Set A Goal And Stick With It

Posted: March 15, 2014

The Friendly City Files

Regular readers know I often try silly things because I’m fascinated by the idea of transformation: the process of becoming something I am not.

A few years ago, I trained to ride Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo even though I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a kid. I wanted to see if I could turn my out of shape, flamingo-legged self into, if not a cyclist, then someone who could ride 90-some miles while climbing four mountains.

With Jeremiah’s coaching and a lot of work, it turns out I could. (Turns out five months after my heart attack I could, too.)

This summer, I heard Mark Wahlberg discuss gaining 30 pounds of muscle in four months for a movie role. Hearing him talk about transforming his body triggered a long dormant Charles-Atlas-bully-kicking-sand-in-my-face childhood fantasy. Every boy wants to be bigger and stronger, or at least this boy did. Some actually do get bigger and stronger. I never did. I’ve always been scrawny, and cycling made me even scrawnier.

“I wonder,” I thought, “If I could put on twenty or thirty pounds of muscle?” I wanted to see if I could turn my skinny-yet-soft self (not a good look) into, if not a fitness model, then someone who was at least moderately fit.

Clearly, I’d need to work out right, eat right, take the right supplements …  all of which I knew enough about to sound intelligent at parties but not nearly enough about to actually pull off a solid transformation.

So, Mark hooked me up with two of the top nutrition and fitness experts in the world. Overnight, I found myself eating more than I could have imagined; I started to dread meal times and actually had to force myself to eat. (While that might sound like a good problem, trust me, it wasn’t.) And, the workouts were at first brutal since there was no easing-in period involved.

So, how did it go? I’ve gained 24 pounds, most of it muscle since my body fat percentage is slightly lower than when I started. That’s cool, but what I like better is how I feel: I’m stronger, more flexible and less creaky. (Anyone over 50 is totally familiar with creaky.) And I have a little more self-confidence, one attribute I definitely lack, not because I’ve gotten bigger but because, just like riding the Gran Fondo, I started something hard and I stuck with it.

Sticking with it is everything, both in terms of success and fulfillment, because sticking with it turns now into then.

Think about something you really wanted to try, but for whatever reason didn’t. Think about where you would be now if you had actually started on it then. When you do the work, now pales in comparison to then: personally, professionally, any aspect of your life. When you don’t do the work, then stays just like now — except now you also live with the regret of what might have been.

Granted, when you first start, now is a terrible place. When I began training for the Gran Fondo, now meant I rode like an asthmatic giraffe. With time, though, now became then, and then meant riding with more speed, power, and confidence. When I started weight training, now meant constantly looking around and hoping no one saw the puny weights I lifted. With time, now is transformed: I’m far from strong but still fairly happy with where I am. Best of all, I don’t think about how I compare to other people; I only think about how I compare to me — the old me.

That’s the power of sticking with it. Work at something and, in time, your new now is great.

Pick something you’d like to do. Start today. Don’t put it off. Start today and, in two weeks, you’ll be better or stronger or faster or smarter or more skilled. In time, your new now will be much different than your current now.

Plus, soon sticking with it gets easier because success is self-reinforcing. Improvements, even small improvements, are incredibly motivating. In time, success becomes addictive (in a good way) because feeling better about yourself is one of the best feelings you can have.

You just have to start and stick with it. Time takes care of the rest.

Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg. He is a ghostwriter and an Inc. Magazine columnist. He can be reached at

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