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Small Goals Add up to Big Rewards

In the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest ran for three years, two months, 14 days, and 16 hours not because he set out to run across the country, but because he just kept going.

That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.


Encouraging a friend in her plan to run her first half marathon I told her that she would be fine and able to finish as long as she gave herself permission to walk. Each time I have run the 500Festival Mini-Marathon, I told myself I would run as long as I could then walk until I could run again. I kept asking myself if I could make it to the next mile marker or if I could keep going until I had exited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track. I set small goals and felt more encouraged with each one I achieved. If my only goal was to finish, I would have only achieved one goal at the end, albeit a large one. I felt more accomplished by checking off each mile I ran.

Running one more mile doesn’t seem nearly as much as running 12 more. If I had considered the total distance I could have felt overwhelmed and succumbed to the temptation to walk much earlier. Instead I was not mentally intimidated and was able to listen to myself physically, because I only looked at the next mile or next landmark. I only walked what my body needed me to walk. I believe I achieved more because I set small goals and gave myself permission to take a break if needed.

Break down your goals into the smallest measurable steps and consider each step as progress. This is what we have done when working with parents to achieve behavioral change in their kids. The parents feel encouraged when they track the tiniest form of progress, and the parents are then able to believably positively reinforce the kids, which encourages the kids to keep on that path.

It’s been said more than once that running distances is mostly a mental game you play with yourself. Whether the goal is a 13.1 miles, 30 pounds, or any other large undertaking, considering the end result may be mentally overwhelming. Forrest Gump only looked at what came next and ended up running more than any ultra-marathon. You can eat an elephant, one bite at a time. For today, I don’t want to know what your end goal is; what is the next step?

May 21st, 2010

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