It was 4am on January 6th, 2014. On this day, Chicago was hit by what was called the “Polar Vortex” where northern cities across the United States were at record low temperatures. It was a reported −16 °F (−27 °C) with a wind chill causing it to be −40 °F; so cold that Celsius and Fahrenheit measurements are actually the same.
Like many people across the country, I was already about to skip my New Year's Resolution.
I had spent the last year running in races across the country and was starting to finish in the Top 25. This year, I wanted to train harder, eat better, and finish in the Top 10.
But when I woke up in a city that was so cold that it was being called “Chiberia”, I had lost my motivation. My head was beginning to be filled with the completely rational reasons why I should skip my training, set my alarm for later and head right back to sleep.
“It is dangerous to run in this type of weather.”
“I can’t run inside because the treadmill might give me shin splints.”
“What is one day going to matter?”
“Sleep is good for your muscles.”
“I have been training so hard recently, I deserve to have one day where I rest.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MIDDLE OF THE JOURNEY
We have all experienced this feeling at some point in our lives. What we do not realize is that these moments are some of the most important when it comes to reaching our goals. This is when we make the decision about how committed we really are to achieving what we want. This is the middle of the journey and it is by far the hardest.
It is easy to find motivation on December 31st when you are visualizing what life will be like when you accomplish your goals. You see your results, you see your progress, you see where you want to be, and you get excited about your plan to get there.
It is also easy to find motivation when you nearing the completion of your goal. You see what you have been able to accomplish by adhering to your plan and you are confident that you will be able to see it through to the finish.
You may even work harder as you see how close you are to the finish line. But in order to get there, you need to get through the middle. When the motivation from visualizing and setting your goals has worn off, and the goal is still weeks, months or even years away. That is when one day of progress seems completely insignificant in comparison to the higher goal, so if we “don’t feel good” then we choose to skip it.
This is when our willpower is truly tested. This is when the true achievers set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. Everybody can find motivation when they are inspired and setting their goals, plans and the “big changes” that are about to happen for them. Everybody can get motivated to push hard to the finish of their goal when they are near the end and the goal is in their sights. But only 8% of people even make it that far. 92% of people get lost in the middle.
They wake up tired, they wake up to cold weather, they wake up and “they do not feel right”, so they take the day off. Then that day sets the precedent that it is okay to take another day off. And before they know it, they have given up entirely.
HOW TO GET THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF THE JOURNEY
So how do we make it through this all so important part of the journey? How do we join the 8% of people who see their goals through to completion and achieve what we know we can?
Here are 3 practical ways that you can reframe your perspective and reach the finish line:
1. WIN THE DAY
There is perhaps no harder “middle of the journey” than in getting over an addiction to drugs or alcohol. At this point the addict has lost his or her initial enthusiasm to quit and the process has become extremely painful. They have yet to create their new sober lifestyles and the temptation to slip back to their usual vices is at its highest point.
So what do Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and many other substance abuse treatment programs do to help their patients get through these excruciating times? They have one simple rule – “do not have a drink (cigarette, hit, etc.) today”. 
They know that if their patients focus on a huge goal like giving up alcohol for months, years, or the rest of their lives, the task will seem impossible.
How can they possible endure pain like this for that long?
But by breaking it down to just making it through the day, the addict has a simple goal that is realistic and attainable. This builds their confidence as they achieve their goal every day. Then before long it has been a week, a month, or even a year since they last used.
When we set goals, we usually focus on the results. We see the “after photo” of our lives and get excited to make it happen. But when we hit the middle of the journey, each day is just a constant reminder of just how far we are from achieving that result.
If we shift our focus to simply winning the day, however, our confidence grows with each day. We do not get bogged down by how far we are from achieving our huge abstract goal. Instead our goal is realistic and attainable. We see the value in the progress we make each day, rather than feeling it was insignificant.
Use the “after photo” to guide where you want to go, but then focus all your attention on what you need to do each day to get there. Forget about the result and focus your attention on the process.
2. USE THE SEINFELD METHOD
After a live performance put on by one of the masters of comedy, Jerry Seinfeld, a young comedian came up to his dressing room. He asked him, “What is your secret to success?”
Seinfeld turned to the young man and said, “in order to succeed at comedy, you need to tell better jokes. And in order to tell better jokes, you need to write everyday. So what you need to do is get a giant calendar of the whole year and every day that you write a new joke, mark a big red X on that day. Then it is as simple as not breaking the chain.”
That’s it. That’s what moved Seinfeld from your typical struggling comic to a place where he’s still pulling in a cool $80 million a year.
This is a natural extension of “winning the day”, but it is just as important. Marking each day that you achieved your goal with a big red X builds confidence. It is the marked proof that you have won the day.
Then as you continue to achieve your goal each day, you see the giant “chain” being made and you gain extra motivation not to break it. The Seinfeld method turns winning the day into something concrete and increases your level of self-awareness in the process.
To get started, get a giant calendar (here’s a good one), set your daily goal, and get to work. You must be truthful with yourself and not mark a red X unless you really completed your goal. If you do that, you will see that the motivation to not break the chain is powerful. It may just give you that extra edge you need to win the day!
Something odd happens in our brains when we look at ourselves in the mirror. The part of the brain that would say "hey, that's me in the mirror" is not activated. Instead it is a part of the brain that says "I wish I was taller, skinnier, more muscular, etc." 
In other words, rather than seeing see who we are, we see who we want to be. This is not because we are shallow, it is because we all have an ideal self that we want to live up to. The more that we keep this ideal self present in our minds, the more we will act like them; even without us realizing that we are doing so!
The best way to keep your ideal self in mind is through a process called Self-Monitoring. This means keeping track of as much information on yourself as possible. Like with the mirror, you will look at the information on yourself and compare it to what you really want. This may sound harsh, but if you can be honest and remain objective, you will begin to make subtle changes and identify more with the best version of yourself.
The more we identify with our ideal selves, the easier it will be to make it through those tough days in the middle of the journey . To get started, check out the list of ways to begin self-monitoring at the bottom of this article.
4. UNDERSTAND THAT IT WILL GET EASIER
The middle of the journey is like the 2nd Act of a great movie. The 2nd Act is when the protagonist faces an extraordinarily hard challenge and their character is tested. They must overcome this huge level of adversity in order to achieve their happy ending in the 3rd Act.
Many people believe that the challenges they are facing in the middle of the journey will last forever. So once they hit the feeling of being tired, unmotivated, and demoralized by how far they are away from achieving their result, they give up.
Understand that these moments do not last forever. These moments are the ones that test how bad you really want something. If you can simply get through these times, taking it day-by-day, things will get easier!
You will adapt to the changes in behavior and develop habits that make it easier to achieve your goals regularly. You will grow more confident with each passing day, you will see a huge chain of red X’s on your calendar, and begin to feel and act more like your ideal self. With each day, you will feel more confident that you can do this.
In the journey to achieving our goals, the middle is always the hardest. It is so hard in fact that 92% of people give up. Most of these people give up because they lose motivation once they realize how far they are from reaching their end result.
To overcome these demotivating feelings, we need to shift our focus from the end result to simply winning each day. Winning each day is a goal that we can all achieve. It is something concrete, tangible and motivating. And if we can win each day through the middle of the journey, before we know it we will achieve the results that we were after all along.
The days in the middle of the journey are hard. But if you can fight your way through these challenging days when you are tired and unmotivated, you may just earn some of the best days of your life.
- Kaskutas, L. (2009). Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 145-157.
- Baumeister, R., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Press.
- Duval, S., & Wicklund, R. (1972). A theory of objective self awareness. New York: Academic Press.