The Sneaky Lifestyle Creep of “Hard Things” and “Big Scary Goals”

by | Sep 18, 2021 | Mindset

You may remember last week when we talked about our good friend Karen Holland, who just CRUSHED her 900-kilometer FKT attempt of the highly technical Bruce Trail here in Ontario. I’ll start by saying that she is amazing and I am blown away by her accomplishments. It was so freaking cool to watch her tackle such a huge challenge, and to pull off the new FKT record, especially in those final days.

One thing I noticed in the groups cheering for her on social media and in my own thoughts though was that some of us started to sink a teensy bit into comparison. It was largely innocent and joke-y (things like “I thought my 50K long run deserved a nap afterwards, but she did 100KM nine days in a row!”). But when I caught myself thinking about the fact that my last ‘hard thing’ was “only” an 80K trail loop, I noticed that I felt a little down on myself.

In addition to the comparison trap issue that comes up when you’re surrounded by people who regularly tackle seemingly impossible things, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are shifting to wanting to do ultras. And then, bigger ultras. And bigger. And bigger.

I’ve done this over the years, from Olympic distance triathlon to Ironman. It’s human nature—but where does it end? At some point, you run out of runway. You don’t have the time or money to train and do the next big thing. In fact, you’re already in time and money debt because of the last big thing.

Big, hard goals are really, really great and important. But it’s equally important to not get caught in a cycle of constantly feeling like your last big, hard challenge wasn’t big or hard enough, or that next time, you have to go even bigger.

If you’ve done the work and the research, you know the training you need, the resources required and the time it’ll take to commit to it—as Karen did for her Bruce Trail FKT—then it’s all systems go, and you’re good to pursue your big scary goal. But many of us don’t do the math when we first ‘upgrade’ our big goal, and end up strapped for time + resources, or overtrained because we boosted our volume or intensity too fast and too soon.

In financial planning, they talk about lifestyle creep—the idea that as you make more money, you start to spend more money because your lifestyle balloons to match your current income level. You know the drill: One year you’re stressing about buying a single pair of new running shoes, then you get a raise and suddenly, now you’re stressing about if you should get three pairs versus the two, or you’re checking out the $400 pair rather than the $150 ones that were just fine last year. I think we do the same with our goals and the hard things we choose to do, sometimes to our detriment.

Remember, just because someone else bought the $400 shoes, that doesn’t mean you need them, or that you have the resources available to get them.

It’s great to go from your first 5K to a half marathon or a marathon. But where does it end for you? Doing a hard thing is awesome and important, but anyone who’s done one will tell you that a huge part of why it’s great is the training that goes into it. If you can’t adequately train for the hard thing and are just hoping to muscle through, you’re running the risk of injury, overtraining, or just plain not having fun.

So before you choose your next “hard thing,” ask yourself these few questions:

  • Why am I choosing this hard thing? Am I excited about the end goal, or the training AND the end goal?
  • What does the training look like and what resources will I need? (10 hours a week or 15? New bike or just new aero bars for your road bike? 1 day off work or a full week?)
  • Do I honestly have the time and resources to train for this particular hard thing?
  • If not, is there a shorter/faster/less resource-heavy option available to me? (For instance, rather than going from marathon distance to 50-miler, could you focus on doing a faster marathon and getting a PR in that?)

If you do want to increase your big scary goal after answering those, that’s amazing and we are 110% on board. (In fact, if you’re in debate, check in with us to talk through what training and resources might look like for you.) We want to see people tackling big scary goals and hard challenges—and we want to see you succeed in them! What we don’t want is for the big scary goals to creep up to the point where they’re impossible given your current constraints and lead to discontent rather than a feeling of satisfaction.

Trying to figure out your next goal and game plan? Grab our book, Becoming A Consummate Athlete, right here:


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