Whatever you want to achieve with your future is accomplished by your actions of today.
BUGs. They are everywhere. They are a part of everyday life and every runner has them. They crawl around our lives and we think they are doing us good. Sometimes they are beneficial but most of the time they are a nuisance that keep us from performing at our best.
BUGs = Big Uncontrollable Goals.
I am currently training for a road marathon. It seems so short and fast compared to my 20+ hour ultramarathon slogs in the woods. The marathon is on Halloween in Massachusetts. Of course I have to dress up! I am thinking of going as a runner. As soon as I registered for the race back in April 2021, my mind reeled and like we all do, I created a BUG: to run sub 3 hours.
There are two reasons this is a BUG for me:
1) The race date was a loooong time in the future and, at the point I was at in my fitness, a sub 4 hour marathon was barely achievable. This makes it Big.
2) There are thousands of factors that go into whether or not this is achievable such as how my body holds up to the rigors of training (will an injury sideline me for 8 weeks?), what life throws at me (will my job force me to have to halt training for weeks?), race day conditions (will I be running into a 20 mi/hr headwind?), race day health (will I be battling a cold?) and so many other factors: blisters, stomach issues, chafing, rain, heat, sleep, mental health, etc. These all make it Uncontrollable.
When a running goal goes astray.
We all have BUGs. We like them because they are concrete, measurable, easy to describe to others when they ask what we are working on, and are simple to use in comparing ourselves to others (read this for the dangers of comparison). Our coaches like them because they are useful for creating our training plans. They can act like a carrot in front, or a whip from behind, that can help us get off the couch when we don’t feel like training. BUGs have these few benefits and can also cause massive harm.
Here is the issue with a BUG. The goal infests our mindset. Many runners become fixated on their BUG and base their success and self-worth on whether or not they achieve it. When the BUG becomes our main motivator in our daily training, it starts laying eggs of doubt, fear, and frustration in our mind. When we have a lackluster training session where we don’t hit our targets, a doubt egg hatches – “are we even good enough to achieve our BUG?” When we miss a few weeks of training due to an uncontrollable injury, a fear egg hatches – “will the plethora of people we told our BUG to still respect us if we don’t achieve it?” During the actual race, a frustration egg hatches – “Damn, that actual egg I ate this morning is doing summersaults. Is my stomach issue going to keep me from achieving the BUG I’ve dedicated so much time to for the past 8 months? Is my breakfast going to ruin my dream??”
Many runners develop an unhealthy relationship to their BUG in which they use it to measure their success. We may train 360 days out of the year but BUG heavy runners base their success on just the few race days they compete in. They lose sight of the reward that their daily investment provides. Some runners even push their contentment to after their event. In other words, they adhere to the “I’ll be happy when…” mindset, meaning, “I’ll be happy when I achieve my BUG.” These runners will wait months until the main event to feel the joy that running can bring. So, what happens if they don’t achieve their BUG due to some uncontrollable factor? What if their BUG is too big and unrealistic to begin with? Queue the anger, frustration, anxiety, low self-worth, and even a loss of passion for running.
A runner only embarking on a journey for the completion of their BUG takes their mindset out of the present and launches it onto a future outcome. When we focus on outcomes, we take our present moments for granted. This loss of gratitude for our process forces us to lose touch with our valuable neutral thoughts. Our body is always stuck in the present moment. We can’t time travel and have our body transform instantly to 10 years younger or 10 years older. Yet, our mind is always zipping back and forth from the past to the future and back again. Our body performs best when our mind hangs out with it in the present moment. An unhealthy fixation on a BUG while we run makes our body perform like crap.
You cannot perform in the present if you are focused on the outcome.
Treat your BUG like the North Star, not the New Land.
Let’s say you are trying to cross the ocean and sail to a new land you’ve never encountered (also, it the year 1,256 so you have no GPS. Bummer). You need help navigating to this new land, and you identify the North Star as your reference. The North Star sets your direction.
Once your direction is set, you shift your focus to the controllables: your actions and attitude. You notice all that is around you – the smells, the sounds, the sights, the feels, the tastes. Eventually, you reach new land. You admire the new land, explore how it feels, notice the differences and similarities to your old land, and soak in all that you experienced along the way. In this analogy the new land is not your BUG, it is you and the North Star is your BUG. The journey changed you. You learned. You grew. You aren’t the same person as you were when you left.
The North Star guided your journey but it didn’t define your outcome. The simple fact that you invested time into the pursuit of a new you is the true gift.
Your Mission is more important than your BUG.
How do we set BUGs, but then focus on our controllables? First, set a Mission. A mission is a personal statement we write that drives our daily actions and attitudes, a.k.a. our controllables! It becomes our scorecard for measuring our success. Whereas a BUG focuses on future outcomes and results, our Mission focuses on present excellence and growth. Our Mission is our blueprint for being our most successful self and it gives us something controllable to achieve each and every day which enhances our confidence and self-worth. Concentrating on our daily mission gets us more focused on the present moment rather than always looking into the uncontrollable future.
Coach Joe McConaughy has every one if his athletes set an outcome and process goals. The outcome goals are really for him so he can plan the training. The process goals are more like missions and they are for us helping to keep us fulfilled along our journey.
Once we create our Mission, we should make that our daily focus. Make it our phone background, scribble it onto the front of our athlete journal, type it at the top of our training plan, even write it on the toes of our running shoes!
How to create your Mission.
Complete the following reflections that will get your mission juices flowing. Focus on one reflection at a time. Work on that reflection for 2 minutes, then move on to the next. This should take 15 minutes.
1) Identify Past Prides
List 3 moments in your past where you felt very proud of yourself or felt high self-worth.
This helps us understand what joy feels like and hone in on the arenas that bring us joy. Living out our mission each day helps us feel this type of joy.
2) Identify Values
List 3 core values that you identified from our first workshop.
This helps us understand what we want to showcase to the world and what we want to see more of in others.
3) Identify Contributions
List the top way you make a difference in each of these groups:
- A running team or community you are apart of
This helps us understand the strengths we give to our communities and how these strengths make an impact.
4) Identify Legacy
List 3 ways you would want people to describe you behind your back to someone else.
This helps us understand how we best want to impact others.
5) Identify Future You
Write about what you want your life to look like and what kind of person you want to be five years from now. This isn’t about what you are doing for activities, but how you are living and feeling each day.
This helps us understand what is really important to us long term. In order to get there, we focus on simply being successful with the day we are alive which happens when we live out our mission.
6) Write Your Mission
Fill in one of the templates from below or by free-writing your own. A few tips:
- You don’t need to write your perfect Mission on the first try. Write a draft, read it out loud and see how it feels. If needed, edit it and and write a second or even a third draft until you feel that your mission statement is true to you.
- Pull items from your reflections that mean the most to you.
- Be sure that any actions in your Mission are based on controllables and completing your mission is something you can do right where you are using only what you have, at any moment in life.
My mission is to [controllable actions you want to engage in each day] so that [describe the impact you want to make on yourself or others through running] because I value [list one or two of your values].
My mission is to live each day with [list one of two of your values] so that [describe the impact you want to make on yourself or others through running].
My mission is to [describe the impact you want to make on yourself or others through running] by [describe the controllable actions you want to engage in each day].
My mission is to [describe the controllable actions you want to engage in each day] in order to [describe the impact you want to make on yourself or others through running].
My mission is to live each day with [list one of two of your values] and be known for [describe the legacy you want to have].
Our Mission gets us back to the present.
When you are focused away from your process and onto the uncontrollables of outcomes, an easy way to get yourself back to your present mission is to identify gratitudes. When we focus on results we tend to force things that are out of our control or what we don’t yet have.
I know I have to run 6:30 pace to break 3 hours in the marathon but some days in training I can’t do it. If I focus on what I don’t have – not being able to run 6:30 pace yet – I am simply going to frustrate myself and perform even worse. Our mission shifts our focus back to what we do have and helps us focus on our controllables in the present moment.
Evren’s 2021 Mission:
My Mission is to give every run my best in order to practice giving my best to other people.
I revisit and rewrite my mission each year. Our values change, our relationship to running changes, our body changes, and our BUGs change. Our Mission is a living breathing phrase with great power. Training used to be stressful for me because every training run was just a stepping stone to the BUG and a bad run to me meant that I wasn’t good enough to achieve the BUG. Over time, this mindset put me in a very negative space and I associated running with this negativity.
Through my mission, I’ve turned running into my place where I am my best me and low and behold, my results are improving. Running with a focus on my mission rather than my BUG has made running my happy place. Whether my training or race results are good or bad is now irrelevant to me. I focus solely on my mission and through it, I achieve every single day I lace up my shoes. Will I break 3 hours on Halloween? All that matters to me is that I give it my best. If my best that day gets it done, so be it. If it doesn’t, I’ll still feel accomplished for achieving my mission. #runyourlife
What is your BUG?
Evren Gunduz is a leadership and mindset coach for teens as the CEO & Founder of Enjoy Life Education. He coaches individuals and teams to construct leadership skills, mental strength, and high achieving culture. He has been a competitive runner since 2014 and has been coached by Joe McConaughy since 2017. With a passion for trails and a love of suffering, he has completed ten ultra distance events ranging from 50 kilometers to a 100 miler. He lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife Tara who is a high school math teacher and certified yoga / mindfulness instructor. Together they run, ski, play coed soccer and coach the high performing Dover-Sherborn Varsity Girls Soccer Team.
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