Milestones, Timemarks and Fartleks

Milestones, Timemarks and Fartleks

This is my 101st blog post.

This is my 19,544th day on Earth.

My 20,000th day will be, incredibly, April 1st, 2020. That will also be my sisters 37nd birthday and the 23rd anniversary of the first public event that Sacred Fools ever put on.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be a Wednesday. Not a great day for a party but it certainly seems like a day to mark in some way.

But this brings up the topic of temporal landmarks, which have tremendous power. Temporal landmarks are things like New Years Day, your birthday and Monday. A 2014 study by Hengchen Dai, Jason Riis and, my favorite social scientist, Katy Milkman, showed that:

“people are more likely to pursue various types of aspirational behavior (e.g., dieting, exercising, goal pursuit) at the start of ‘new epochs’ initiated by the incidence of temporal landmarks, including the beginning of a new week, month, year, and school semester, as well as immediately following a public holiday, a school break, or a birthday.”

Dai, Milkman, and Riis: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior
Management Science 2014

What we do is use temporal landmarks (which I’m going to call timemarks because “temporal landmarks” offends the tiny poet that lives in the back of my brain) to break life into distinct mental accounting periods. We then relegate the old us to the period before the timemark. “Since _(insert random timemark here)_____ I have been exercising every day.”

This is not logical, tomorrow might be your birthday but to everyone else it’s Wednesday, but it works. It works for the same reason that geographic cures and placebo work. Our experience of life is shaped by what we believe and the stories that we tell.

There are also timemarks that you can strive for. Have you ever heard of a Fartlek? Fartlek is a Swedish word that roughly translates to “speed play.” It’s a terrific training technique for runners where you choose a landmark during a run or a hike and you sprint until you reach that landmark. Then you do it again with another landmark. For instance, you might jog along at your regular speed and then sprint between every fourth telephone pole.

It’s interval training and it’s kind of fun.

So if you have something you want to do, set up a Fartlek to a timemark. Commit to walking at lunch every day until May 1st. Many people diet until a special event like a wedding. I know a guy who gave up eating solid food for Lent every year (not a good idea).

Shonda Rhimes’ incredible Year Of Yes came about because she committed to saying yes to things that scared her. She didn’t commit to being a different person forever. She just committed to saying yes for one year. It was a short enough time that she figured she could endure it and go back to her old life. Lucky for her, it was long enough for her to transform her life and, according to her book, she’s not going back.

Happy Birthday!

You don’t have to wait for a holiday or a birthday or the beginning of a month to make a change. Remember that old Frosty the Snowman cartoon? Every time the kids put the magic hat on his head, Frosty came to life and said “Happy Birthday.”

You have my permission to declare any day a special day. Find a magic hat and put it on your head and say Happy Birthday!

You’re welcome.

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