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Stay focused on progress when you find yourself on a steep hill

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Stay focused on progress when you find yourself on a steep hill

Scott Miker

Today I was taking advantage of the nice weather we have been having and decided to get out the bike.  I was riding my usual route and came to a steep hill in the middle of a park.

Normally I dread this hill.  I always seem to struggle a little and it feels like it just keeps going and going.  When I finally reach the top I always need to slow down my pace to catch my breath.

But today I tried something a little different.  Normally when I ride my bike I look around and enjoy the scenery.  When I get to the hill I focus on the top of the hill.  This helps to keep me focused on the end goal and also keeps me aware of my surroundings to avoid anyone coming down the hill. 

Today as I started up the hill I just naturally looked down and in front of the bike.  I noticed the pavement going past and I thought, “Wow I have a decent pace going.  If I maintain this pace I can get up the hill in no time.”

Then I looked up and suddenly felt overwhelmed by what was in front of me.  Then it clicked.  I am always talking about focusing on progress not perfection and that we should focus on the process not the end goal.

Riding up this hill is exactly the same.  I could either focus on the top of the hill (feeling exhausted the entire time knowing how much more I have to go) or I could focus solely on the progress I am making and the immediate next step. 

I decided to try it but honestly expected it to be the same.  I didn’t think it would be any different and thought the hill would tax my energy like it always does.

But I noticed something strange.  About halfway up I realized I was making better progress than normal and it was actually helping me get up the hill faster and without losing so much energy.

So I got a little cocky and decided to look at the top of the hill so I can fully appreciate how much I have done.  As soon as I did a wave of exhaustion hit me as I realized how much more I had left to go. 

I buckled down again and focused solely on the pavement in front of me.  I ignored the end goal for a moment and all I worried about was making steady progress.

I resisted every urge to look towards the end goal and only looked up enough to make sure I was on the right track and wasn’t going to hit anyone coming down the hill. 

I got to the top of the hill and was shocked at how much energy I had and how easy it was to get up the hill today.  I kept thinking about this and wondered if I am in better shape and this was all coincidence.  But I would think about my mistake of looking up halfway there and realized that the typical exhaustion hit me at that moment.

By focusing on the process and making progress we are able to move steadily towards our goals.  It takes a huge thing we are trying to achieve and breaks it down into something small and manageable.  Instead of working so hard to define SMART goals or making vision boards, our energy is better spent working.  We can instead take steps in the direction that we want to go, knowing that this will be much better than focusing on the end goal or potential reward.