Geetanjali Mukherjee

Monday, May 9, 2016

Setting Stretch Goals

Five months into 2016 most of us have probably given up on all or at least most of our New Year's resolutions. Those things that we drunkenly (or while nursing a hangover the next day) vowed to make happen in these 12 months. This was the year we were going to achieve those weight loss goals, finally complete that long pending side project, maybe pick up that new language we have been talking about for so long. 

And now it is May, and the never-ending barrage of work, family and other responsibilities have pushed those once-so-hopeful goals to the side. 

I am like that as well, and in fact, knowing how pretty bad I am about making those things that I decide in January happen, this year I didn't make any New Year's resolutions. Well not out loud anyway. I realized that unless I changed something, making resolutions this year would just end up like the years before - yet another thing to feel guilty about. 

Instead I decided to try some new things. One thing I have been doing - setting specific monthly goals that tie into the bigger picture things I want to accomplish - which I have written about here. The other thing I decided to do, relatively recently, is to set stretch goals.

So one of my resolution-type goals is to lose weight and become more fit. But the bigger picture goal is kind of large, and despite working on it steadily for a few years, it doesn't always seem to be moving forward. It is hard to maintain momentum for a whole year, or even for periods like six months, especially when life can get in the way.

So, inspired by a podcast, I decided to set a one month fitness goal, that was definitely a huge stretch for me. To walk 250 kms during the 30 days of April. Which worked out to about 8.3 kms daily. Compare this to my average, which was usually 3-4 kms, on a good day. And many days I didn't get any exercise at all. 

The reason I set an overall goal rather than a daily one is that I would be motivated to keep going even if I failed to reach a set number of kms on any one day, which happened pretty often. I did have some days when I hit 9 or 10 km, and made up for the 5 or 6 km days (which were rare, but sent me into a panic). 

I initially calculated that I would be doing 3 walks a day, in order to make up my amount, because I tended to walk pretty slowly. I also had to account for my knee, which still hasn't fully recovered from a previous injury. 

A few days into my April Challenge, I found that my pace was increasing, and I could hit my goal if I walked twice a day. Some days, the second walk wasn't an official workout, it was running errands and going to the grocery store. Those were the days I was behind on my count. But I kept going, kept pushing myself. 

Around the half-way mark I was getting exasperated and wanting to give up, especially because the scale had petulantly refused to budge. In fact, it was sneaking slowly in the opposite direction, and I was not pleased about that. I decided to also watch my diet, and went off gluten and sugar for about 10 days (it was supposed to be a month, but what can I say, I fell off that wagon).

The changing of my diet helped and the scale slowly inched down, but by this point I was doing the challenge not for the weight loss, but just to see if I could. 

I was getting faster and stronger, and even when I wasn't pounding away on the treadmill, my strides started getting longer and faster. That was an unexpected side effect - that I could see myself getting fitter in leaps and bounds. I also experienced a plethora of aches and pains, but I had prepared myself for that, so I took it mostly in my stride (pun intended!).

As the month end grew nearer, I started finding more and more things on my plate. I had initially thought that I would reduce some other obligations to give myself more room to successfully complete the challenge, but things seemed to get busier as the month went on. I found myself struggling to fit the second workout in, and some days too tired to drag myself to the gym even for the first. I kept myself going by finding podcasts that I enjoyed, to keep my mind off how tired I was getting. 

By 30th April I hadn't managed to walk 250 km, but I did walk 227 km, which was probably at least 100 km more than I would have without the stretch goal. 

I think I was successful because it was so concrete, I knew easily whether I had achieved it or not, and because I had committed to it and even told my family members, so I didn't want to admit defeat.

I don't think the point of the stretch goal was to lose a specific amount of weight, or achieve something very concrete - for me the takeaway was that I could push myself out of my comfort zone, make progress towards a goal that was important to me, and prove that at least for a defined period of time, I could take action daily on something that tied into my bigger goals for the year. 

You needn't be interested in fitness to apply this approach in your own life. If you have ever done Nanowrimo you know the power of a stretch goal, you hurtle towards a distant target, and whether you accomplish all or some of it, you are better and stronger and more confident at the other end. 

What would you pick as a stretch goal for yourself?

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