A month ago (or yesterday when I wrote this article), I beat my record in long-distance running by completing a run of 17.5 km, 4 km longer than my previous one.
During the run I had a profound insight; I found it quite easy to keep going even though I ran at walking speed at the end of the run, and I was exhausted before I reached halfway of the track. It was a great experience to be able to push through (without much effort) in the face of adversity.
That got me thinking, why did I find it easy? Can I use this in other areas of my life, maybe I’ve already done that?
Fokus on the current and next short section of the run
When I found myself exhausted and wanted to quit, I split the run into short sections, usually around 300–750 meters. I told myself that it’s not that long left and I can at least run until this and the next section ends, “I got the energy and strength for that.” That is, I had two parts in my head, the current and the next one.
Splitting the run into smaller sections made it surmountable. If I only completed this and next part, I found it a success. Once I finished the current one, I added another ‘next’ section. That is, I always had two sections in my mind, not only the current but the next one too.
That way I pushed my goal in front of me, just like a carrot on a stick. If I don’t think of the next section (or smaller goal) before I finish the current one, I might stop when I reach it.
I know I’ve heard this technique from several others, but I can’t remember exactly who though.
Examples of using short sections for goals
Let’s say you’d like to write 1000 words per day. But starting to write 1000 words might be intimidating, or you might get stuck at 500 words. Your goal will then be to write 100 words, and the next goal is to write another 100 words.
You then push yourself to make the next goal until you’ve written a total of 1000 words (or you might continue past that if you’d like to). You could also set a goal to write a section, but I find it hard to visualize an entire section, I might not know what should go in there, or how long it will be. 100 words are always 100 words.
But what if you have lots of different smaller tasks to do? What I would do in this case is to have a list of all the smaller tasks you either need or want to do. Then I’d look at the first two tasks and ask myself how long it will take to complete the first one? The second one? It probably won’t take that long time. Tell yourself that you only have to do these two tasks. Do the first one and once it’s complete, look at the third task and estimate the time it’ll take to do that one. Once again tell yourself you only have to do these two tasks. And repeat.
Visualize yourself running the two sections
While I’m running, I imagine myself running and completing the current and continuing to complete the next section. Steve Pavlina mentioned in one of his workshops that it’s more effective to visualize yourself from a first person perspective.
You might find it harder to imagine yourself from a first person view. I certainly did that, but I’ve practiced a lot, and it’s a whole lot easier now. But I still find myself seeing myself from a third person view every 10 seconds. So I have to gently remind myself to focus on visualizing from a first person perspective.
I find it a lot harder to see myself from a first person perspective, but it’s what I try to do. I see myself running the entire way to the end of the current section, and then to the end of the next section.
If we go back to the examples, I will visualize myself writing 100 words, i.e., I see myself sitting in front of the computer looking at WordPress (as I write my articles in WordPress), typing on my computer and seeing words materialize in front of me. When I reach my first 100 words, I effortlessly continue to 200 words.
For the smaller tasks, I’d visualize myself go through the two tasks. Once I complete the first one, I’d repeat and visualize myself doing the second and third items.
Visualize your entire run, fast
Another technique I use is to visualize my whole run in a few seconds. I take a birds-eye view and go through the entire track, seeing the path I’m going to run and the trees and structures I’m going to run past. I do this extensively at the beginning of the run when I have the energy, but also a few times during the run. One thing to note is that I visualize the entire track even when I’m halfway through.
I’ve found that if I visualize something from the birds-eye perspective, it looks incredibly small, and going through the entire track only takes a matter of seconds. That tricks my brain to think it’s a short run; it will be over in a matter of minutes instead of hours.
I’m not entirely sure how to visualize myself writing 1000 words, as I haven’t tried that approach yet. An idea would be to imagine the entire page filling up with text and different sections.
For smaller tasks, I see myself doing one task in 3–5 seconds, and continue until I’ve completed all tasks 🙂
Visualize your progress
Even though I only try to focus on the current and next section, I still want to have an overview of my progress, i.e., how much I’ve completed and have left to do. At the start of my long-distance runs, I estimate the time it will take to complete the whole track (preferably overestimating than underestimating). For example, I expected it would take me 2 hours and 30 minutes to run; it took me 2 hours and 10 minutes.
To visualize my progress, I think of a clock and try to fit everything into an hour. After 10 minutes (which is how often I get running notifications) of my 2-hour and 30-minute run, I would visualize myself as completed 4 minutes of an hour (or one-fifteenth). I find it especially easy to see how far I’ve gotten when I imagine how many ‘minutes’ of an hour has passed on a clock.
If I were to write 1000 words that make every 100 words 6 minutes on the clock.
- Split your large goal into the next two small sections: the current and next short section (no need to create all sections at the start)
- Focus on completing the current and next section.
- Visualize yourself running the two sections
- After finishing the current section, and another ‘next’ section.
- Visualize your entire run (goal) in a few seconds, taking a birds-eye view.
- Visualize your progress by thinking of a clock.
If you’re only allowed to take away one thing from this article, what would that be? How can you improve your ability to follow through on goals and projects with one of these tactics? 🙂 Do you have any other tactics you use to follow through? Please share your answers below in the comments 🙂
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