You see that girl there? Her name is Leah (AKA The Vegetarian Traveller) and she’s pretty awesome, and she just helped me realise that we have to take life one day at a time to get closer to where we want to be. Around a year ago she started doing yoga and can now hold a headstand for a very long time, along with many more difficult poses. She didn’t get there immediately, but by doing a little each day, she improved her performance greatly and I want to share with you how we all (myself included) can hope to do the same.
The problem with any life goal or large adventure, is that the destination seems so far away. When you think of getting fit, saving money, undertaking a great expedition, or any other big challenge, getting started seems so fruitless that you often never begin at all. What if we were to take a challenge and instead of looking at the end goal, we look at what we can achieve today? We break it into small, manageable pieces so that we can see ourselves progress.
Last summer, my brother and I walked across Iceland which was a fairly big ask for two unprepared fools who had never walked more than about ten miles. We did it by taking each day as it came and each day setting ourselves goals. ‘Thirty kilometres is our target today, anything more is a bonus.’ ‘Let’s walk thirty minutes before we take a break.’ ‘One more hill before we stop.’ And so on. These small victories edged us ever onwards and one way or another, we managed to traverse the whole country on foot. If we looked at the great challenge ahead of us, rather than breaking it into little pieces, we would never have succeeded.
I feel that any challenge can be achieved in a similar way. During the past few months of living in Australia, I have felt myself deteriorate physically and mentally as I have been working excessively in the hope of reaching a larger end goal and pursuing my stronger desires in life. As a result, I had little focus, and found myself drifting from one day to the next, remembering very little. Three weeks ago, I decided to make a change. I went into a gym, I signed up, I said today I will do some exercise. While I have played sports all my life, I have never been a gym person. I can count the number of times I have ‘trained’ on one hand. But that night, setting myself one little goal for the day, helped change a lot. And it was because I said that I will do something today and today only – tomorrow was not part of my thought process.
I entered feeling slightly out of my depth, never having seen most of the machines. I got on a machine known as a cross trainer, and decided to see how long I could go for. I managed fifteen minutes. Then I fiddled around with some other stuff before leaving, feeling that I had won my victory for that day. The next day I came back with my only aim being to manage twenty minutes on the machine. I did, thus I had won another victory for that day and started feeling good. On the third day I managed to go for thirty minutes and noted the number of calories I supposedly burnt. On day four, I came back with the intention of beating that number in thirty minutes. I lifted my supposed calorie burn by around 3% every day for the next two weeks, at which point I reached a plateau and found that my performance has levelled out. Increasing performance by 3% every day equates to an increase in performance of over 50%. In only two weeks. The key point here, is that I did not intend to make this overall increase in my performance. I did not intend to go to the gym for more than one day and instead, dealt with each day as it came. Each day I set my goal, to equal the day before, and each day I managed to surpass it. Will I go tomorrow? I don’t know because it isn’t here yet, but most probably I will attempt to equal my energy output from the last three days. If I do so, I will have made another victory.
The even more important thing than improving my terrible fitness, is improving my state of mind. Over the past two weeks I have found myself hugely more productive than the past few months, and just last night I finished the first edit of my new book about walking across Iceland [leave your email here if you want to be the first to know when it’s finished]. How things are going, I will publish it within the next few weeks.
So rather than looking at a big challenge, at the end goal, set little targets, victories or wins that you can achieve every day. For example, ‘I will save $5 today and put it in a jar,’ ‘I will equal my running time from yesterday,’ ‘ Today I will travel XX km.’ When I go to the gym, do I perform higher than everyone else? No I don’t, but I know that I perform one hell of a lot better than I did last week and that is all that matters. Your goals should matter only to you and you should ignore what everyone else is doing because self-improvement is a race against no one other than yourself.
[Note: the gym is not a permanent part of my life and after Darwin, I may never go again. I found it simply as a way of finding victories in a place where I have struggled to do so. Be it exercise, creativity, or whatever else you desire, find something that you can set as a tangible goal to achieve each day and the go achieve it. I will do the same when I leave here.]