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The Long Haul: setting long term goals, and just getting on with it

Much motivational talk is around finding hacks and shortcuts to a happier place and success. But the reality is that success and progress comes from grinding away, setting in motion positive habits that need sticking with. It's a simple and blunt message. As we head into new year resolution territory, it's worth bearing in mind that chasing reward can be a route to failure. Use the impetus by all means to start a new fitness regime but quickly forget about how pleasing this is and make it another part of your day. You'll be surprised when progress has been made because time passes and life moves on. Or alternatively you'll still be in the same place thinking of the next incentive, surprised where the time went...





I champion an Adventure Neuropsychology approach to inspire and motivate others in the face of adversity and the challenges of life. This draws on escapades I have experienced as well as observing those who prevail in adventurous predicaments to provide insight into the mindset necessary to thrive under stress. As well as a basis in cutting-edge neuroscientific research into how the brain operates in extreme environments to optimise performance.

“We can so easily fall into that routine of languishing today and putting off till tomorrow, but time moves on, days fly by, and you can have little or nothing to show for it. Yet habitualise the routine and before you know it sterling progress has in fact been made...When you get into thinking more about the long haul, you liberate yourself from chasing immediate gains that can prove hard to grasp. "

Keep chipping away, in the background


Stephen King, writing as Richard Bachman, wrote a story called ‘The Long Walk’ about a futuristic endurance event where the participants had to walk at 4mph or above until only one was left. The catch was that if anyone dropped below 4mph they’d get a warning. Three warnings and they were shot dead... 


The story left quite the impression on me. I’ve often internalised consequences as a means to motivate me to go onwards, in the face of wanting not to. 


Now I can’t profess to having taken part in many/any endurance events, certainly not ones where failure comes with such a terminal price tag, but being in it for ‘the long haul’ does resonate. 


I can be hard on myself, brutal even. I know that. But a long time ago I came to an agreement with my inner self; that whilst impatience and frustration might constantly nag away at me day by day, I’d nevertheless persevere. Though imminent success is undoubtedly welcome, I recognised that the winning line is probably a very long way off. Therefore, I wouldn’t worry too much about that, but would pound the streets nevertheless – growing up I had witnessed my dad doing this relentlessly every day (and even on holidays); he hated running but he was renowned in our neighbourhood for it. 


This won’t be such a palatable message to promote, given the quick fix mentality the world obsesses about these days. But it doesn't have to be a turn off. Indeed, it can become a life philosophy that keeps you trucking on, having got over the anticipation of immediate reward. I’ve explained it before like the process of developing a washboard stomach as an example. We may be motivated by a six pack, especially after downing too many six packs at Christmas. This may fire us up to join the gym, get out running, or any number of new year fitness resolutions. But the hard reality and tedium of sticking with it fails to ignite our dopamine receptors over time and it becomes at best a crushing bore, and at worst an abandoned exercise. 


That’s why I advocate getting over the rewarding part of it as quickly as possible. It’s a false promise, and actually a distraction to real progress. That occurs gradually over time as the habit is ingrained and it takes care of itself. 


Now here’s the key thing: you put the time in, in the background, and before you know it progress has been made. If you only get round to doing it tomorrow, that day never comes. Here’s a thought experiment: consider yourself as two different versions meeting up after a month or two and ‘chewing the fat’ about how things have been. Version 1 likes the idea of getting fit, joins the gym first week of January but fails to keep stimulated as the novelty wears off. This ‘you’ decides to think about other options that will take place in an indeterminate tomorrow. Version 2 forgets about the reward and just gets on with the gym work, satisfied at the workout, is ok with the suffering and keeps at it, establishing this as a habit and getting on with life. 


A month later Version 1 and Version 2 meet up for a coffee. Version 2 to Version 1: “hi how’s it going? What you been up to?” Version 1: “Ok, I suppose, am keen to get shot of this one pack, get a bit fitter, I've heard there’s a NEW gym opening up with spangly equipment. Might try it out”. Version 2: “ah right, didn't you already try out the other gym?”. V1: “Yeah, but it didn’t really fit with my schedule, and anyway I had this twinge in my leg and thought I’d better rest it....etc. etc. What about you?” V2: “Yeah am good thanks. Been going to the gym now 4 weeks. In fact, I was surprised this morning looking in the mirror how svelte I have become. To be honest I didn't really notice the progress, but I guess it’s been working and actually I feel pretty good now and raring to up my workout!” 


We can so easily fall into that routine of languishing today and putting off till tomorrow, but time moves on, days fly by, and you can have little or nothing to show for it. Yet habitualise the routine and before you know it sterling progress has in fact been made. I’ve followed this premise in many areas of my life for a very long time now, and in some fruitful gains have been made. However, I am not here to blow my trumpet, for I am setting in motion other ambitions that likewise may bear fruit in the future – medium to long term. Some avenues naturally come to dead ends others open up new junctions to explore and expand into.  


When you get into thinking more about the long haul, you liberate yourself from chasing immediate gains that can prove hard to grasp. That’s not an excuse to set ambiguous and indeterminate goals by the way that never come to anything, so we should be cautious how we define this. But on things that we know are worthwhile, including fitness, health, diet and so on the goal is long term by definition – to prolong quality of life. Other things such as becoming skilled at something (a musical instrument), or embracing a yogic lifestyle, or even saving up for our retirement are all the types of things we need to adjust our mindset to attaining over longer durations. 


I’m reminded of the character, Andy Dufresne, in another Stephen King story (the adapted for screen version of Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption) who seems to have untold optimism in the face of bleak circumstances. Despite being incarcerated for decades in a penitentiary for a crime he allegedly didn't commit, his pal, Red, marvels at his ability to remain hopeful. As he says, you can “git busy livin, or git busy dyin”. Hope springs eternal.  


Meanwhile you keep chipping away at the prison wall, and one day when the warden storms in to find out why you haven’t answered roll call, mouths will drop agape to find you’ve somehow tunnelled out to freedom. 

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