Is there a life goal you want to live for?
Are there intermediate goals that seem out of reach?
The response to my last post Bite Off What You Can Chew was so well received I was inspired to share more detailed information that has benefited thousands of people seeking to live Fully Alive.
Enjoy reading about a strategy that is still transforming my life and can impact yours as well.
The physical challenges in my life have provided some of the clearest metaphors for pressing on toward excellence in other areas. When I get up in the morning, my mind tells me I can’t run or exercise for an hour, and my aching body seconds the motion. But there is something I can do! I can walk for a short distance. I can make it to the front door.
Once I’m on my way, I tell myself that I might as well run for a little while. I often pick out a telephone pole, a road sign, or some pathetic remnant of roadkill. I prepare my body and mind to run full speed to that marker. I choose a marker far enough away so that it’s a challenge, but close enough so I won’t kill myself trying.
Note: My “full speed” will not get me a spot on the Olympic team! It doesn’t matter. I give my best.
If your doctor gives you the thumbs-up, you can rest assured that strenuous exercise is not going to kill you. Your body will stop you long before you keel over.
How great it feels to sprint past that telephone pole! That pole becomes the finish line to my own imaginary marathon. I raise my arms in victory, acknowledging the cheers coming from the invisible throngs lining the road. Then I slow down, catch my breath, and choose yet another marker where I will set a more intermediate pace for my run.
That possum lying in the middle of the road is perfect. By varying the pace between poles, mailboxes and possums, thirty minutes have passed before I know it and I turn around and head for home. Running from pole to pole never seems daunting to me. I don’t have to run six miles or sprint for an hour. I only have to make it to the next telephone pole.
The same idea works with other kinds of disciplines. My friend Steve, a recovering alcoholic, called me one night in a panic. He was sitting in a distant hotel room overcome with the temptation to go down to the bar and have a drink, but he’d been down that road enough times to know that it was a dead end. For Steve there was no such thing as one drink. If he gave in to this temptation his record of sobriety would be broken, his confidence shaken, and his family and career could be at stake. “I don’t know if I can do this the rest of my life,” he confessed.
I identify with Steve even though I’m not an alcoholic. We all face decisive moments like this on the battlefields of life. I could only give Steve advice that had served me well in times of spiritual combat.
“Steve, you don’t have to resist for the rest of your life.” I said. “You only need to resist tonight. Don’t drink tonight. Tomorrow is another day, and you can face tomorrow when it comes.” Steve didn’t have to run a marathon; he just had to make it to the next telephone pole.
“Take it one day at a time,” I told my friend. When he woke up the next morning, the overwhelming desire for a drink was gone. Steve said, “I can do this for the rest of my life, one night at a time.” He has thanked me many times for the encouragement I gave him that night.
If you are seeking to enhance some aspect of your spiritual life, pick out a telephone pole.
- Find that Bible you haven’t read for a while. Sprint, run or walk to that pole.
- Choose a study guide to follow. That’s another pole.
- Set a time for reading, prayer, and meditation.
You get the idea. No matter what aspect of living fully alive you are striving for find a pole that will take you further down the road and go for it.
Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird puts it this way. She writes…
Thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird’.
There you go. Bird by Bird, pole by pole, road sign by road sign, or carcass by carcass, you make progress toward long term goals by setting short term goals.
As Paul said, “Keep pressing toward the mark.” You only have to do it today, then tomorrow you can do it again. Facing challenges and lofty goals with that strategy in mind makes life doable.
One telephone pole at a time, one day at a time, one decision at a time—making progress on the road to living fully alive.
What poles have helped you keep moving toward your goals?
What strategies can you share that have helped you make it to the next pole? [reminder]
Great encouragement, Ken! Thanks for the inspiration to aim for that next pole.
Bird by Bird…. good inspiration. My goal… gutter by gutter. My husband is disabled, it’s hot here in Arizona and we had a new roof put on in April…. local hardware company took over a month to get the gutters and supplies… now it’s too hot to work and I’m getting older…it’s takes more for me to do all these chores…. so, when it gets cooler… I will get the gutters hung (before the end of the year) … gutter by gutter… work one day, recoup the next…. all with Prayer…. Thanks Ken for your inspiration….
You got the right spirit. Nothing wrong with that “recoupe” day.
Right now … medical appointment to medical appointment.
Last year in the spring I had a lump removed from my breast and had 35 radiation treatments. In the fall I had my left knee replaced – it had been put off by the breast cancer.
Then in late January the leg started to hurt!!! and was eventually diagnosed as infected. In May the implant was removed and I received 7 weeks of IV antibiotics, then 6 weeks of monitoring before being cleared for surgery to redo the replacement! Now waiting for surgery date – hopefully in the next two months.
BUT – two days before my surgery in May (this spring) we found out my husband had lung and brain cancers and he had his license taken away! So his summer has consisted of radiation treatments, CAT scans, MRIs, lab tests, X-rays and doctors consultations. Thankfully he just yesterday received the news that the radiation had stopped or slowed the growth of the tumours so now he is being monitored. The next two years will be interesting but tense. If the cancers stay dormant he could live with them for a long time.
So yes … telephone pole by telephone pole…
Thank you so much for posting this!!!
Ken, thanks for another great article!
To answer your question about strategies, I calculate in my mind how long a project will take if I put in a certain number of hours per day, or if I do one (or maybe two) sections/pieces per day. I then simply set the goal to do however many hours, sections (e.g. rooms to paint), or pieces I must do in a day in order to meet whatever deadline I may have.
I have found that the key is to realize that spectacular is not often necessary; recognition for the spectacular seldom endures beyond the moment. But the person who just keeps on plodding his way to victory builds a reputation that attracts attention, builds a reputation and enhances business, family and social life. It’s the old tortoise and hare trick. And the tortoise is relaxed and wins the race while the rabbit gets stressed every time he finds himself behind.
I suppose you could say that method trumps madness.