The single hardest obstacle between you and your goal is your ability to persist. By definition, the idea of persisting is the repeated ability to take action toward your goal, day after day after day. It’s why losing weight or gaining muscle can be so difficult. There are weeks of persistent action required before you can see a result. When you factor in the pain, soreness and time involved with exercising, it’s no wonder that many people don’t stick with it. The same is true for anyone pursuing a new goal, from starting a business to learning a language to switching careers. I liken the new-goal achieving process to climbing a mountain that is surrounded by thick jungle. Before you can climb to the summit, you first have to find it. There is this period of time where all you’re doing is generating output (effort) toward your goal and not receiving anything positive in return. I refer to this period of effort without return as “walking in the jungle.”

When you’re attempting to walk through a jungle—and by jungle I mean a real triple canopy (trees so tall that vegetation is layered three stories high) jungle where you can’t see the sun or the stars for a directional bearing—it’s hard work and it’s slow going. You’re making “guesses” as to your direction; you’ll have false starts, you’ll be forced to turn around and try new directions. There are all kinds dangers on the bottom of the jungle floor, from insects to thorny plants to brutal heat and humidity that distract you from your work. It’s painstakingly slow and requires enormous amounts of effort. It can be a very lonely and disheartening experience when attempting to do something you’ve never done before—like going after a new goal.

In the beginning, whacking a new trail in the jungle is exhausting. You’re not greatly skilled at using a new tool, such as a machete—you get blisters on your hands from holding it too tight; your forearms seize up; you spend too much energy doing the simplest of things. But after a little while, your body adapts to the exercise of swinging a new tool as it does to the sweltering heat. You learn when to take sips of water; you know how to layer your clothes; your bug repellent is so coated on your clothes that you don’t notice the bugs any longer; and you find a rhythm to your work. Your focus shifts from the pain to the next bush to whack. You become more efficient at discerning the bushes that are truly blocking your path from the ones that are superficially in your way. Your path-clearing ability improves as does your progress—then one day, you catch a glimpse of the sun, you gain just a glimmer of feedback on your direction, and you realize that you are, in fact, making progress. When this realization occurs, you receive a boost of energy, and the work doesn’t seem so hard. Your focus is forward—it’s no longer on your suffering, but directed toward what success is going to feel like. When you start to see, feel, and even taste your success, you can also visualize those you care about enjoying it with you, knowing that you’re out of the jungle and ready to begin your climb.

The challenge now is consistently wielding your path-generating machete when the going is toughest and the solution is found mainly between your ears: focus. Your focus drives action—it directs your energy to either press on or be depressed. What you focus on ultimately determines your course of action. If you focus on how slow you’re moving, then you’ll move slower; if you focus on how hot you are, then you’ll feel hotter; however, if you focus on finding speed, then you’ll move faster; and if you focus on being cool, then you’ll feel cooler (there are of course bodily limits here, but in general this is true, as what you focus on generally appears to grow larger). The point is that what you focus on is going to become either your goal’s friend or its foe. We have very few things in life that we can truly control, but the ones that we can control—our mental, emotional and physical responses—are just powerful enough to enable us to achieve most anything we can dream up.

January is the start of your “walk in the jungle.” Keep your focus directed forward, and you’ll be amazed at your progress by the end of the month. Commit with me to take a “walk in the jungle” as I too will  be in there hacking my way to a new goal as well. I never said it would be easy—going All-in and Moving-out (forward) never is—but I promise you that it will be worth it!

See you in the Jungle.

Alpha Mike—Alden