20 Mile March

This is a concept introduced by author Jim Collins in Great by Choice. The idea, is simple. You need to put the work in towards something, each and every day, year after year. Regardless of circumstances that are outside of your control. In the book, he’s referencing companies trying to grow and do impressive things. We can apply it to our daily lives.

Here’s the idea. You start in California, with the goal in mind to reach Maine. You’re going to march 20 miles each day. You start out in sunny San Diego and the weather is beautiful. On the first day, you could push on for 30 miles. Instead, you decide to call it at 20. The next day, same thing, smooth marching, nice weather, could push harder but stop at 20. This continues on for a bit.

You’ve reached the Rockies. There’s snow, brutal wind and it’s a big effort to push forward. You could opt for 10 miles, but you’re committed to 20 miles a day. You still get it, and you get though the mountains on to the plains. Now, you’re trained, you’ve got some miles under your belt and with the flat land you can push 40 or 50 miles a day. Instead, you stay consistent, you hit your 20.

If we take the same concept, but examine a person who started out with 43 miles on the first day. They managed to keep up the pace and get to the Colorado mountains quickly, but then slowed down and was demoralized with the winter weather. They put in some 10 miles days. Maybe a 15. Then decide to take a total rest day. Their initial ambition slowed them down when it really counted to get the miles in. They opted for a heroic effort, not a consistent one.

We need to keep chipping away at what we want to get better at. This concept mitigates the idea of motivation. It’s a story about consistency and moderation over intensity*. As we know, with big pursuits, motivation won’t take us there. We need discipline. 

It pays to only march 20 miles each day. Even when you could take on more. This is important. There will be days where you don’t feel like marching at all, but if you hit your baseline, you’ll move your needle forward. There will also be days where you’re feeling great, and want to put in a 45 mile march. Is that the best move to ensure progress? Or will it lead to burn out?

For you, maybe your 20 mile march is going the gym 3 times a week. Maybe it’s developing better habits around eating. Maybe it’s trying to move, in some capacity, each and every day. For me, right now, it’s this. It’s trying to write every day. Somedays, I could write more than one blog, somedays it’s a struggle, but I’m committed to chipping away 20 miles every day.

Justin MIner


*one of our Core Values at GAIN.

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