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The Magic of Setting Unrealistic Goals in Midlife

What moves us?

"DO SOMETHING GREAT" neon sign in black background | The magic of setting unrealistic goals in midlife
Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

What if I told you to wake up two hours earlier each day to train and become twenty percent stronger in three years? Or, eat only salads for a year to lose ten percent of your body weight?

The kindest people in the world would probably tell me they have better things to do with their time and energy. As for the rest, I can only picture the facial expressions and the accompanying gestures.

What moves us in midlife

Finding motivation in midlife is not easy.

There are very few things that get us moving. No wonder many of us find it difficult to exerciseeat healthily, or engage in creative activities. 

The usual excuses, no time or no energy.

Is there a grain of truth in those excuses?

Time

We all have 24 hours in the day. How come that people with more responsibilities than us find time to accomplish more?

They make time!

Most smartphones and tablets can tell you how much screen time you have every day. When was the last time you had a look? How much time do you spend watching TV or Netflix?

I am not implying that we waste all this time. Some of it is useful and productive. Recreation is also important. But, is all this time well invested?

How many hours is half of this time? Imagine how much you can do with this time.

Energy

Although your energy is not unlimited, it is difficult to quantify how much you have at any given time. It is subjective. If you feel you have no energy, you have no energy, period! Perspective is reality in this case.

There are many ways to increase your energy levels. Healthy eating and exercise can help you feel more energetic.

But aren’t the lack of healthy eating, exercise, and having a creative outlet the reasons you have no energy to begin with?

This is the classic chicken and egg dilemma.

I have no energy to make time to eat healthy, exercise, and be creative; thus, I have no time and energy.

How do you break this vicious circle?

The answer is purpose! There has to be a convincing “why” to all this.

But, is finding purpose, a convincing “why” in midlife even possible?

I hear you. Not easy at all!

Why unrealistic goals?

A few months ago, my wife Aga, suggested a book from an author she interviewed for her podcast, the CultureLab. She thought I would like it.

The brief description of the book and the story of the author, Jim Lawless, amazed me. Reading “Taming Tigers” not only inspired me to set an unrealistic goal, but made me believe that I may have a chance at succeeding.

In his book, Jim Lawless, shares his unbelievable achievements:

a. Becoming a jockey and ridding in a televised race under official Jockey Club Rules within twelve months. Note that he had nothing to do with horse riding at the time.

b. Setting a new British free-diving record (101 meters depth in one breath) without being a diver before.

Jim is a real midlife contrarian!

In his book, Jim explains in detail the specific steps one can take to achieve similar, unrealistic goals. 

You probably wonder why anyone in midlife would set unrealistic goals. Don’t we have enough disappointments in our life?

It is true that we have enough experience in life and have a good idea of what is realistic and what’s not.

We are used to setting realistic goals for our work (KPIs, budgets, etc.) or personal life (saving X amount by year-end, etc.)

But, how is it possible that we often fail to achieve those realistic goals, even the ones we have full control of? How disappointing is that, comparing to not achieving a crazy, unrealistic goal?

At least, failing in achieving a crazy, unrealistic goal leaves you with the joy of going for it, trying your best, and giving it your all. No one will ever take this away from you.

I am sure you have heard the stories of people on their death bed and what their regrets tend to be.

They rarely regret doing things. They predominately have regrets about things they did not do. The risks they did not take, the goals they did not set, the challenges they never faced.

To break free of the vicious circle of lack of time and energy, you need to apply a massive force. To administer a massive force, you need to have a very, very attractive “why,” that is, an unrealistic goal.

How to go about setting unrealisticgoals

You are most likely familiar with S.M.A.R.T. goals. 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Time-phased

S.M.A.R.T. is an excellent goal-setting tool, and it works.

But, in the specific case, a small, but essential, change is needed. Dropping the Realistic and make your goal S.M.A.T.

Specific

It has to be specific, the more, the better. You have to be able to visualize it. You have to be able to see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it – if possible. It has to be as real as possible in your mind. You have to be able to imagine how you will feel when you accomplish it.

Measurable

You have to be able to know when you have achieved it. It has to be objectively quantified.

Agreed

Your goal needs to be agreed, not only with yourself but also with the people around you. Agreement on your unrealistic goal will not only create a support system but also accountability, towards yourself and others. These can be your family and friends but also key people that will be supporting you and invest time in you. 

To achieve your unrealistic goal, you will need to take significant action. This will have an impact on others around you, and you need to prepare them and get their support. Do not ignore this part. It is essential.

Time-phased

Your goal has to have a deadline. Without one, it is impossible to initiate massive action, and procrastination will be unavoidable. 

But, after you have set your S.M.A.T. goal, you will need to break it down is smaller pieces and set some milestones.

Those smaller pieces and milestones, though, have to be S.M.A.R.T. 

You will need a realistic element in those smaller targets. Small and consistent steps will add up in time. Do not underestimate the enormous power of the compound effect. Its ripple effect will propel you in achieving your ultimate goal.

Here is my crazy, unrealistic goal

Nassos’ photo in Monza Track

As a midlife contrarian myself, I could not resist the temptation to set my own unrealistic goal.

If I want to walk the talk and be one of the people who defy social conditioning and are not held back by limiting beliefs, I have to take action.

So, taking inspiration from Jim Lawless and his book “Taming Tigers” and my friend Afrodite, a pioneer who has shown me the road, becoming a sprint athlete in midlife, my midlife contrarian unrealistic goal is this:

Win a Greek or Italian national level 100m sprint race (track and field), in my master* athlete category (45-50 or 50-55) within the next three years. I am currently 49 years old.

I have never been an athlete, and I have not had a healthy lifestyle up until six years ago. 

Having done a little research, I will need a time around 12.5 to 13 seconds to even have a chance. At the moment, I do not even know what my current time is.

But, since winning a race means finishing ahead of the others, and not at a set time, everything is possible on the day of the race. Only time will tell.

What I do know for sure is that I need a hell of a smart training plan to built speed, strength and avoid injuries, the most common obstacle of master athletes.

Stay tuned on updates on my progress.

What will be your midlife contrarian crazy, unrealistic goal?

* Master athletes are over 35 years old, split into categories with five-year increments (35, 40, 45, 50, etc.)

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