What a 5th grader taught me about achieving goals

Right now I’m coaching a handful of elementary school students as they tackle their summer challenge: to complete a full Ironman worth of swimming, biking, and running during the course of the summer. It’s a program by a local non-profit called CycleHealth, which promotes physical activity and health among kids through the sport of triathlon.

Each Monday, I meet up with a small group of the students for our weekly “workout,” which consists of some type of biking around the neighborhood or running, or a combination. This past Monday we started off by running. To make it a bit more exciting, I structured the run much like a fartlak, where we raced to a nearby stop sign or some other marker, and then walked for recovery.

During one of the rest intervals, I was walking with one of the students. We talked about achieving goals and what he said to me absolutely blew me away. It’s a concept I work with my older coaching clients on grasping. But here’s this 5th grader, who comes from a very challenging family situation, articulating complex life skills like goal setting and working towards them.

Here’s what he said:

“When I break up running into small, short goals, I don’t get tired as quickly as when I think about trying to do the whole thing.”

So what’s the take-away. If you’re looking at a big challenge ahead of you, whether it’s a marathon, a work project, or making a significant lifestyle change, like trying to eat better, break it up into manageable pieces and set shorter term goals for each of those small steps. Achieving a shorter-term, more manageable goal will give you the momentum and confidence you need to keep plugging away.


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