6 things a lone tree on a Manitoba horizon taught me about goal setting

I think of it as one of my life defining moments, though at the time it felt more like pointless torture.

Lonely tree

Photo by Derek Σωκράτης Finch used with permission

I’m cycling in Manitoba on what may be the flattest stretch of land in the world. It’s a beautiful day. Postcard. Blue sky, wavy golden grass, cows grazing. A fence on the side of the road links from post to post to post, and eventually to a tree made tiny by the distance between it and me.

Except this tree is the only noticeable landmark and there is wind blowing against me. Wind, when at your back, thrusts you to thrilling speeds. Wind, when in your face, forces you to trudge. I trudge.

I’m trapped on an asphalt treadmill and the wind cranks the resistance band up tight. My legs burn with each downward push of quadriceps and upward tug of hamstring.

And I curse that tiny speck of a tree. For hours.

In case you think this is some flat prairie joke, let me assure you, it’s not. It seriously took hours to reach that tree.

And those hours and that tree taught me some incredibly valuable lessons.

1. Break a big goal into smaller goals

That tree far, far, far off in the distance stood still and resolute and came no closer for a long, long, long time. It was daunting, and that sapped my enthusiasm and discouraged me.

Make fun goals like when you get to that rock, tenth fencepost, or highway sign, you can give yourself a high five.

2. Change your thoughts

The sun shone bright that day but I couldn’t see it because I had a cloud of negativity floating around me. Instead of cursing that tree, I could have reminded myself of this extraordinary journey I was on. I was on an adventure with a great friend, defying all those people who thought we wouldn’t last a week, and here it was four provinces and thousands of kilometers later and I was still going.

You are in control of your thoughts and you can turn them around.

3. Take your eyes off the horizon every once in a while

Another reason I didn’t notice the amazing things around me: I was so focused on that tree that nothing else existed.

Look at the side of the road and watch the blades of bluegrass blur by. Watch as the wind whips the wheat’s hair back and forth. Listen to the viscous click of the chain as the wheels turn. Feel the life in your lungs as you inhale. Exhale. The world is beautiful and amazing. You are beautiful and amazing.

4. Have a piece of pie

When you give all of your body and mind to pursuing a goal, you need rest. I needed rest in a big way. There was a diner on the side of the road with a sign that advertised a slice of pie for $1. I had a piece of pie. And it was the sweetness I needed to help neutralize the sour of my thoughts and escape the grind for a bit.

Take a moment to rest, refuel, pump yourself up. And then get back out there.

5. Celebrate your accomplishment

I made it to that tree!

Buy yourself a double-scoop rocky road waffle cone, and as you enjoy the cold on your tongue and the warm on your cheeks, look back on the road you just rode and smile.

6. Keep going

It didn’t matter how many kilometers of pavement my tires vibrated over, it seemed like I didn’t get any closer to that tree. But I noticed that in that final 30 minutes, it became bigger and bigger, faster and faster. This compelled me forward. Before I knew it, it was right there beside me, each leaf representing a pedal stroke. And while I appreciated this, my journey wasn’t over. I had a campsite to get to, seven more provinces to cross, and a briny East Coast breeze to breathe.

Keep going. You might want to stop. You might want to get off your bike and put it down.

Keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. You’ll make it there with persistence and perseverance.

Keep going. You’re made of stronger stuff than you think.sml_Twitter-bird-blue-on-white_logo

Keep going.

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