Beginner’s Luck: Working Up to a Big Scary Goal

Meredith Atwood writes about the art of prioritizing your goals and ultimately tackling the big scary ones.

On social media, I constantly see the screenshot of the big, looming race registration and then, “OMG! What have I done!?” I remember that feeling back in 2011 when I registered for my first “big” race, the Olympic distance of the St. Anthony’s Triathlon. Then that same feeling returned a few months later for my first 70.3, and then my first Ironman registration in 2012 for the 2013 race.

With those “registrations,” I felt this incredible rush of something. I had a burning feeling of hope, excitement and pooping my pants—all at once.

Recently, I attended a conference where Jon Acuff was the keynote. He has written a book called Finish—and it’s all about how the “courage to start” isn’t really what it’s cracked up to be. Sure, we must get off the couch and make these bold moves to do something amazing. However, finishing what we set out to do accomplish is the main point—and we often get into the habit of quitting because we set these incredibly difficult goals that feel exhilarating at the time—but then we get lost on how to actually follow through and finish those goals.

I have long called this “issue” RRCD—also known as Race Registration Compulsion Disorder.

In the early days, I signed up for races because I thought it would force me into training for said races. I somehow believed that the fear of failure was far greater than any other fear I had. Turns out, perhaps that tactic worked for me as I did manage to finish a lot of big races. However, I have also registered for a ton of races that I didn’t make it to the start line for—whether due to injury or because I just plain quit, had a lack of discipline, or what have you.

I used to think that registering for the race was “half the battle,” but now I know that putting money on the line isn’t really that big of a deal. The money is a big deal, of course, but by the time the race rolls around, that money has long been spent, and the credit card likely paid for that entry at least.

How do we make sure that we can finish what we set out to accomplish?

In my book, I write about setting three tiers of goals to make finishing and small successes a priority. First, we pick a short term goal that we know we can accomplish in two to three months (Tier One). Then we go out and crush that goal. This can be something as simple as a 5K or 10K.

Next, we can set a longer term goal, which is a slight step above that smaller tier—like a sprint triathlon or a half marathon (Tier Two). I always assume that this tier goal should take six to nine months to accomplish. It’s important not to discount the amount of time, energy and hard work that this bigger goal can take. But it’s achievable—that is also a key factor. Then we work on that one, and then crush that goal.

All along the way, however, we continue to set those smaller (Tier One) goals—whether it’s time goals, workout goals, and the like. We want to be able to celebrate these small, yet monumental successes along the way.

Finally, there’s the Big Scary Goal—Tier Three. This is the one that usually induces the severe “OMG” effect at race registration. This big scary goal is something that is also achievable, but requires a big amount of work. However, by the time you get to that big goal—you have put successes, plans, and habits into place that extend far beyond race registration compulsion. Afterall, you have completed several Tier One and Tier Two Goals! You are amazing! You are habitual! You are disciplined. And now you have a sense of security and faith that you can (and will) accomplish that Big Scary Goal.

More “Beginner’s Luck”

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. You can download a free copy of the book here. She is the host of the new iTunes podcast, “The Same 24 Hours,” a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. Meredith also works with Dina Griffin, RD, in a Metabolic Efficiency Training nutrition program called “Optimal Thrive.” Meredith writes about all the things at MeredithAtwood.com