Thursday, March 9, 2023

Day 4 of the 30 Day Winter Barefoot Running Challenge: Setting Impossible Goals to Avoid Regret on Your Death Bed

This time, I'll get the shaking, poorly-produced video out of the way. It was day #4. It was early, cold, and kinda sucky. 

Okay, on to today's topic - setting impossible goals

Humans are kinda funny in that we routinely set self-imposed limits on what we can accomplish, then we allow those limits to prevent us from doing truly remarkable stuff. I've seen this this time and time again. People will have a primal urge to do something truly great, but that urge only exists as a fantasy in their head. And they'll spend their entire lives without ever really giving it a shot because they sincerely believe they can't do it.

Or worse, they DO verbalize it and maybe even start. But then they let others shit on their effort, so they give up before ever really giving it a real shot. Years later, on their death bed, they have to confront the regret of never having really tried.

Pause for a few seconds right now and consider what impossible goals you have. Or might have had in the past. If you're brave enough, grab a pen and paper and write that goal down before you continue on.

How I Use Goals

My take on goal-setting is probably a bit different than most people's. I tend to set extremely lofty goals that I have little chance of accomplishing. Alternatively, I might set goals that I can and will accomplish, but might take a long, long time. Either way, the purpose of the goal is to be general enough to give me a direction without limiting the ability to alter my course a bit. 

Imagine we're on a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles. Some people might plan out every road they'll take, every turn they'll make, every stop they'll have. They'll precisely follow a schedule from one little goal to the next. 

Not me. 

My goal would be to simply "head west." 

That gives me the freedom to really explore everything that piques my interest between NYC and LA. If I want to take a detour to see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, Cranberry World, or the Shuffle Board Hall of Fame, so be it. I won't be constrained by an artificial schedule that limits my freedom to embrace serendipity and partake on adventures as they present themselves. 

I've talked about my goal-setting philosophy before, including this post on not being afraid to set impossible goals. I've also written about how mistaking anxiety for fear can keep you from attempting impossible goals, and the various kinds of people who can prevent us from reaching our goals.

So far, this philosophy of goal-setting has led to a whole lotta pretty cool adventures.

So What are My Current Impossible Goals?

My current goals are pretty much motivated by a) a desire to stay reasonably capable of doing physical shit given I'm basically a 47 year old rookie cop, b) a desire to explore the mountains around Colorado's Western Slope, c) a desire to continue finding my niche in the world of jiu jitsu, and d) making our world a better place. The first three are decidedly selfish. The last one, in my mind, kinda makes up for the other three.

These motivations roughly translate into the following goals:

1. Run another 100 miler.

2. Earn my black belt in jiu jitsu.

3. Develop and maintain a sustainable weightlifting and nutrition program that'll continue to build muscle and result in me looking good naked and maybe do a bodybuilding competition in the future.

4. Start an in-person Western Slope version of my online-only men's group to help men find a path to self-improvement and, by extension, help build our community into a better place. In essence, this group will help men get better at being men.

All of these goals are either vague or ongoing, and none have specific details. Yet, anyway.

The first goal was the direct result of answering questions from a friend who is entering the world of ultras for the first time, and to a lesser extent, actually missing the experience of running really long races. This goal is one of the reasons for rekindling my interest in barefoot running. This goal feels impossible because I ran for 32 minutes yesterday, and it was pretty damn hard. Had I not done it before in the past, running a hundred miles would seem totally impossible.

The second goal is a pretty common goal for folks doing da jits, this one is a bit more complicated for me. We all kind of take our own path down the road of martial arts, and mine was been going down a specific road for quite some time. I don't really care about competitions, being a bjj instructor at a gym, producing instructionals, or even being objectively good at sport jiu jitsu. I care about helping other first responders keep themselves and the people they serve safer. I need to figure out how to shape that motivation into an actionable plan to improve my skills to a black belt level. This goal feels impossible because I don't feel like my jiu jitsu is improving, and my coaches are 1,000 miles away in San Diego.

The third goal is an extension of the goal I set last year (around this time), but was sort of sabotaged by attending the police academy. The challenge is shift work, which creates a lot of scheduling, eating, and sleep challenges. This goal feels impossible because building muscle takes forever and I love pastries.

The fourth goal is a big one, at least to me. It's the culmination of a series of projects (most notably the BRUcrewSan Diego Man Camp, El Diablo Man Camp, The Lab, and The Curvy Road Project) I've been working on since about the time I stopped ultrarunning back in 2012. These various projects were all centered around the idea of radical self-improvement, but took various forms. All were driven by a simple idea - all of us can lead far more fulfilling lives that make a real difference in our communities, and the road to that life begins with intentionally improving yourself.

BRUcrew was based on fitness and facing awkward social challenges. The Man Camps were designed for men and solving the problems men in today's society face, like not having a sense of purpose, facing relationship problems, and dealing with the difficulties of maintaining meaningful friendships as we age. The Lab and The Curvy Road Project focused on creating a "tribe" of like-minded people that took a lot of the Man Camp ideas and added women and children into the mix. 

Each of these projects failed to fully materialize because of various obstacles. BRUcrew didn't last because interest waned. The Man Camp projects were doomed because all of the members lived too far apart (worldwide) to meet in person. The "tribe" projects failed because the plans were a bit too ambitious and key members of the tribe weren't able to dedicate enough time to make it happen. 

I don't know exactly how this fourth goal will materialize, but the idea is slowly coming together in my head. This goal feels impossible because the previous five attempts at something similar ultimately failed. But like I said, this one's a biggie for me. In my years as a high school teacher, running coach, jiu jitsu coach, and writer, I've learned a powerful lesson - every time you make a positive difference in one person's life, you create a ripple effect that spreads far and wide as they then make a difference in the lives of others. We rarely see the results of those ripples, but they're there. It's kind of my application of the "Pay it Forward" principle:

So How Does This Apply to You?

There's no magical voodoo here. You just gotta define that impossible goal, then start putting in the work. I suggest writing it down. Don't show it to anyone or discuss it for six months. After six months, THEN you can share it with the world. 


In today's social media-driven society, there's a strong tendency to proclaim you're going to do something, then receive immediate positive affirmations from the people around you. Those affirmations feel good (they literally cause a release of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in your brain), which closely approximates the feeling of actually accomplishing the goal. Those good feelz often prevent us from actually DOING anything to accomplish the goal. 

The six month buffer is designed to give you time to develop the habits and routines you need to establish in order to make your impossible goal a reality. After six months of work, other people's positive affirmations aren't going to railroad your motivation (thanks, sunk cost fallacy!)

So there you have it... that's my take on setting impossible goals. Set one, then get to work.




Post Script

Regarding my fourth goal and impossible goals: One of the fundamental concepts the Man Camps embraced was the idea that a group of men you respect where a sense of honor is cultivated provide an incredibly powerful accountability system. In short, if you have an impossible goal, expressing it within such a group will keep you on track. It's one of the best reasons I believe all men should have such a group.

To that end, if you're a dude (or you know a dude) who feels you're in any sort of rut or feel you want more from life than what you have right now, you could probably benefit from a group like this. The best summary of the underlying principles can be found in the "El Diablo Man Camp" blog, and are listed in order on this page. If you're an analytical type and/or really dig science, this might be a good starting post as it lays out the rational argument of why men need this sort of group.

If the ideas resonate with you in any way AND you live anywhere close to Colorado's Western Slope AND you're interested in being a part of the group I'll be creating, shoot me a message at Put "MAN CAMP" in the subject line so I don't accidentally pass over it.

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Day 4 of the 30 Day Winter Barefoot Running Challenge: Setting Impossible Goals to Avoid Regret on Your Death Bed

This time, I'll get the shaking, poorly-produced video out of the way. It was day #4. It was early, cold, and kinda sucky.  Okay, on to ...