In our Endurance Leadership program, one of the tenets is “Once you act, keep moving forward.”  While this seems simple, it is one of the most common challenges I hear from leaders.  People tend to get bogged down for many reasons, some caused by external factors, but many are of our own making.

16406634_10209728548629430_895151390313351154_nA few weeks ago, I completed my second Arrowhead 135, a 135 mile winter ultra-marathon in northern Minnesota. It took me about 53 hours to complete the course on skis, and this year was particularly tough mentally.  My preparation hadn’t been ideal, having dealt with multiple injuries and a schedule that didn’t allow the time I would have liked to train.  But, once I started on the course, there was little to do but keep moving forward.

How many times professionally or personally have you begun a major undertaking feeling underprepared or overwhelmed?  It’s so common that famous quotes and cliche’s would fill an entire blog post on their own.  But this quote from Martin Luther King Jr. speaks so eloquently about relentless forward progress. “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Sometimes it takes everything we have to just do the basic, mundane things to keep making progress.  But progress, no matter how small is at least moving us in the right direction.  The difference between success and failure can often be measured in the small things we do to keep moving, no matter the obstacle.  Sometimes, moving forward even means stopping to rest and regroup.

About 40 hours and 110 miles into the Arrowhead, I was having difficulty staying awake and skiing.  I had only slept about 1.5 hours so far, but was close to the last checkpoint in the race and wanted to get there before sleeping again.  I would ski a few strides, stop, doze off, wake up and repeat the process.  At one point I wasn’t sure if I had moved 10 feet or a half mile in a span of 30 minutes.  I thought about spreading my sleeping gear out and taking a nap, but decided to take my skis off and walk awhile.  I took 20 steps or so, rounded a corner and saw the lights of the checkpoint that meant some warmth, a chance to sleep for a bit, and a place to regroup for the final 25 mile push to the finish.

Those of us who do ultramarathons–and especially winter events–spend a great amount of time thinking and talking about our “systems.”  Our systems are the combination of gear and the way we use it on trail.  Having one’s systems dialed in can be the difference between reaching the finish line and dropping out somewhere along the way.  When the going gets tough personally or professionally, good systems and processes can be a huge support in our efforts as well.

Here are a few that I’ve found helpful for myself and with clients.  They may be largely common knowledge, but when we are struggling, we often don’t take time to do the things we know will help us the most.

–Create checklists and to-do lists
–Do the difficult task first thing in the morning
–Take time to reflect on successes, challenges and available resources
–Create a routine…and stick to it
–Break the larger project into small manageable tasks
–Reward yourself for progress
–State your goal or deadline publicly, so others can help motivate and hold you accountable