Self-perception and Goals

Two months ago I decided to see how long it would take me to run a mile. I have always been more of a slow and steady kinda girl. In the past I would run 5-6 miles on week days and twice as much on weekends, but I have never gotten below a 7 minute mile. And then the endo got really bad and I stopped walking, let alone running, and gained quite a bit of weight.

Over the past few months I have sloooooowly returned to “running” and still prefer several miles at a slow pace to any attempt at really running. But I needed to know what I could actually do, and to push myself to really run more regularly.

I timed myself for a mile. I told myself that it didn’t matter how out of shape I was, I really, really had to run the mile in less than 10 minutes. I simply had to, or I was never going to be fit again.

So I ran. I did not let myself go too fast because it was important that I actually run the whole way, but I tried so very hard to finish the mile in less than 10 minutes.

I was so out of breath at the end that I barely noticed the time, but a few seconds after I stopped I looked down to see 7:55. Huh?

Apparently I had been running 10 minute miles for months, but still saw myself as nowhere near able to run. So I did not push myself. And when it came to setting goals, I kept them quite small. 3 miles in 25 minutes? Impossible.

Or not.

It does not really matter that I underestimated myself in terms of running. The real problem is that I tend to do this in just about every area of my life. And it is difficult to set appropriate goals without an accurate assessment of one’s own abilities.

Last October I took down the page that had my 101 in 1001 list because it was depressing. The list did not seem impossible to accomplish, it seemed pointless. It was the careful calculation of underestimation. The first item on the list is “run a half marathon.” Great, right? Except that what I should have put was “run a marathon.” Two and a half years is plenty of time to train. But I did not know for certain that I could complete a marathon. And while I’ve never run a half-marathon before, there was that one hot Sunday afternoon in July where I would have run 15 miles had I not walked the last 3 because I had no water. So a half-marathon was reasonable. And boring.

While it is great to have realistic goals, it is not great to have goals that are so realistic that they are mere mile-markers rather than actual goals. What is the point of having a list of things to accomplish if I do not even care about achieving the goals because they are based on a low estimation of my abilities?

So I am reviving my 101 in 1001 list because it is good to have goals, but I am also copying Kathleen and editing the list. I do not just want to have a list of items to cross off, I want to have goals which reflect lofty dreams combined with  realistic self-assessment.

How do you set appropriate goals for yourself? For those of you more tempted to underestimate than overestimate yourself, what tricks have you found to push yourself to your full potential?

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8 thoughts on “Self-perception and Goals

  1. Michelle

    You know…I made a list, too. Back in October, I think. I realized shortly after, that some of my goals were WAY too aggressive for my state in life (i.e., read a new/different book every month? Uh, yeah….riiiiigggghhhhtttt.)

    But you’ve inspired me! I need to go back, look at my list…evaluate some of the things on it and set out once again!

  2. Trena

    Regarding the running, a half marathon is a huge milestone and you should add that to your list, along with the full. While you are training for your half, you train for the full at the same time. Basically your half marathon would be a training run for your full and it would give you a “taste” for what is to come. I was a marathon coach before kids and I trained lots of people for half marathons. I too thought, “big deal 13.1 miles” but when I saw the excitement on their face I realized it was a huge milestone. So you totally should do it. You can train for a half marathon in three-four months at a slow pace and still be prepared or you can train in two months at a fast pace and give yourself that feeling of “more” than a half. I have plenty of training schedules I can send! :)

    Regarding the list, I had simple things on my list like “Plant a Rose bush.” Something so simple that didn’t need to be on a list but something I wanted to do for years and never got around to it. The list made me get it done, even though it was simple, because it was on pay and a goal. I think simple goals are too because they keep you focused and on a good path of self discovery and accomplishment. Good luck!

    1. Rae Post author

      Thanks for the advice! I know that a half is a natural part of training for a full marathon, but I am afraid that with my personality training for a half as my first goal would mean pushing myself to do it quickly, and then needing a longer time for recovery. Whereas if I were focusing on the full, then I would only run a half after I was really fit. I am not sure whether that is appropriate reasoning though.

  3. alisone

    wow, I’m impressed. just looking at that list makes me start to breathe really heavy and get all nervous. I have to admit though, I’m definitely a “let’s get it all done now so its not hanging over my head!” type of person. I feel like I have a weight on my back already, and its not even my list! you bring up a really good point though…how do I get things done then? I guess I just make it in my head and then try to stick too it. I guess that way I’m giving myself room to get out though… Or maybe putting it in a list makes me feel likes its work instead of something I enjoy?
    In general I feel like I’m way too type A/easily stressed to make this an effective method for me. Either that or the stress of the PhD is just all I can bare right now. And I had to do something similar for my thesis proposal so maybe I’m not completely inept… Thanks for making me think about this! Sorry for rambling!

    1. Rae Post author

      Oh, good point about personality differences! I would hate this if I felt like it was a to-do list to be done ASAP.

  4. Princess Chirsty

    I love the idea of the list, but would also underestimate. My fear of setting lofty goals is the time factor. If I could give myself the next three years (before my next milestone birthday) to do it, I might. But then I look at how hectic my life gets, and I worry about finding time to do ANYTHING.

    1. Rae Post author

      One of the things that I liked about the 101 in 1001 list idea was that it is a fair bit of time to get things done. But when life is busy it doesn’t seem good to add more goals, unless they are already things that you want to focus on.

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