Friday, 29 July 2011

If the goal can't be changed, change the focus.

A few days ago, some friends invited me on a day trip to a huge lake in the Peak District.

My pals, rather strangely, enjoy activities like jogging and going to the gym. I've never understood it myself, but each to their own. I like to think my body is finely honed for short bursts of intensive activity but the truth is my pals are just fitter than me.

When I am asked the question, 'Shall we go for a walk?', I usually reply 'Why?' followed quickly by a politish, "No thanks."

I do not enjoy 'walking for pleasure'. Lots of people do it, I know, but it's not my thing. I don't mind walking when there is a purpose like a carboot sale or a treasure hunt or scrambling over rocks to find rockpools. But I can think of more enjoyable ways to raise my heartbeat than 'going for a walk'.

When I was invited, the plan, on arrival at the beauty spot, was:

  •  to have a drink in the visitor's centre
  • walk two miles to a pub
  • have lunch in the pub
  • walk back to the visitor's centre
  • have another drink before departing home.
I figured that I like doing 3 out of the 5 activities, so I accepted the invite knowing I would have fun on at least 60% of the scheduled activities and the other 40% would be character building.

On arrival, we decamped to the visitor's centre and had drinks and scones with jam and cream.

Eventually, the moment for walking came and my pals set off at a cracking pace. At first, I kept pace but soon started to fall back. Being the kind people they are, they slowed their pace and I stepped mine up.

Partly because it was well past my usual lunch time and partly because I didn't know where we were in relation to the pub we were due to have lunch in, I found the walk to the pub distinctly unpleasant. I'm sure my friends must have wondered what possessed them to extend the invite to me in the first place. I certainly wondered it.

We had lunch outside in a quaint little pub garden. The steak sandwich, coleslaw and chips I had wasn't anything special but it seemed much better than it actually was due to the lovely surroundings and company.

The walk back seemed much quicker although we just retraced the same path we had walked to get to the pub.

I can only assume this was down to my full belly and the change in my attitude:

First of all, I knew roughly where I was going on the way back.

Second, I asked my friends not to slow down for me but to let me take things at my own pace. This was a revelation because suddenly my focus changed from keeping up with my pals to suiting myself. Because I was suddenly strolling at my own pace, I started to notice the things around me: the tiny purple flowers on my right, the fallen tree with fungi growing on the trunk, the aromas, the sounds.

I didn't notice the blister that had bothered me on the way to the pub. There must have been no more than three minutes between my friends finishing the walk and me finishing. What I lost out on exercise value, I gained in enjoyment.

I doubt I'm going to be a tree hugger anytime soon but it did make me think that in order to achieve a goal, the same route and same focuses are not necessarily needed.  It also helps me to know the general direction of where I'm going.

Tricky to achieve, but not impossible.

Perhaps this even goes some way to explaining why the personal finance community in the USA is so well developed: same goal, different focus.