There Is No Finish Line

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. ~Winston Churchill

When I lose the extra weight, I’ll feel good about my body.  When my career takes off, I’ll relax. When I’ve accumulated enough money, I’ll feel secure.  The most recent one I heard, when I find a romantic partner, I can get on with my life, made me chuckle.

We tend to see our goals as static objects: once we reach them, we’re done.  The truth is that our goals are living organisms.  This is especially true for our long-term goals. Reaching a goal is just the beginning, then it’s about looking after it, caring for it and doing our best to make sure it thrives.  Achieved goals require maintenance.

So many of us are in love with the happily ever after concept.  It makes for tasty, tidy Hollywood endings. It’s fun entertainment, but it is a crappy model for goal setting.   Then there’s the concept of maintenance.  At best, we tend to think of maintenance as something that is boring and unsexy (like getting your car’s tires rotated), at worst we confuse it with something that is a struggle and painful (like holding on tightly to a challenging relationship or a new dress size).  It sounds really un-fun.  But I think we need to change the way we think about maintenance, because it’s what works after the movie has ended. Maintenance requires effort, no doubt about it, but it should never feel like a struggle.

I’ve lost weight and struggled with maintaining it, and then I’ve lost weight and put in effort to maintain it.  The latter feels much better and far more satisfying.  Why? Because when I approach maintenance from a place of effort (as much or as little as I want to give) I’m in far greater control of my life and my circumstances.  I like that.   When I struggled with my weight, I was working against myself: forcing myself to avoid this or that food, soldiering through extra workouts to work-off any extra calories I may have consumed and punishing myself if I did neither.  Not enjoyable at all.  Putting effort into my weight maintenance is different.  It’s not about how much I move or eat, it’s about checking in with my mindset.  The real work happens inside of my head, not outside of my body. When I catch myself feeling anxious or stressed about ANYTHING, I know there’s a thought that needs my attention and I make the necessary adjustments right then before I end up anywhere near the kitchen in a feeding frenzy. I have learned that there is no upside to avoiding my feelings and thoughts and that there is tremendous value in addressing them and authentically changing them when necessary.  I could just distract myself: sit and watch TV, surf the Net or eat. . .but the few moments of effort I put into my kind of maintenance keeps me from ever struggling with maintenance.

If you have a goal you really want to achieve, first get clear on how badly you want it and why.  Are you clean about it? By this I mean do you feel happy and excited about it (clean)? or do you feel anxious and stressed about what will happen if you don’t achieve it (dirty)? Once you achieve this goal, will you want to give it the love, care and attention—the maintenance–it requires?   Or are you just hoping for a happily ever after ending?  One choice empowers you, the other choice leaves you feeling powerless. I know which one I choose, and it’s a choice I practice making over and over again.  It is effort, it is clean and it is beyond worth it.

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  1. April 12, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    In the past 5 years I’ve hit my goal weight 3 times (and now I’m working on #4). You are so right that once you’ve reached a goal you need to keep maintaining it. Otherwise you’ll just end up shooting for the same goal over and over again essentially not making any more progress.

  2. April 12, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    And the really important thing to know is that your happiness is not in the future, when you lose the weight. I know for sure that when we are happy, the weight lets go of us and maintenance isn’t the dreaded thing it was before we changed our motivation about losing weight. Before, for me, maintenance meant “not gaining weight” now maintenance means finding out what I truly need and want before I act out in ways that, consequently, lead to weight gain.

    I always say that we end up doing something over and over again (whether it’s gaining and losing the same number of pounds over and over, or dating the same guy with a different name over and over again), we haven’t yet learned what that situation is trying to teach us. Once we get it, we get to move on, maintenance becomes about what we’re running towards and not what we’re running away from and then we’re ready to move on to the next lesson 🙂

  3. April 13, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    i’m in love with how you put all of this. one of my good friends is always harping on “effort” and “maintenance” (and “structure”). this is such an elegant framework for decision-making.

  4. April 13, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Thanks Killiterati! It really helps to keep me focused on what I really want and why–getting clear on what we want and why we want it really is essential to achieving it with effort, but without anxiety.

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