Avalanches taught me something about goals.
It’s the time of year where we set goals. We think about what we’d like to accomplish, improve, or overcome. We looking for vertical progress. Horizontal momentum takes care of itself. We want more: We want to step up, move up, or grow up.
The trouble is, most goals are abandoned by mid-February. I wonder if it’s because the goal was too steep.
I read this morning that the critical angle for an avalanche is 35 degrees. Any steeper and the snow slides off before it can consolidate. Any shallower and it doesn’t have enough of an angle to slide down. Put another way, an avalanche needs enough stability to gain mass and enough incline to gain speed.
Now for a bit of math.
A 90 degree step would be straight up. A 45 degree angle splits the difference. But the lesson from an avalanche is that even a 45 degree incline may be too steep.
Avalanches are powerful because they gain momentum. 90 degree goals are steep, inspiring… and destined for long-term failure. 45 degree goals sound attainable, but most often we end up sliding away before we’ve really gotten traction.
90 degree goal: I will do Whole 30, train for a marathon, and watch no television.
45 degree goal: I’ll consume no sugar, caffeine, or alcohol. I’ll exercise every day.
I’ve tried these. By February, I’m worn out.
Instead, I’m trying 35 degree goals. I’m looking to establish (and reset) habits can have a reasonable chance to momentum over several weeks.
35 degree goal: I’ll skip dessert on weekdays. I’ll exercise 3 times a week. I’ll only watch TV after I’ve read for 30 minutes.
If you want to reset habits, think momentum. 35 degree goals may be under-inspiring, but they’ll have a shelf life well beyond that which sounds impressive or inspiring.