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Want to Reach Your Goals? Learn How to Hold Yourself Back


Learning how to stop is just as important as deciding to start.

In January of 1911, Robert Falcon Scott from Great Britain, and Roald Amundsen from Norway, set out on a 1,600-mile race to conquer the last place man hadn’t stepped foot on during the Age of Exploration — The South Pole.

The two men, along with their four-man teams, however, embarked on this journey in very different ways.

Scott, the more experienced of the two men, would open up his tent each morning and look up at the sky to determine how far he and his team would travel.

On the days he was greeted with bright blue skies and ideal travelling conditions, Scott and his team would set out to walk 50 miles.

There were other mornings, however, where the conditions weren’t as ideal; on these windy and cloudy days, Scott would demand 20 miles from his men.

There were other days, however, when the conditions were brutal. The skies gunned hailstones at their heads and the wind was so strong taking just one step forward was a challenge. On these days, after looking outside, Scott would close his tent and tell his team they would wait for another day.

Amundsen and his team took a different approach. No matter what he saw when he opened up his tent in the morning, he would rally his team and commit to walking 20 miles. It didn’t matter if they had perfect conditions or terrible ones, they would pack up their gear and hit the road.

On the blue sky days, Amundsen and his team would often walk their 20 miles by lunch. His team, on these days, would beg and plead to continue walking, taking every chance to remind him that Scott and his team could be close behind. But Amundsen never wavered:

“You’ve done your 20 miles. Rest and repair your skis.”

On the grey sky days, it would take them until mid-afternoon. But they would walk their 20 miles. And on the painful days, the ones when the wind was burning their face and hailstones were pelting their heads, it would take them until the last ray of light to meet their goal. But they would make their 20 miles, or come close to it.

When it comes to history books, Scott is arguably more famous than Amundsen. But this isn’t because he won the race.

It’s because he and his team lost their lives a few days from the end of their journey.

The Importance of Holding Yourself Back

When it comes to reaching our goals, legendary business coach Dan Sullivan has a very unpopular piece of advice: cap our to-do list at three tasks each day.

When he recommends this to people he is met with heat. This is especially true of high-flying entrepreneurs who claim that three tasks aren’t enough and they’re capable of doing much more.

Sullivan concedes this point, admitting that yes more is possible. But success doesn’t come to those who do everything. It comes to those who focus on doing the right things each and every day.

If day-in and day-out you create clear, concise, and intelligent objectives and stick to them — they’ll get you to 100 percent. Not only that, but according to Sullivan, you won’t burn out in the process.

During our lives, we will be faced with days when the conditions are brutal. Times when it takes until the 24th hour to complete what we committed ourselves to do. Pushing through these hard days builds character and confidence.

According to leadership expert, Jim Collins, performing at a high-level on hard days isn’t the only type of self-imposed discomfort necessary to reach our goals and raise our confidence. Embracing the self-imposed discomfort of holding back in good conditions is as well.

Do we keep pushing like Robert Scott on blue sky days? Or do we steal a line from Roald Amundsen and finish what we set out to do each day, no matter the weather, and then sit down and repair our skis?

I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately. On the good days, when the weather allows me to walk quickly towards my goals, is it really necessary to push myself to keep moving once I’ve achieved them?

In my twenties, I would have said yes. Like Scott, I would have kept going. I thought this ambition was a strength. But the older I get the more I’m beginning to realize it was also my weakness. Operating all day in sixth gear on the days when it wasn’t necessary drained my tank. I didn’t see it at the time, but it affected my ability to perform at a high-level when the circumstances were rough.

Developing the self-control to hold ourselves back on good days is hard. Why would we stop walking at 20 miles when the conditions permit us to push it to 50? Why would we stop at three tasks when we are capable of possibly knocking out ten?

The answer is simple: how we decide to spend the time outside of work plays a massive role in our ability to perform at a high-level when we have to work. Taking advantage of the days we reach our goals early allows us to recharge. It provides us the energy to set clear and intelligent objectives each day. It teaches us self-control.

Waking up each day and sticking to our plan isn’t sexy. It looks an awful lot like work. But according to Jim Collins, that’s how progress is made. It’s that sweet combination of developing the consistent discipline to achieve during hard times and the consistent self-control to hold back during good times.

When you’ve reached your 20th mile today — stop, rest, and then repair your skis. When you’ve completed the tasks you’ve set out to complete tomorrow — stop, rest, and then repair your skis.

Developing this discipline to hold yourself back on blue sky days determines your ability to show up and perform at a high-level during stormy ones.

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