When I was in the tenth grade, I tried out for the track team.
I didn’t try out because I wanted to — I tried out because I was dared to.
I was a cheerleader, and some of my cheerleader friends and I were sitting in the student lounge with a bunch of football players, who were talking about how cheerleading wasn’t a sport and how we had zero athletic ability.
One of them pointed out that track tryouts were coming up and dared us to go. Only one of my friends said she would, so in support of her (and against my better judgment), I agreed to try out with her.
This was a big deal because I hated running. Aerobics? Yes. Running? I hadn’t so much as run around the block.
On the day of the tryouts, we were asked to run the 2-mile cross country loop on a trail behind the school.
I’m sorry, what? Two whole miles?
During the run, we were all scattered throughout the woods, so I couldn’t tell how far along I was or who was in front of me or behind me.
When I emerged back onto the school grounds, I was shocked to find out that I had come in second place.
This was my first lesson in realizing that I had more potential than I thought.
I didn’t stick with my running, however. It was only after about five college years of eating and drinking enough for three people — and the resulting 20 or so extra pounds — that I picked it back up.
This time I was back to square one, barely being able to make it around the block.
So I decided to set a goal for myself: I decided to run a marathon.
I picked the marathon specifically because it felt so far out of reach. It was something I thought I could never do.
However, I knew from my high school track experience that I was capable of far more than I thought. So I signed up for the LA marathon — and actually crossed the finish line. (Five hours later, but still!)
What I Learned From Setting and Achieving a Big Goal
Running that marathon was one of the highlights of my life, precisely because I achieved something that seemed so far out of reach. Here are six of the most important lessons I learned through that experience:
1. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Too often, we tell ourselves “I could never do that.” We tend to set goals far beneath our potential — we dream realistic dreams, which aren’t really dreams at all.
Whatever it is that gives you a feeling of “there’s no way,” imagine yourself doing it. Visualize it and get that butterflies feeling in your stomach.
Then challenge yourself to go for it. If it’s something that lights you up, set the goal . . . and then get started.
2. Baby steps count — and they add up fast. It seemed impossible for me to run a marathon — and it would have been if I’d tried to run the full 26 miles the moment I set the goal.
That marathon finish line was made up of a series of 26 one-mile runs. And I was able to run them because I spent nine months practicing them.
Trust me, the very first of those miles was like an entire marathon on its own. But the more one-mile runs I did, the faster and stronger I became.
If you break a goal down into its smallest steps it’s easy to achieve. And the more steps you take, the more you become the kind of person who can easily achieve the big goal.
3. It’s not what you eat, it’s the way that you eat it. Ok, this is a practical lesson I learned, but I mention it because it’s so relevant to my philosophy on eating.
During my training I became a vegetarian. I went from fast food and sodas to fresh fruits and vegetables and no meat. But an interesting thing happened: even though I was running on average 20 miles a week, I never lost weight.
That’s because I never changed my eating habits. I inhaled my food and used my extreme level of exercise as an excuse to binge.
If weight loss is your goal, remember this: you can change your menu all day long, but if you don’t change your eating habits, you won’t lose weight — no matter what you eat.
4. Mindset is everything. Nothing can prepare you for running 21 miles . . . and realizing that being “almost done” means you still have five miles to go.
In those last five miles, I dug deep and willed myself to focus on the positive. I’m certain that if I hadn’t, I would have collapsed on the side of the road. (And I wouldn’t have been the only one!)
When you set a big goal, your mindset is critical to your success. That’s because a goal that seems out of reach by its very nature requires that you radically shift how you think.
Any worthwhile goal will challenge you to stretch yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of. So when you reach your breaking point (and you will), you have to choose the right mindset to keep you on track.
5. Today’s big goal is tomorrow’s to-do. You will surprise yourself when you set and then achieve a big goal. And you’ll shock yourself even more with what happens next.
After that first marathon, I ran three more. I thought I could never live alone and then moved to France for a year by myself. The one thing I said I would never, ever do was go skydiving. But because it scared me so much — and because I had become a goal-achieving kind of person — I figured I had to do it. (And I did!)
Once you become a different person — the kind of person who knows she’s capable of anything — you’ll start setting and achieving huge goals, left and right. And pretty soon your big goals of the past will seem ordinary.
6. You’re not who you think you are. The experience of running that marathon changed me as a person. I became someone entirely different than I thought I was.
Women are trained by our culture to live far below our true potential. We’re taught to be selfless and to be people pleasers, which means that our dreams die before they even get a chance to breathe.
This, of course, means that we never get to see who we really are: that we’re capable, competent, and completely powerful.
Once you achieve your first big goal, you won’t even recognize yourself. That’s because who you’ve believed yourself to be all along isn’t even the real you.
Losing Weight Isn’t a Big Goal
Losing ten pounds isn’t a big goal — and it shouldn’t be. And it for sure shouldn’t be the thing that’s keeping you from achieving your real dreams. (“Once I lose ten pounds, then I’ll x, y, z.” You know what I’m talking about.)
Plus, you’ll see that losing ten pounds is actually far easier than you thought — once you’re in the midst of achieving a worthwhile goal and being fueled by the energy it generates.
Sit down and daydream about your big goals of the past. Imagine the most confident, enthusiastic version of yourself. Pretend that someone (me!) gave you a magic wand and that you could wave it over your life and make it exactly the way you want it to be.
Then set a big goal, break it into steps, take the first one as soon as possible, and watch everything change.
I will leave you with one caveat: Achieving a big goal makes you see yourself differently, but you have to see yourself differently in order to set a big goal.
Just hold on to the truth that you’re not who you think you are — and that will give you the courage to keep taking steps on your journey to becoming who you’re meant to be.