My third book, Ten Lessons from the Road, came out earlier this year. I’m really pleased with it, and I would love people to read it. But I’m realistic about how few people will actually read the book. So I decided to give it away -for free– here on my blog. Hopefully it will reach more people that way.
Ten Lessons from the Road has ten chapters, each one short, sweet and ideal for a blog post. I’m reproducing them here, one each month, and I hope you enjoy them.
The only downside of this is that I can’t reproduce on the blog the beautiful photos and cool layout of the book which make the book what it is. But, hey, it’s free here! You can see how the actual book looks in the 30-second preview video above.
8 – THINK LIKE A GOLDFISH
What is the next minute step you need to take to edge you towards your goal?
Does your outrageous goal appear like a tiny dot on a distant horizon? Worse still, perhaps it is not even in sight – hidden far beyond the horizon, over hostile mountains and unimaginable rivers. This is not a time to be discouraged. Nor is it a time for thoughtful reflection and introspection. It is time to disengage your brain.
If goldfish do indeed have but a 3-second memory, they would have no difficulties here. For all we need to do in order to reach our far-off goal is just to keep moving. Certainly it may take a long time, and the way will be arduous. But if we can ignore all that, it is actually very simple to take just one small step.
Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.
– Henry Ford
The morning I began riding from Patagonia to Alaska, I found it even harder than usual to get out of my sleeping bag. How do you persuade yourself to leave a nice warm sleeping bag and begin cycling, when 17,848 kilometres lie between you and your destination? From Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, to Prudhoe Bay, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean in northern Alaska. Staying in bed seemed a far more attractive option.
All the riding I had done counted for nothing now. I was back at the beginning, a brand new start at the bottom of a continental landmass, whose top was one third of the circumference of the globe away. I was intimidated by the road ahead. The old self-doubt rose through me. But I was going to enjoy this ride up the Americas. I was determined. I climbed onto my bike and began to pedal, away from one sea towards another distant one. Come on, Al, let’s go have some fun! Just ride your bike for a day. That’s all you need to think about. A fun day ride. An easy day ride. String those day rides together, but don’t think about any more than each single, precious day.
I took the first pedal strokes of millions, turning up the crunching dirt track through the lichen-covered forest, away from the sea, back into Ushuaia and out the other side. It was mid-February. I hoped to reach Alaska by the end of summer next year. My ride up the Americas was underway.
Eighteen months later I arrived in Prudhoe Bay, on the northern shore of Alaska. I was amazed to have made it. Reflecting back I thought about my map. All the red lines of roads and yellow blobs of towns had been transformed in my mind. They were now real memories for me, fleshed out and brought to life by hundreds and hundreds of day trips. If you ride enough day trips, you can make it round the world.
What is the next tiny step you need to take to edge you towards your goal?
I am currently working towards an expedition in Antarctica, skiing all the way to the South Pole. Logistically it is a larger project than anything I have done before. The budget, the equipment, the strategy: there is so much to do. But first, all my current steps are directed towards finding sponsors.
Though the way is full of perils, and the goal far out of sight, there is no road to which there is no end: do not despair.
Things were looking good. I had set my goal. I had taken steps to begin it. I had not quit when times were hard, and I was still going. I had got through some bad times and had many more good times. But that did not mean I had the job nailed. I still had so, so far to go. And when I thought about the end it seemed so far away, so unattainable, that I would sometimes grow really discouraged.
Although we need to think big and bold in coming up with our goals, and have the tenacity to back ourselves to begin them, it’s not a good idea to think too often about the far-off destination. I found the journey to be far more manageable if I adopted the memory span of a goldfish, thinking only about the next minute step I needed to take to keep on moving in the direction of my ultimate destination. If we only think as far ahead as the next faltering step, every journey is manageable.
Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life. People in industries are all encouraged to continually think of new, small improvements that can be made. Little by little this leads to great success.
You are capable of so much more than you imagine. You have within your grasp virtually whatever target you set your sights on. To get there may not be easy. It may take your whole life, but if you are sufficiently determined, patient, bold and imaginative, you can reach it. If you think small, you need not grow disheartened. Act only on the next tiny step ahead of you. And if even that appears too large, then figure out how to break it down smaller still. Walk on through the rain,
though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you will arrive someday.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short time and time again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
– Theodore Roosevelt
If you enjoyed this chapter you can read the others here.
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