too long ago when I fell down hard and lost my way. When I had no job, no income, a soon-to-be-destroyed marriage and very little will to live. I thought, if I just take a few small steps forward every day, make sure I don't go backwards and celebrate these two things as victories, then I might be okay.

What small thing can I do immediately which will have an impact? What if I repeat that small thing - being consistent - will it just eventually become my new normal?

The smallest thing like banishing a negative, destructive thought from my head and being mindful of it as a victory and then repeating it daily became a template I could replicate elsewhere.

Small steps, keep moving forward.

A more positive, thankful outlook on my own existence, even completely insularly in my own head, meant I had the thinking space to take a few more steps forward the next day - forming a new normal - so that when an opportunity like an interview for a job presented itself, I saw it as an immediate opportunity, not some far off, distant, unachievable nice-to-have. It sounds weird but when you're depressed, in a downward spiral with seemingly no way out, even the thought of an interview, not even actually getting the job, is just too out of reach, too distant, too hard.

I had to make space for those thoughts. I had to banish others to allow those in. I had to try and move forward slowly and not slip backwards, every day.

It seems like I always refer to my running in this blog. And that's fine. It has had a big impact on my life. So much of what has happened in my life, the processes and thoughts and outcomes are mirrored in my running and vice versa. I've learned so much from my running that I apply in my day-to-day life, and so much from my life, I apply to my running. The two, it seems, are intertwined.

Running, and becoming fairly good at long-distance running was not a natural thing. It has been learned. Slowly. When I started running again, properly, 2 or more years ago, I never had a goal to run 21km. Running 21km sounded ridiculous, silly, scary, unachievable. And not even something I wanted to or allowed myself to consider. Similarly, I had no goal to lose 25 kilograms. I had my shoes on and I just wanted to start. So I ran/walked three or so kilometres for the next month. Each day running a few metres further before having to walk than the day before, until I could run the whole 3 kilometres without walking at all. Then I tried to run the same three kilometres a little faster.

Small steps, keep moving forward.

3km turned into 5km which turned into 10km. And with time and hard work, 10km turned into 21km. It was natural, progressive and even, fun. Being mindful of my progression and celebrating them as achievements - even just a mental slap on the back - allowed it to be fun. I was not driven by an over-arching goal to smash a half marathon. Small, consistent steps moving forward has eventually become the ability to run a half-marathon.

Head down, don't look up.

I'm often overwhelmed by life, but usually only if I start looking beyond my immediate circumstances. Getting a job when you're down and out is overwhelming. Picturing marriage, kids, and old age when you've just started dating can be overwhelming. Thinking about your children's future as young adults when they're still in nappies can be overwhelming. Paying off a million Rand house or a car when you've only just considered buying either is overwhelming. But, smaller affordable monthly payments is far more manageable. Enjoying the time you have with your small children before they grow up, and being mindful of empowering them with knowledge so that they will one day make wise decisions, is way less stressful. Loving your partner fully now, being the best version of yourself for them, and not worrying about what might be in the future, is a far better reality isn't it?

Why do we set out worrying about the big hill at the end of a marathon when we're only on our first kilometre?

Hills are hard. Hills require strong legs, strong lungs and a strong head. But beyond strength, though, for me, hills require keeping my head down and not looking up. Concentrating on the little patch of road two or three metres in front of me is way more manageable than constantly looking up, anxiously hoping to see the top. Manage my breathing. One foot in front of the other. Slow down if needed. Small steps, keep moving forward. No walking. And eventually, you're at the top and the more manageable flat or even downhill section arrives. A moment to breathe easier, regain your composure, settle your tired legs, and conserve some energy for what comes next.

Of course, on all hilly sections, I need to occasionally look up to make sure I'm on the right course, that I'm not veering dangerously off into oncoming traffic. In the same way that occasionally I have to take a step back in my life and ask myself if what I'm doing right now is moving me towards my long-term goals.

Life is full of ups and downs as we navigate our way through it. Sometimes we can see the next big obstacle, the road steepening as a big hill starts, and other times they just overwhelmingly appear out nowhere. But if you're prepared, if you've built some mental toughness, if you're up for just putting one foot in front of the other, not going backwards and celebrating the small victories, you will learn that even with adversity you can have fun, you can enjoy this journey.

I hated hills when I started running, and now I relish them. Small steps, always moving forward. Head down, don't look up.

Ok, occasionally look up... 😉


Header photo by Tyrel Johnson on Unsplash