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Setting crazily-optimistic goals


I’m often reminded of the parallels between running and building wealth when I’m out on a cold morning jog.  They both come down to learning how to work hard, setting goals, and sticking to a plan.  A recent post by Mrs. PoP on this subject motivated me to write this piece about the importance of crazily-optimistic goals.

Start at the Beginning

After failing to run a sub 10-minute mile after three tries in high school, my gym teacher finally decided that I’d had enough and asked me to stop trying.

At the time, I believed that some people were born with sports skills, and some just weren’t.  And that I was decidedly in the later category.   I realize now that this is an incredibly demotivating way to look at the world, but that’s the way I think a lot people look at running and building wealth.  Other people are just always going to be better at it.

Being a science nerd, I decided to run a little experiment.  I decided to run as far as I could three times a week for a month, and see if I got any better.  I began by running for just under 4 minutes.  I might have made it a quarter of a mile.  I figured I’d never make it to a half mile, the experiment would fail, and I’d never have to try exercising ever again.

Proof of concept

Instead of struggling to run the same distance every day, my distance actually started to increase and I could feel myself getting stronger each day.  It was an exciting feeling because it opened up a world of possibilities.

I had the same success when I wanted to test to see if minor spending changes would lead to a noticeable change in my finances.  I remember when I moved my savings account from a large national bank to a higher interest online savings account.  It only improved my cash flow by $14/month, but the proof of concept meant that anything was possible.

Setting Attainable Goals

After I knew it’d be feasible to run longer distance, I set this goal of running 3 whole miles.  At the time I felt uneasy about it, but I it still seemed attainable.  I did a little research, bought some better workout clothes, and started consistently running at least a mile every other day.  At this point I started to feel like an actual runner, and I hit my goal of 3 miles within a year.

My first attainable cash goal was to spend only $300 on food each month.  At first I had a bit of trouble keeping my food expenses down, but as I worked at it, I was able to get there within a few months.  I certainly had to make some changes, but nothing too earth shattering.  I think buying grapes only when they are on sale is a reasonable sacrifice.

Setting crazily-optimistic Goals

So for about 4 years I was happy running between 3 and 6 miles a few times a week.  It kept me in good shape and I think blowing off a little steam is good for the mind.  I never ran more than 6 miles because I didn’t see a need to do it.

I remember the night I decided to run a marathon.  It was late December and I’d been drinking.  When I got home, I did a little bit of research and chose the race I’d run in March.  Had I not been a little intoxicated, I don’t know that I’d have set such an optimistic goal.  I had gone from 1 mile to 3 miles in about 12 months, and I’d hit 6 miles about a year and a half after that.  Could I go from 6 to 26.1 in three months?

Right now, I feel the same way about financial independence than I did about running 26.2 miles that day in December.  So far, I’ve hit some attainable, and even some stretch financial goals, but growing my assets to the point that I never have to work again sounds a little crazy.  It’s even crazier to claim that I’ll do it within 10 years.

Does the math even work out?

Before I set my goal to run a marathon within 3 weeks, I saw that other people had done it already.  A 3 month training regimen could be done.  It would just be very difficult, and require extreme dedication.

I’ve run the financial independence numbers a thousand times.  Even with rather conservative returns on my investments, and it still seems doable.  I know that for most people, life events usually get in the way.  They get married, but a house, and have a kid.  This might happen for me, and it might not, who knows?  The point is that I’ve got a plan that is totally feasible, even though it sounds crazy.

So What happened?

I’m glad you asked.  I kicked that marathons ass, and I’ve been doing other endurance racing events ever since.  It’s not that the running ever got easier, it’s that I just learn how to be more disciplined.

My personal finance story is just beginning, so who knows what will happen next.  But here’s what I think.  If you’ve got the determination to run 26.2 miles, this whole financial independence thing should be a piece of cake.


Categories: The Master Plan Tags: , ,
  1. December 17, 2012 at 6:35 AM

    Reblogged this on Supplements with Derek and commented:
    I used too often set too many unrealistic goals in weight-lifting and losing weight and I would never achieve my goals. Make sure to set a goal you can achieve!

    It’s not taking the easy way out, it’s helping you complete your goals

    • December 17, 2012 at 8:07 PM

      Thanks for the reblog Derek. You’re right that a lot of people set unreasonable goals for themselves and then don’t stick to them. I guess what I was trying to say in this post is that many people, myself included, set fairly limited goals because we don’t realize the awesome things we can accomplish if we really put our mind to it.

  2. December 17, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    Great story! I’m with you – I was the high school gym class kid the teacher had no faith in (I think I also had no faith in my athletic abilities at the time, either), who eventually grew up to love exercise enough to become a fitness instructor 🙂

    • December 17, 2012 at 8:12 PM

      Good for you Sarah! I think there a lot of people out there, like you and me, who get told they aren’t good at something so the quit… little do they know that becoming good at something is more about how much time you put in than just natural talent.

  3. Canadian Performer's Money
    December 18, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    I believe in setting many small attainable goals along the way, so you can celebrate your success on the way to your bigger goals. It may be years before you reach your big goal and these small successes keep me motivated.

    Great post!

    • December 18, 2012 at 10:49 PM

      Thanks! That’s a great point. For marathon running, once I set the big goal, I figured out all the little goals to get me there. There’s pretty much no one out there who can just get up and run a marathon without training, but most people could do it if they commit to many small goals along the way.

  4. December 20, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    Congrats on the marathon. I too have run them so I know what kind of accomplishment you feel when you cross the finish line. I think my biggest issue with goals is setting realistic ones. I can’t seem to do what I used to be able to and I end up biting off more than I can chew at once.

    • December 20, 2012 at 8:51 AM

      I know what you mean. One time I signed up for a half marathon but got so busy leading up to it that I never trained for it. I got through it, but it wasn’t pretty. That just taught me that I still have to stick to a training schedule.

  5. December 22, 2012 at 6:34 PM

    Don’t know how I missed this until now!

    I think for me a big part of it is getting addicted to something. I know I have a physical addiction to running now, and I get similar emotional responses when I follow through on big financial goals as well.

    Congrats on all the running. Perhaps we’ll run across each other (pun intended) at a race sometime =)

  6. December 22, 2012 at 10:25 PM

    Thanks for the comment. There are certainly worse things to be addicted to than running! You gotta love those post-race endorphins.

  1. December 23, 2012 at 5:00 AM
  2. December 23, 2012 at 11:19 PM

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