When it hits you, it hits you.

That moment when everything you’ve worked toward…

or dreamed about…

or projected onto yourself…

comes crashing down.

And you realize, this just isn’t for you.

Take my first 100 mile ultramarathon, when sometime around mile 80—at 5:00 in the morning—my race turned sour.

I was bitter cold, wet, shivering, and stumbling my way down the trail at a speed of about 2 miles per hour. I was at my wit’s end, and that’s when it hit me:

“This just isn’t for me.”

The same thing happened three or four weeks into going vegetarian when, while I was out with some friends, they wanted to stop by a Bar-B-Que joint.

“Oh come on,” one friend said. “You know you’re just doing this to impress a girl.” He was maybe a little right (it worked, BTW), but being vegetarian was something I really wanted.

As I stood in line looking at the menu, mouth salivating for a sandwich, I couldn’t help but think that going vegetarian wasn’t for me.

I really wanted to run 100 miles. I really wanted to become a vegetarian. But there I was, in both situations, ready to call it quits.

The Mistake We All Make When Going Big

Dreaming big is fun.

“I want to run a marathon.”

“I want to start my own business.”

“I want to quit my job and live the #vanlife.”

“I want to follow a strict whole foods plant-based diet.”

Just thinking about your dream, whatever it may be, gets the heart and mind pumping like the grooves at a Tay-Swift concert. You get visions of the person you’ll become, the doors it will open, and the things you’ll do.

It’s one of my absolute favorite feelings. But it’s here that most of us make a crucial mistake:

We’re unrealistic.

I don’t mean unrealistic as in, “that’s never going to happen,” because I’m here to tell you that you can and should go after the big goals. No, I mean unrealistic in that everything is going to be all unicorns and rainbows the entire time.

Take that van life dream many of us have. I can’t say for certain, but I bet it’s hard to find someone living in a van full-time that doesn’t get tired of the small space, constant dirt, and lack of comforts. And I don’t know many vegans who can say that when transitioning they didn’t at least once wish they could have a slice of cheese pizza or a bite of burger everyone else was enjoying.

Dreaming big is fun, but our big dreams—the beautiful, wonderful, adventurous things and people we want to do or become…

They’re going to be hard. And at some point you’ll almost certainly sit down in defeat, ready to call it quits.

When it Gets Hard, Don’t Do This

It’s no secret I love running. But a few months ago, while training for the UROC 100K, things weren’t clicking.

I began to dread each run, skipped miles for no good reason. After the race, unmotivated and tired, I told myself I needed a month off, and told friends (and podcast listeners) it was a scheduled break to allow my body to rest.

But the truth was, I just didn’t want to run. So after the four weeks passed (when I felt obligated start up again), I pulled out all the quick fixes and hacks I could think of:

  • Mixing up my routine.
  • Running with friends.
  • Listening to podcasts.

The list went on, but none of it worked. When something big gets hard, there’s no simple solution, and each new tweak you try just leaves you more frustrated and discouraged.

And more likely to call it quits.

The Better Approach to Surviving a Rough Patch

So what do you do instead?

Step back. Way back.

Ditch the expectations. Ditch the structure and pressure and go back to the reason you started that original goal. Ask yourself:

  • Why did you want to go plant-based to begin with?
  • Why is running a 5K, marathon, or ultramarathon such a dream?
  • Why do you want to run your own business?
  • Why is losing weight so important?

Or whatever your goal may be.

I call this your “why,” and it’s the foundation. As you progress towards your goal and build off that foundation, it can get a little wobbly up top, and the safest place is back at ground level. Reestablishing that foundation as your main objective releases the pressure to a point that nothing else matters.

Take my recent struggle with running as an example. Over the years I’ve set major race, mileage, and training expectations for myself. When I didn’t hit those it felt like a failure, and that isn’t fun.

But I started running because I love the simplicity and I love pushing myself, so that’s what I went back to: I ditched all expectations, to the point where it didn’t matter if I ran for three miles or three hours. Once that week or every day. A run was a run, and a run was a win.

And gradually, as the weeks went on, it worked. I found myself running more and more, eager to set a new training goal.

There was no quick fix or hack, and digging in my heals would have only made it worse. I had to step back.

Stepping Back is Harder Than it Sounds

The only problem? Stepping back is harder to do than it sounds because our ego is quick to get in the way.

But do you know what’s an even bigger blow to the ego? Giving up on a goal and declaring it not right for you. Whether that’s completing a 100 mile race or going vegetarian. Had I just given up on either when things got hard, I would have always regretted it.

Next time things get hard and you’re ready to quit, don’t force a fix. Step back and reengage with your original “why.”

You’ll ditch the stressful expectations.

And hang on to the reason you started the goal in the first place.

Because getting over a bump in the road sounds a lot better than giving up altogether.

About the Author: Doug is an ultrarunner, coach, and the co-host of NMA Radio. Pick up his free eBook, Why Every Runner Should Be a Trail Runner (And How to Become One).

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