December 28th, 2021
I’m going to swim 300 miles in 2022
(Here's why I'll fail)
The 1st of the year is exciting. Setting goals always gets me going.
I’m hyped up, and ultra-motivated, but I'll fizzle out quicker than I care to admit.
This December I sat down and thought about my New Year’s habits more closely than normal. I realized that this has been a pattern for my entire life. I talked to my friends and coworkers, and found that many of them felt the same.
I’d hazard to guess that many of you can relate as well.
I wanted to know why this is so normal. I wanted to discover a common thread. So I dug into it more.
I looked at the types of goals that people tend to set for the year, and I noticed a pattern.
They’re almost always arbitrary numbers.
Are numbers the problem? Should we abandon measurable goals altogether?
I wouldn’t go that far… But I believe that changing your relationship with numbers-based goal setting could have a massive impact on the outcomes of your New Year’s resolutions.
So, what gives? I thought everyone set numbers-based goals. Maybe those who fail at them simply lack discipline. Or maybe they just don’t want to succeed very badly.
I don’t think that’s true.
Here’s what I think is actually going on. When you set yourself a lofty, numbers-goal on a big time scale, there are a few core problems that can snowball into each other to create a recipe for failure. I’ll use my lap swimming goal as an example.
Here’s why I’ll fail to swim 300 miles this year
(no matter how badly I want to succeed)
1. I’m not already a consistent swimmer. Despite working at Underwater Audio, my life often gets in the way of my health, and I do a terrible job of prioritizing exercise. Working here has made me motivated to change that, but I have absolutely no personal perspective on what a realistic distance goal is for me on any time scale, let alone a full year.
2. If I don’t come right out of the gates hitting the required daily distance goals, my yearly goal will become significantly more difficult before I have any wind in my sails. Life events, quarantines, etc, can quickly cause my numbers-goal to lose its rigidity. I could choose to continually lower it throughout the year to adjust for things beyond my control, but what good is a number if I don't have to stick to it?
3. When I inevitably discover that 300 miles is more than I can chew, I have an incredible excuse to give up on swimming consistently all-together. The thought “maybe next year” will absolutely cross my mind.
Do you see the slippery slope with lofty arbitrary numbers goals?
Because I’m setting a goal for something I don’t have any real perspective on, it’s easy for me to be overly optimistic, then want to readjust throughout the year. But lowering my goal sounds a lot like “coming up short”, which makes for a great excuse to “try again next year” and let my fitness slip completely. And the cycle continues.
“Okay... that was a bummer. I’m looking for some good news here. You promised me motivation!”
Fear not! Here is the solution:
Don’t use numbers to define your success. Use them to measure your progress.
Instead of saying “I’m going to swim 300 miles this year.”,
say “I want to establish a healthy relationship with the lap pool”
From there, use data you actually have to establish what “healthy relationship” means.
You may not know how many miles you can swim each week, but you do know how many days a week you can make it to the pool, and you do know how much time you can spend there when you go.
When your goal is big-picture, numbers become your friend instead of your enemy.
You can break the year into months or quarters, and track your progress. You can figure out how far you can swim in 30 minutes, and watch yourself grow over time.
You get to feel proud of the process, instead of disspointed with your progress.
You can even set smaller numbers-based goals throughout the year as you learn more about what’s realistic for you.
You still get to take advantage of the raw, competitive nature of numbers-based goals on smaller time frames, but your goal for the year is much harder to give up on. And the numbers are no longer arbitrary.
In order to fail at your new big-picture goal, you’d have to decide that you don’t actually want to get healthier this year, without the benefit of an increasingly impossible (arbitrary) number to point your finger at when admitting defeat.
So, if you’re at the beginning of your lap-swimming journey, consider making the change with me.
Commit to establishing a healthy relationship with the lap pool. Commit to learning to enjoy your swims. Don't sweat the details, and learn to love the journey!
When you do, use numbers as a tool for measuring your progress and motivating yourself along the way.
I hope that if you do, 2022 can be the happiest, healthiest year of your life!
That’s what i’m counting on…