A few weeks ago, I attended the 2nd year reunion of my Executive MBA Class with whom I had spent two very intense and exciting years at Rice University between 2009 and 2011. It was great to see several people again and to catch up to what people had been up to since I had been unable to attend the previous year, when I was stuck somewhere else on the other side of the Atlantic between Oxford and Swaziland. In the midst of conversation, I had mentioned to one of my much older ex-classmates (Unlike Oxford, where I was older than most of my classmates, I had been one of the youngest in my MBA class) about my plans to run the half-marathon in January next year. He had then asked half-jokingly; ‘ Idris, at 33 , isn’t it too early to be experiencing mid-life crisis?’ Over 50 himself, he had recently completed the 180-mile MS-150 bike ride from Houston to Austin, a feat which one of his sons had blamed on mid-life crisis. Well, mid-life crisis or not, I have my sights set on the half-marathon next year, and as difficult as it was to make that decision, the tougher part as with setting any goal, was deciding where to start. Until March this year, I had never run more than a mile in the last ten years, and was definitely out of shape. No thanks to Google, there were a thousand articles on how to prepare for a 13-mile race, and a million more pieces of advice, which all left me befuddled. Its been almost three months now since I made that decision,and one of the best resources which I have come across,and which applies even beyond running a marathon, or achieving any personal goal is this story of a Lion Tamer by James Clear - Allow me to quote copiously from the article; ” Clyde Beatty was born in Bainbridge, Ohio in 1903. When he was a teenager, he left home to join the circus and landed a job as a cage cleaner. In the years that followed, Beatty quickly progressed from a lowly cage boy to a popular entertainer. Beatty became famous for his “fighting act” in which he would tame fierce wild animals. At one point, Beatty’s act included a segment where he brought lions, tigers, cougars, and hyenas into the circus ring all at once and tamed the entire group. But here’s the most impressive feat of all… In an era when the majority of lion tamers died in the ring, Beatty lived into his 60s. In the end, it was cancer that took his life, not a lion. How did he manage to survive? Thanks to a simple idea. Clyde Beatty was one of the first lion tamers to bring a chair into the circus ring. Here’s what happened. The classic image of a lion tamer is one of the entertainer holding a whip and a chair. The whip gets all of the attention, but it’s mostly for show. In reality, it’s the chair that does the important work. When a lion tamer holds a chair in front of the lion’s face, the lion tries to focus on all four legs of the chair at the same time. With its focus divided, the lion becomes confused and is unsure about what to do next. When faced with so many options, the lion chooses to freeze and wait instead of attacking the man holding the chair.” And this is what happens to most of us when we decide on big, audacious, scary goals. We get so fixated on the size of the undertaking that we are then at a loss on where to start. How often do we come away from a conference with soaring emotions of all the great things we would like to achieve only to get confused by where to start,and a year later, we are still at the same point? So like James advises; ” Anytime you find the world waving a chair in your face, remember this: All you need to do is commit to one thing. In the beginning, you don’t even have to succeed. You just need to get started. Starting before you feel ready is one of the habits of successful people. Most of the time, the ability to get started and commit to a task is the only thing you need to do to focus better. Most people don’t have trouble with focusing. They have trouble with deciding.” This graphic that i came across a few days ago also illustrates the same thing- Just get Started! So quoting James again ” Want to lose 40 pounds? Awesome. Eat real food (anything that doesn’t come in a package or a box is a good start) and exercise more. You don’t need more information. You don’t need to learn how to focus on the right things. You just need to commit to the fundamentals. Build good habits first, there will be plenty of time to figure the details out later. Want to perform like an elite athlete? Great. Quit dreaming and start living like one. Get to sleep earlier. Organize your day around your training. If you have to miss other commitments, then you have to miss them. If it’s important to you, then stop gazing at the other distractions and commit to it. Want to start a business? You can! Sure, you’ll be uncomfortable. Every entrepreneur is uncertain. You don’t need to learn a new strategy or figure out how to focus better. You just need to commit to making it happen. Take the first step and trust that you’ll figure out how to take the second step when you need to do so.” So the key is to get started today on just one thing, and stop gazing at the chair. Running a 13-mile half-marathon might seem like a huge challenge to someone who has never run a mile, and I don’t know if I am going to get to the finish line, but the trick as I am learning, is to take it a step at a time. I have since registered in a 3-times a week fitness boot camp and lost twenty pounds in less than three months, while pushing up my endurance limits. In July I plan to sign up for a 29-week marathon training program. I still remember one of the best pieces of advice my class was given in 2009 at the beginning of the 2-year MBA; ’2 years looks like a long time. However, the trick is to take it 2 weeks at a time,and before you know it, its all over.’ I guess that is what is meant by the quote; “Life is hard by the yard, but inch by inch, life’s a cinch”. Allow me to leave you with James’s concluding words, ” Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. Whether you know it or not, you’re already in the ring. We all are. Most of the time, we sit quietly, gazing at the chair in front of us, silently debating about which leg is the most important. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you have somewhere you want to go, something you want to accomplish, someone you want to become… then make a decision. If you’re clear about where you want to go, the rest of the world will either help you get there or get out of the way. Both of those are useful. You don’t have to do it all at once, but there is something that you need to do now. Something that’s calling you, something that’s important to you, something that you’re destined to do. I don’t know what it is, but you do. Swipe the chair out of the way and choose it.” See you across the finish line! Hopefully.