Sunday, October 6, 2013

It's the constant progress that gets things done

I ran Cross Country in high school. During our 3.1 mile races, I would see three types of runners:
- Ones that started off really strong, only to fizzle by mile 2
- Ones that kept a constant pace the entire three miles, never speeding up or slowing down
- Ones that started in the middle of the pack and slowly picked up speed over the course

Most winners came from the last group. The key lesson I learned from that was that while you may have a great strong showing in the start, what really matters is when you cross the finish line.

Flash forward to a few years ago. I was in Bahrain and working long hours. Most of the folks that I worked with spent their off time at the bar. While I enjoy a drink like the next guy, I noticed that if I spent all my time with them, I really had nothing to show for it at the end of the week.

So, instead of always hitting up the bar, I decided to set some goals:
- I signed up for the local PT program and worked out for at least 45 minutes a day, electronically tracked through their PT system
- I signed up for JPME Phase I and put at least one hour a day into it
- I download the Navy's training materials for Indonesian and devoted 5 hours a week to learning Indonesian

At the end of 6 months, I was in better shape, had completed JPME Phase I, and scored a 1+/1 on the Indonesian DLPT 5. I still went out for meals and drinks, but it wasn't all the time, and I had the side benefit of having more money in the end.

The key that I found was doing a little bit each day over a long time. I integrated my workout, class progress, and language training into my daily routine, so eventually it became automatic. We are what we spend most of our time doing. For many of us, that would be things like Facebook, Google, and paying too much for drinks at the local bar, and yet we're surprised when at the end of the year we feel like we've accomplished nothing new.

Races aren't won by the jack rabbits that burn out after a mile or two. It comes as no surprise that gym memberships go up in January, yet gym attendance is back to normal by March. Real accomplishments aren't done from start to finish in a month. It takes time and constant strain on our part to get better. Set your goals, but focus on the day-to-day accomplishment of these goals, and you'll get more done in the end.

(image from: