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Nov 25, 2011

Do Little Tiny Mini Goals Matter?

Last weekend I was reading a chapter in the book Aspire by Kevin Hall.  He was telling a story about a quadriplegic who had decided he was going to do something quite extraordinary; Ride a hand tricycle 513 miles from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas.  The quest starts out quite euphoric with everyone cheering him on, but it wore on for hours and hours, the cheering crowd was gone and the tasks became much more difficult for many reasons.  His hands had to be taped to the bars to keep them going.  Temperature variations from the low riding hand tricycle from the pavement didn't help a body unable to regulate temperature well.  Lots of obstacles were thrown in his way.  In the middle of the night, as he cycled away, with difficult terrain amongst a host of other problems, he was going about 2 miles an hour and struggling.  His father checked in with him.  He suggested that instead of counting the mile markers as a measure of his progress, why doesn't he count the yellow lines in the middle of the road?  They come by much more quickly.  He did just that and managed to finally make it into Vegas.

While I did find the story interesting and somewhat inspirational, it didn't click with me until a couple of days later.  I was traveling for work and spending the night at a hotel in St. George.  I had decided that since I couldn't work out that day, I would go to the hotel gym and do my best.  Due to a "bone on bone" knee situation, I'm supposed to use the machines that go up and down with your feet and caused no impact on the knee (sorry I don't know what they are called), rather than a regular treadmill.  I got on the machine and found that the weight pressure required for each step was set too high.  I couldn't figure out how to adjust the level/tension/pressure the machine required with each step.  I am a person who walks 3 miles an hour, when I walk.  Yet here I was on this machine struggling like the dickens to walk 1.5 miles an hour.  That's how slow I was walking.

As time moved on, I was becoming very fatigued and ready to just hop off.  Normally, I would have maybe lasted 10 minutes and decided it was too much.  However, due to the lessons I learned last week during Hell Week at Boot Camp, I knew I needed to do more.  I couldn't just quit and give up.  There were no other machines of this type, so I was a little stuck.  As I watched the tenths of a miles markers on the display, thinking, "Gosh, I'm struggling, I can't believe I need off after slightly over .50 of a mile."

All of a sudden, I remembered the story about the quadriplegic man riding his hand bike 513 miles, and reading about all the struggles and obstacles that came to him.   He struggled to reach his goal.  Then he started counting the yellow lines in the road, since they came more often than miles markers.   I decided to apply that same kind of logic here.  I really didn't want to quit at all, before I got at least a mile in.  I thought, Why not count down on the display that would go from .50, to .51 to .52 and etc?  I would challenge myself to get to the next number.  When the number changed, my challenge began again, to stay on until I reached the next number again.  So it went minute by minute, or half minute by half minute of  'little tiny goals'.  For example, at .69 I challenged myself to make it to .70, then to .71, then to .72.  This continued on until I finally reached my ultimate goal 1.00, the complete mile!  It took me 45 minutes to do that mile, and it was the hardest mile I'd ever done.  I was elated (and also dripping with sweat!), when 45 minutes after I began, I was able to get off the machine with the display at 1.00 and my full mile completed.

This hotel workout gave me a clarity of understanding of one of the lessons the author of my book may have been trying to get across.  Yes, when the task is hard and difficult; you need to not only set a big overall goal, but you need to set little tiny mini goals when the task is so hard/overwhelming that you don't feel you can do it.  I was able to understand thoroughly how counting the yellow stripes in the middle of the road kept the quadriplegic man cycling all the way to the end and reaching the goal he had set out to achieve.

As I reflected on the lesson I was internalizing.  I realized that I had "sort of" done the same thing once before in my life.  When I set out in 2005 at 387 lbs, to loose weight, I did have an "end weight" I was trying to achieve.  However, I never once allowed myself to think in terms of how many more pounds I had to lose, and then be overwhelmed.  Instead, I chose to weigh with my back to the scale, and only to have them tell me how much weight I lost that week.  I'd celebrate the week, and add it to the total......all the way to my goal.  I realized that in a different way, I'd broken off a huge chunk by looking at it in little tiny increments, week by week and celebrating each week.  Just like I broke the mile down by little increments and celebrated internally that I was still going for it as the numbers every so slowly crept upward.