On Sunday 7th October, 2018 at 15:45 I did the hardest single thing I have ever had to do.
The day before I had completed the Spartan beast. 22km of rain-soaked hell. Climbing walls, carrying sandbags, buckets of gravel, logs and more. Running through the most technical trails I’ve ever run on. Hundreds of burpees as penalties for failed obstacles. It had taken five and a half hours but I had finished.
The morning of the 7th I had got up, spent a couple of hours stretching and warming up and done the Spartan Super. Over 12 km of the same but in slightly better weather. I carried 50+ kg buckets of gravel up hills, dragged myself over the same wooden walls, did more burpees than I bothered counting but I finished.
And then I had one race left to do. The 5km Spartan sprint. The easy one. The fun one that people rocked up to do with little training as a fun day out. Any other day it would be, maybe not easy, but certainly not something I would worry about.
Going out and doing that race was easily the hardest single thing I’ve ever done.
I was broken physically. I was bruised everywhere. My hands were torn and battered. My legs were on fire and my calves were cramping up whenever I stood still.
I didn’t have to go out and do that final race. I had some nice medals, a couple of free t-shirts. I had been photographed looking suitably “Spartan” for social sharing. Hell, I had completed the 22km Beast, who would care that I didn’t do the little 5km fun run at the end of the weekend?
More than that, I had done all the obstacles that made up the Sprint already. There were no surprises. No excitement of “what if” to keep me going. All I had was knowledge of exactly what was coming, how I had already been through it, and the pain it had caused me.
But I hadn’t signed up to do a Beast, a Super and a Sprint. That wasn’t my goal. My goal was to do the Trifecta. Completing that was the only thing I would consider success, regardless of what others thought.
So I did the only thing I could. I took a small step that set me on the inevitable path to completing the race. I walked to the sign up tent and completed my registration for the Sprint to get my start time. That was my only focus.
Then, when that was done my focus was to sit down for a few minutes and eat and drink something. So I found a spot, I ate some banana and drank some coconut water. I didn’t think about the race, or how long it was, or try to lie to myself that it would be easy.
I just focused on the next step that would make completing it inevitable.
Then I walked to the start line and listened to the legend that is Spartan Phil motivate another team.
Then I warmed up, first a single squat. Then a couple. Then a burpee or 2.
Then I climbed the wall into the start area.
Tiny steps all heading in the single direction of completing the race.
When the race started again I didn’t think about finishing, I just focused on the next step in front of me, literally a single step at a time, a single bit of an obstacle.
Everything became a “micro” goal that led me onto the next, and so on until 1 hour 45 later my final two goals. Jump the fire line and run across the finish line.
Had I thought about the distance, about it as a single race, a lone goal like I had done with the earlier ones when I felt good, I never would have finished. I wouldn’t have made it into the damn starting grid.
But because I broke it down to micro tasks, tasks so small and minor that there was no reason to not do them, I kept going.
I want you to take this process away and apply it to whatever you want to do that seems an insurmountable goal. Every task that seems impossible. Every challenge that scares you into non-action.
Start with the smallest thing. If you have to write an essay start by getting your pen out. Then you write your title down. Then you plan your first sentence. Then your second. Then your third. And so on.
If you want to run a marathon start by putting your training kit on. Then filling a water bottle. Then getting your door keys, then going to the door and locking it behind you. Then walk to the end of the block and back. And so on.
You get the idea. Each step has to be so minor that it is unthinkable not to do it. And you focus only on that step. Do that step and then the next tiny one that makes your final goal inevitable.
But the first step for anything, no matter what it is, is to write your goal down. Make it clear. Make it simple to understand. Keep it in your mind for those times you are not working towards it.
And now a final mental hack to keep you on track. Think of yourself in the future. A successful happy version of you that has already achieved that goal. Ask yourself, what tiny steps did I take to get there? Now go start taking them.
- Motivation (3)