Week 26: Moving the Goal Posts


My plan, as I leave the house, is to run four miles. Nice, smooth four miles. My first mile feels strong and a voice pops up in my head, “You know, I should go for six today.” Six is a respectable distance, so much more than four. I could treat myself to a donut after six. My Garmin beeps with paces after every mile, but it doesn’t matter because I look at it every three minutes to make sure I am on pace. Each mile needs to be under a 10-minute pace, or 9:45. Maybe I can get a couple at 9:30.

My abs tighten, my legs pound. My nice, smooth four miles has now become six tempo miles.

The above scenario is one that happens frequently and what E calls “moving the goal posts.” He’s noted that I’ve been doing it a lot lately. But, what we both know is that I’ve been doing this for most of my life and now we just have a catch phrase for it.

I move the goal posts on pretty much every ambition I have. I want to run a marathon? Great, let’s do it in 4:20. Want to write a book? You have three months to finish it. Need a break from alcohol? How about a year? I push myself to go a bit extra, to do more, so that I can say look what I did.

In theory, it’s good to set loft goals and wrestle your motivation into accomplishing them. Moving the goal posts is how I became an ultra marathon, drove a U-Haul by myself through a snow storm in the mountains, started telling stories on stage. Yet, when you keep resetting your goal so it’s a bit further away, you end up always chasing, never enjoying.

Now that this habit has been named, I notice how much I do it. Earlier this week, I realized that I didn’t have much planned for the week and I was excited about the idea of hanging out at home, writing and reading. Then, Saturday, I woke up panicked thinking that I have too much time on my hands and I should be doing something with friends.

“Oh, no,” I thought. “I am moving the goal posts.”

I set up goals and plans so that they are nearly impossible to accomplish and then I am automatically let down by my own abilities. I can’t have a completely free weekend and be social, there has to be some give and take. Certainly, I can relax and see friends in these two days, but I can’t visit with all of my friends and spend the weekend alone. And, yet, I tell myself that I must try, and I obey.

I’ve spent a lot of time with therapists talking about perfection. I know that one can’t be perfect and that perfection isn’t attainable, and yet I still find myself reaching for it. If only I work a bit harder, do a bit more, strain myself a bit further, all that I want can be grasped. And, that’s why I keep moving the goal posts, to get a bit more perfect with each rung of the ladder that I scale.

When I ran the Chicago marathon a few years ago, I wasn’t happy with the race. My hydration was off, and because of that, I had side cramps and bonked in the last six miles. I wouldn’t consider it a good race. This baffles E. “You finished 20 minutes off the time you wanted, but you still finished a marathon. I don’t get how you can’t be satisfied with that.” I get what he is saying, but I am not.

My inability to not one up myself is worrisome, because it means I don’t take pride in what I do accomplish. I think about that a lot with this book I am writing (“If it doesn’t get published, will it be considered a failure? But then it does get published and not many people read it? Or many people do but critics don’t like it?” and on and on and on), Also, in relation to my sobriety. What if I am not magically changed by this alcohol-free year? Will it still have been worth it?

I want to say yes, but I really can’t. The best I can do is take it day by day and not care too much at what happens at the end.

Best part of being sober this week: I went out dancing at a bar with friends last night and I only had a ginger ale. It is incredible the things you notice and understand about the “clubbing” world when you are sober. About a third of the people I was with were also not drinking, which made it easier. Plus, I woke up this morning tired, but not hung over. I think I like dancing better when I am not drinking, which is a weird thing to say.

Hardest part of being sober this week: Having something to look forward to at the end of the day. I really liked having that beer at the finish line waiting for me.

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