Our society loves goals. Setting them, working towards them, and achieving them is what success is all about. But the quest for constant improvement also has a dark side – we sometime pursue goals that don’t serve us. I recently fell into this bad-goal trap myself regarding exercising, and I want to share my story to help you avoid the same mistake.
I really like running. 2-3 times a week, I am up early for an 8-10km morning run. I love this routine! Running early makes me feel my day is off to a great start. I get fresh morning air. And I don’t have to think about exercising later.
While running, I would always pick a pace that I felt was comfortable. This meant running 10km in 50-55 minutes. But then I decided that I should be more ambitious.
I was going to run 10km in 40 minutes!
Why I set this goal I don’t know. It just seemed obvious that you should always keep pushing yourself. To become better. Faster. Stronger. After all, that’s what society tells us: “Don’t settle where you are. Always keep pushing.”
So off I went to run 10km in 40 minutes. This was an incredibly tough goal for me. I would have to keep a pace of 15km/h for 40 minutes straight – at a time when 13.5km/h was a heroic effort that left me gasping on the floor for air with blood taste in my mouth.
But I kept pushing. High on the “No pain. No gain” mantra, I would run until every fiber in my body hurt. This was what training was supposed to feel like, right? Pain is acceptable. Crying is acceptable. Blood is acceptable. Quitting is not.
Then one morning, I just couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed to run. Just the thought of having to go through another 45 minutes of agonizing misery felt too much.
Why was I even doing this? My mornings, which had once been a source of joy, had turned to dread. What was the point? Lying there in bed, I asked myself: “If I was able to run 10km in 40 minutes, would I feel happier with my life?
The answer I heard was a clear “No”. Sure, it might be cool to run that fast. But my everyday life wouldn’t suddenly feel more magical because of it.
I then asked: “If I would never be able to run 10km in less than 50 minutes, would it matter?”
Again, my answer was “No”. I already felt incredibly happy with my physique. What I cared about was staying healthy and starting my days with boundless energy. Running until I dropped wasn’t helping me – it was pushing me away from the life I wanted
Realizing this, it felt like a huge weight had suddenly been lifted off my chest. I could actually quit! I jumped out of bed, threw on my running shoes, and ran at the slowest pace I had for months. And it felt amazing!
I haven’t thought about how fast or slow I run ever since. The only thing I care about is being able to enjoy the activity. I set whichever pace I feel comfortable with, and if I would never get better than this, I will die happy. Being a “hobby runner” is the right fit for me.
What goals are you pursuing? If you never would be able to accomplish those goals, would it matter?
If your answer is “Yes, I do care about this goal. I would feel empty if I didn’t do my best to achieve it” then keep striving for it with all you got!
But if your honest answer is: “No, I would still be happy even if I never achieved this goal” it’s time to drop it. Letting go of a bad goal isn’t weakness – it’s weakness to not let go of a goal you know is bad. It takes courage to walk away from something that isn’t serving you. It takes courage to respect yourself enough to quit what you are “supposed” to do – and instead pursue another path that’s right for you.
Have you set goals for yourself that are actually bad? If so, will you be courageous enough to let them go?