"The goal horizon is where we imagine the limits of our ability to be. It's where we think we could get to if we sacrificed everything and went all out..."

THE EDINBURGH MARATHON FESTIVAL

The photo above was taken as I (and many others) were finishing the half marathon at this years Edinburgh Marathon Festival. The determination (and pain) on the faces of everyone in this photo tells a story, and reveals a history. The older man behind me in this photo is 61, and his history includes running under 1 hour and 9 minutes in his youth. That is seriously fast and would have been a winning time at this event. I imagine he probably won his age category this year.

I didn’t meet the others in the photo but to me they look like me: normal people who have trained for a big goal. My history includes beginning to wonder if just maybe, perhaps, I could run a marathon in under 3 hours – a time that I imagined would be about at the limit of my ability as a runner. I realised last year after running the Himalayan XC Marathon that I could certainly do it, provided I trained correctly and took care of myself a bit better than I normally do.

“To finish in 1.28:10 and smash my goal by 7 minutes felt unbelievably good…”

This half marathon was a part of that training. I guessed that a sub 3 hour marathon would probably require at least a year of proper training, and so I set myself little stepping stone goals like a sub 40 minute 10k and a sub 1 hour 30 minute half marathon.

I thought that it would take me until the end of the year to get under 1 hour 30 minutes, and for this race I was aiming to come in under 1.40 with a target of 1.35, but during the race I felt great and let me legs set the pace for me. To finish in 1.28:10 and smash my goal by 7 minutes felt unbelievably good, and exciting.

THE SUB 3 ZERO CHALLENGE

The point is that, while just a few months ago I would have said that getting under 3 hours in a full marathon would be pushing myself to my own limits, I now see myself running a sub 3 hour marathon as an inevitability, and I wonder what my limit really is: 2.50? 2.40? I really don’t know.

“Is all of this to show off? I hope not.”

Similarly, while I reckon 1.09 is certainly beyond me for a half marathon time, I’m now certain I can go under 1.25, and I dare to imagine that maybe I could get under 1.20 as well. Maybe.

Is all of this to show off? I hope not. Do I look good in that photo? Definitely not (although there are far worse ones that I could have chosen!)! Did over 200 people finish before me in this race? Yes! Is this about comparing myself to other people? No it really isn’t: no matter how fast I’m able to go there will always be faster, and this is true of everything I do, in all areas of my life.

THE GOAL HORIZON

What I think is worth sharing here is a phenomenon I will term the ever-expanding goal horizon. I talk a lot about goals and I spend a fair amount of time setting out my goals each year and working toward them. I’m not the only one who does this of course and, as my girlfriend pointed out to me, setting and working towards goals is one very common thread of just about every self-help and personal development guide out there.

“the amazing thing about the goal horizon is that it shifts as we approach it…”

But let me add the concept of the goal horizon to the literature. The goal horizon is where we imagine the limits of our ability to be. It’s where we think we could get to if we sacrificed everything and went all out for a particular goal. In some areas of our lives where we feel confident about our abilities the horizon is far off in the distance, while in other areas it’s annoyingly near by.

Wherever it is, it’s personal to us, and a good goal sits just in front of the horizon: challenging yet achievable. Whether that is run a sub-3 hour marathon or save enough money for a deposit on a house or get under a certain weight or sell a thousand of your latest ebooks. The goals may be different but the principle is the same.

All of that is that’s useful for knowing where to set your goals, but the amazing thing about the goal horizon is that it shifts as we approach it. In my own example laid out above, the sub-3 hour marathon goal was at my own goal horizon at the time I set it, but before I have even achieved it my horizon has expanded and moved further away, opening up to me the possibility of achieving far more than I would ever have thought possible. I will keep the sub-3 hour time as my goal until I’ve achieved it, but sub 2.50 is now on my horizon, and I dare to dream about sub 2.40. These times were impossible fantasies to me only recently.

The same thing happened to my girlfriend who ran her first ever 10k the day before my race. Just 2 months ago she was unsure if she could even run that distance, but now she is sure she can run a half marathon, pretty positive about running a full marathon, and dreaming about maybe, possibly, perhaps being able to run a sub 3 hour marathon herself.

Now tell me that’s not a powerful weapon to use in your life!

THIS ISN’T ABOUT RUNNING

I’ve seen the same thing happen in my own life in every area that I set and achieve goals, from what I can achieve in business and conservation, to personal happiness and health. I would never have thought that I could run a successful expedition myself until after I had been on a few expeditions. I would never have thought that I could run a successful charity until I’d had the experience of designing and running a few conservation projects, and so on and so forth.

“In each case, the expanding horizon opens up a whole new world of possibilities…”

In each case, the expanding horizon opens up a whole new world of possibilities, and not always in directly related fields. The experience of organising and leading a complex and large expedition gives me the confidence to think that I could produce a complex and successful documentary. There are specific skills that are different, but, for example, I know from that experience that I’m able to learn and adapt pretty quickly, and that I can set out a vision and lead people towards it.

The key to using this concept to good effect is to set yourself big goals that are just inside your horizon, and then to work toward them through a series of smaller stepping stone goals. If you pitch your goals too far away so that they’re over the horizon, or try to work toward them too quickly, you might find yourself getting frustrated and dispirited, and ending up feeling less confident in your abilities than you did before, shrinking your goal horizon instead of expanding it. I speak from experience in that area too. So keep your goal achievable, and work towards them gradually.

So this is the power of the ever-expanding goal horizon! Use it wisely, for with great power, comes great responsibility!

Oh, and the Edinburgh Marathon Festival was a fantastic event and I’d recommend any of the distances to people thinking about running it next year :)

Enjoyed this? Subscribe to the newsletter…

Get cool stuff in your inbox once a month, and join a growing community of like-minded people seeking alternative ways to think, live and thrive. Oh, and no spam, ever. Pinky swear.