Reaching Beyond Your Known Ability

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I’m lucky enough to have a lot of impressive people in my life. My brother runs ultramarathons for Ireland. I have a friend who runs Ironman’s and marathons constantly (I have many friends who run marathons to be fair). I have another friend who has played basketball for Ireland for the last 8 years. Now I could go on but you get the point. There are a lot of hard-working, far-reaching people in my life.

Being surrounded by these people push me on too. I wouldn’t have ever run a marathon myself if it wasn’t for my brother and friends who were all running, all showing me that it could be done if I trained. Being around people who aim high makes me a better person, better writer, more ambitious.

Lately I’ve been wondering why people reach for seemingly impossible goals. Last month, my brother ran an 85km race through the fecking Alps. He goes on maddeningly long runs all the time. When I ask him why, he usually says something along the lines of, ‘just to see if I can’. An answer that is infuriatingly simple, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

Because when I think about goals that I set for myself, or the goals my friend Diarmuid sets when he’s training for the Ironman, this is what it boils down to. Goals have always been subconsciously insurmountable. This is by design. If you set a goal that you can achieve, that’s within your ability, then you’ll achieve it and you won’t continue to work hard. You’ll have reached the summit. However, if you set a goal that requires ability you don’t currently have, then this will motivate you to work and work until you acquire the necessary ability. And when this happens your goal changes too, you push the goal back out of your known ability.

So although you’ll never achieve this unachievable goal, you will continue to improve, to get better at whatever it is you’re pursuing. For example, my goal wasn’t to get a book published, it was to get a book published that would become a best seller. Because if my goal was solely to get the book out, I’d be done by now, and my motivation to keep going would be non-existent. It is only when our goal is just beyond our reach that we keep going. Sure, it means you may never feel fully satisfied, by this is the price of ambition anyway.

Your goal, I believe, shouldn’t be something within your current level of ability. Your goal, in whatever it is that you do, should be to achieve something that’s beyond what you think you can do. If I set a goal, I need to feel unsure of whether I’ll even be able to do it. Because if it is unclear, then it’s a worthy goal. If I’m not 100% positive that it’ll all work out, that fills me with enough motivation to ensure that I’ll do as much as I possibly can to achieve the goal.

It’s chaotic, scary, nerve-racking. But it’s also a lot of fun. Shoot for the stars, lands on the clouds, reach beyond what you think you’re capable of.

I also write a Substack.

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