What’s Your 20 Mile March?

by Brett & Kate McKay on January 6, 2013 · 56 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development


Nine years ago, business authors Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen, along with a team of 20 researchers, set out to answer this question: Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?

The group analyzed seven companies that performed not just better than their industry, but ten times better. They discovered a very interesting key finding. The qualities that business gurus frequently tout as being the main difference-makers — things like innovation, creativity, and the ability to quickly pivot in a fast-changing world – were indeed somewhat important, but it was actually discipline, fanatic discipline, that was one of the true master keys of the companies’ success.

Instead of constantly changing course, making really aggressive moves, and taking big risks, “10Xers” (as Collins and Hansen dubbed these greatly successful companies) came up with a plan, and carefully, methodically, and consistently stuck with that plan; they moved ever towards their long-term goals instead of getting side-tracked by short-term temptations, fears, and changing circumstances. They didn’t panic during stormy periods, nor did they expand too aggressively during good times.

For example, Southwest Airlines made it a goal to create a different kind of company culture, and turn a profit every single year. While the airline industry as a whole lost money during the recession, and other airlines axed employees and lost piles of cash, Southwest achieved their goal, keeping themselves in the black for 30 consecutive years without ever having to furlough a single employee. As Collins and Hansen explain in the book that emerged from their research on 10X companies, Great by Choice, Southwest did it through careful, consistent growth:

“Southwest had the discipline to hold back in good times so as not to extend beyond its ability to preserve profitability and the Southwest culture. It didn’t expand outside Texas until nearly eight years after starting service, making a small jump to New Orleans. Southwest moved outward from Texas in deliberate steps — Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Los Angeles — and didn’t reach the eastern seaboard until almost a quarter of a century after its funding. In 1996, more than a hundred cities clamored for Southwest service. And how many cities did Southwest open that year? Four.”

The 20 Mile March

Collins and Morten dubbed the slow and steady approach taken by Southwest and other 10X companies “The 20 Mile March.” They took this moniker from imagining a man determined to walk across the United States, and how he could accomplish his goal faster by committing to walking 20 miles every single day  – rain or shine — rather than walking for 40-50 miles in good weather and then very few miles or not at all during inclement conditions.

The pair later came upon the story of the race between Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen to be the first to reach the South Pole, and they were amazed to discover how the differences in the way the two expeditions were executed also aligned with their 20 Mile March idea. Amundsen beat Scott to the Pole and had a pretty smooth and uneventful journey both there and back. Scott reached the Pole only to face the crushing realization that the Norwegians had been there first, and he and his four men perished on the grueling 700-mile return trip. Collins and Hansen found that among the many other lessons comparing the two expeditions can teach us, is that much of Amundsen’s success can be traced to creating his own plan, and then carrying it out with methodical, disciplined consistency. In other words, sticking with his 20 Mile March.

Your 20 Mile March

As I read Great by Choice, I was struck by how applicable the 20 Mile March principle was not simply to corporations or polar expeditions, but to individual lives as well. Many of the men I see struggling to improve themselves usually tackle their goals through an inevitably fruitless series of fits and starts. They get all excited about a new goal or program for themselves and throw themselves into it with gusto, only to soon get burned out, sidetracked by the next cool new thing, or demoralized by a setback. This pattern leaves an unending trail of unfinished projects in their wake.

I completely sympathize with these gents, because I’ve done that too! But as I evaluate the times I’ve been successful in life, I notice a pattern. It usually wasn’t through big Herculean efforts, or snazzy new productivity plans that I achieved my goals, but rather through steady, consistent efforts. I reached my goals by throwing on my knapsack every single day and setting off on a 20 Mile March.

The Seven Elements of a Good 20 Mile March

In the book, Collins and Morten lay out seven elements that create a good 20 Mile March:

  1. Clear performance markers
  2. Self-imposed constraints
  3. Appropriate to the enterprise [or individual]
  4. Largely within your control
  5. A proper timeframe — long enough to manage, yet short enough to have teeth
  6. Designed and self-imposed by the enterprise [or individual]
  7. Achieved with high consistency

Below we take a look at each of these elements one-by-one. Because I think it’s so instructive, we’ll first take a look at how each of these elements played out in the race to the South Pole. We’ll then explore how we can apply these elements in our own lives to create our own 20 Mile Marches.


1. A good 20 Mile March uses performance markers that delineate a lower bound of acceptable achievement. These create productive discomfort…and must be challenging (but not impossible) to achieve in difficult times.

How this element applied to the race to the South Pole. Roald Amundsen and his team of five men skied and sledged for 5-6 hours and went an average of 15 nautical miles a day.

Yet Amundsen did not measure his daily progress in hours, or even individual miles; instead, he used degrees. Fifteen nautical miles represents one-quarter of a degree of latitude, and Amundsen realized that knocking off one degree of latitude every four days and being able to imagine themselves inching their way across the map would be highly motivating for the team. One-quarter of a degree of latitude every single day: this was Amundsen’s clear performance marker.

Fifteen miles a day wasn’t a walk in the park, but it wasn’t exhausting either. Although it took grit and discipline, it was a pace that was doable in fair conditions as well as foul; whether it was calm or foggy or freezing, whether it was smooth sailing over flat terrain, or a team member and his dogs fell into a crevasse and had to be pulled out…on the men went, getting in their fifteen miles a day.

Scott, on the other hand, did not have a consistent goal for how far he hoped to go each day — letting the daily weather conditions and his fluctuating feelings of motivation dictate the pace. On a day with ideal conditions, he might push the men to trudge for 9 hours at a time. When the weather turned ugly, he might decide to not leave his tent at all, even though Amundsen was out in similar conditions.

How this element applies to your own life: Your performance markers basically set out your pace en route to your goal: the minimum effort you’re committed to making every day/week to get to where you want to be. This pace has to be hard enough to stretch you when conditions in your life are ideal, but still doable — as long as you exercise grit and discipline — during times when the poop hits the fan, or you’re simply not in the mood.

So for example, if your goal is to start exercising regularly, and you don’t exercise at all right now, creating a goal to work out for 90 minutes 6X a week is probably going to be impossible to stick with. Instead, pick a goal that’s going to be difficult for you, but still doable if you’re willing to work hard — say 45 minutes, 5X a week.

If you’re looking to write the next great American novel, consider setting a number of words you will write every day. Author JG Ballard (and many other writers) took this approach: “All through my career I’ve written 1,000 words a day — even if I’ve got a hangover. You’ve got to discipline yourself if you’re professional. There’s no other way.”

2. A good 20 Mile March has self-imposed constraints. This creates an upper bound for how far you’ll march when facing robust opportunity and exceptionally good conditions. These constraints should also produce discomfort in the face of pressures and fear that you should be going faster and doing more.

How this element applied to the race to the South Pole. Amundsen kept up his 15-mile-a-day pace for three-fourths of his journey to and from the Pole. When he was nearing 90 degrees south, he increased the pace a little to 20 miles a day, and did the same thing as he got close to his base camp on the return trip.

But other than these small deviations, it was 15 miles the whole way for him. It’s not that he couldn’t have easily pushed the team and their dogs to do more — they were healthy and eager — but he deliberately chose this pace so as to not exhaust his team and run the risk of injuries and sickness. Amundsen’s men passed most of their “down time” resting in their sleeping bags — up to 16 hours a day. But Amundsen saw this rest as a vital part of the overall plan.

For Scott, impatience was one of his weaknesses; he didn’t like sitting around and any kind of delay made him feel anxious. He also felt that if an effort didn’t tax you completely, it hadn’t been enough. Even after a long day of marching, he might decide to keep on pushing. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who accompanied him part of the way to the Pole, recalled: “After nine or ten hours on the march, Scott would say, ‘Oh, well, I think we’ll go on a little bit more’…It might be an hour or more before we halted and made our camp: sometimes a blizzard had its silver lining.”

Because Scott always liked to be going, it was harder for him to see how equally important rest was in the short-term in achieving his long-term goal. Scott pushed his men so hard on the way out to the Pole that the men did not have enough strength left for what turned out to be an even more arduous return journey.

How this element applies to your own life. A 20 Mile March creates two forms of discomfort. The first is the strain from hitting your performance markers as outlined in the first element. But the second form of discomfort can actually be more difficult to deal with — and that’s holding back, even when conditions are ideal for pushing harder. It’s easy to get excited about a goal and go full throttle after it, but this frequently leads to burn out and exhaustion before you ever reach what you’re after. It’s also easy to panic when you see what other people are doing instead of running your own race. Self-imposed constraints keep your short-term temptations in check in favor of continuing to steadily progress towards your goals.

For example, our newbie exerciser above might set 60 minutes a day as his max workout time, so that he doesn’t work out for two hours on days he’s feeling good and his schedule is free, and then feel so tired he doesn’t work out at all the next day.

This element is especially important to remember when you’re starting your own business or side hustle. You look around at what some other guy is doing, how his website looks, and what features he’s rolling out, and are suddenly beset with anxiety and self-doubt that others are outpacing you and doing a better job. Your panic turns into a decision to expand into things that aren’t really part of your vision, which weakens the enterprise and can lead to failure. Oftentimes, when you actually take a minute to reflect on the reality of the situation, you’re not really trying to do what the other guy is, and you’re unfairly comparing apples and oranges. Make corrections when needed, but try to stick with your own plan.

3. There’s no all-purpose 20 Mile March for all enterprises [individuals]. A good 20 Mile March is tailored to the enterprise [individual] and its [his] environment.

How this element applied to the race to the South Pole. One of the biggest factors leading to the failure and success of the respective expeditions centered on the forms of transportation each leader chose.

Scott, who patterned much of his trek after Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 Nimrod expedition, decided to use horses for a quarter of the trek and then man-hauling (the men put themselves in a harness connected to sledges and pulled them, step by step, through the ice and snow) for the rest, just as his predecessor had. But horses were ill-suited to Arctic conditions; they sweated through their hides, which then froze into sheets of ice and they had to be covered with blankets and covers to be kept warm. Moreover, their heavy weight and narrow feet ensured that they sunk deep into the snow and ice with every step. The man-hauling was disadvantageous simply because it was so physically taxing on the men to pull tons of gear 120 miles, up a 10,000 foot rise.

In addition to using the same modes of transportation, Scott used the same base camp area and followed the same route to the Pole as Shackleton had. Scott even checked his progress every evening against that of the Nimrod expedition.

Amundsen, on the other hand, took a different approach. After studying the ways of the Netsilik Eskimos, he decided that dogs were by far the best option for the Arctic environment: dogs ran quickly in the snow and ice and were low-maintenance haulers, they could be fed a variety of foods (including each other), and they kept warm by digging holes to bed inside.

Amundsen also made his base camp at the Bay of Whales, a spot no explorer had camped at previously, and pioneered a brand new route to the Pole. He didn’t know what terrain he’d face en route to his goal, but it was the straightest way there, and not only saved him 120 miles round-trip, but also ended up being an easier path than Scott’s.

How this element applies to your own life. Don’t simply copy the goals and plans of others. Your 20 Mile March needs to be tailored to your individual personality and the conditions of your environment. What worked for someone else (or even you at a different age), might not work for you now.

For example, the way you tackle a goal will be different when you’re a single, college student, than when you’re a married father. Here’s how I’ve seen this dynamic play out in my own life.  Prayer, scripture study, and writing in a journal has been a priority for me for years, but finding time to do it since becoming a father has been tricky. Before Gus arrived in our family (and even for a few months afterwards – newborns sleep a lot), I often had an hour of distraction-free time in the morning to devote to those tasks. It was awesome! But I quickly learned that a toddler doesn’t care about your hour of “me-time.” So I’ve had to adjust. I now pray and write in my journal while Gus plays and Kate’s at the gym. Gus will sometimes come over and pull on the sleeve of my robe, demanding that I “get down on carpet!” (such a tyrannical tot!) to play with him. It’s not an ideal set-up, but it gets the job done (don’t worry — Gus and I have plenty of one-on-one play sessions at other times of the day).

4. A good 20 Mile March is designed and self-imposed by the enterprise [individual], not imposed from the outside or blindly copied by others.

How this element applied to the race to the South Pole. This element largely reiterates the previous one. While Scott blindly copied the plan used by Ernest Shackleton, Amundsen designed his own plan to arrive quickly and safely at the South Pole.

How this element applies to your own life. In order for your 20 Mile March to be truly effective, you need to be the architect of it. Studies show that goals that are imposed by somebody else are decidedly less effective than goals that originate from within the person. Creating our own 20 Mile March 1) gives us a sense of autonomy, which is highly motivating, and 2) allows us to craft it to our specific needs, which ups the chances we’ll actually succeed.

Don’t should on yourself by creating a 20 Mile March you think will please your parents, girlfriend, or friends. By all means, listen to their advice when they give it, but take what they say simply as that — advice. You decide whether to follow it or not. If it fits in with your individualized 20 Mile March, use it. If not, ignore it.

Also, following this element and the one above doesn’t mean you should never look at the 20 Mile Marches of other successful people. On the contrary, I highly recommend studying the lives of people you admire to discover what they did to achieve success. The key is to not simply copy the 20 Mile Marches of these folks wholesale, but rather to use them as inspiration and then to modify them to make the March your own.

5. A good 20 Mile March has a Goldilocks time frame, not too short and not too long but just right. Make the timeline of the march too short, and you’ll be more exposed to uncontrollable variability; make the timeline too long, and it loses power. 

With this element and the next, because they don’t have a strongly resonant parallel to the race to the South Pole, I’ll keep it short and simply talk about how they apply to your own life.

It’s necessary to create a concrete timeframe in which to complete your goals – one that’s long enough to accommodate any unforeseen setbacks, but short enough so you don’t lose motivation and/or experience burn out. For example, if you have a goal to lose 60 pounds, a two-month timeframe to achieve that goal is too short in order to achieve lasting success. Two years is too abstract and long. Nine to twelve months is likely the Goldilocks Zone — long enough to allow you to overcome any setbacks, but short enough that the tangible deadline will keep you pushing yourself.

6. A good 20 Mile March lies largely within your control to achieve.

Don’t set goals where you’re not entirely in control of the outcome. So instead of setting a goal of getting into Harvard, or getting ten new clients – goals that depend somewhat on the behavior/decisions of others — set a goal to get straight A’s your senior year, or to call 100 new business prospects. Those are the kind of things you have complete control over.

7. A good 20 Mile March must be achieved with great consistency. Good intentions do not count.

How this element applied to the race to the South Pole. As discussed above, the key to Amundsen’s success was consistency. Even if there were gale-force winds, Amundsen traveled his daily 15-20 miles. “Travelled completely blind,” he wrote in his journal, “nonetheless we have done our [daily] 20 miles.”  With slow, methodical, and dogged consistency Amundsen achieved his goal.

Scott on the other hand was inconsistent. Some days, when he was feeling strong, and conditions were good, he traveled 45 miles; other days he stayed huddled in his tent, unwilling to brave the harsh elements outside.

How this element applies to your own life. Just as in the race to the South Pole, the victor in life’s race is usually the doggedly consistent tortoise and not the sprint-and-snooze hare.

Barring life-threatening sickness or a family tragedy, put in your 20 Mile March each day. You’ll have days when you won’t feel like doing it. Maybe it’s too cold for your daily 3-mile run or maybe you’re too tired to write your daily 1,000 words for your book. Doesn’t matter. Put on your knapsack and get marching.



I promise you that as you apply the 20 Mile March concept in your own life, you’ll find greater success in achieving your goals. You’ll gain confidence in your ability to succeed even when adversity strikes because you’ll be putting in your 20 Miles even on days when it’s hard and you’d rather not. While you can’t control everything that happens in your life, you can control whether you put in your 20 Mile March for the day. As you see yourself steadily, consistently marching towards your goal, your motivation and drive will begin to increase, and will keep you going until you see your goal through.

What’s your 20 Mile March?


{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dan January 6, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Thanks for the article. Great way to start the year.

2 Sasha January 6, 2013 at 10:17 pm

I really enjoyed reading about these two voyages… and what a difference the mens’ approaches made to the ultimate outcome. The application to our own lives/goals really brought the message home. Thanks!

3 Daniel Haight January 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Love it – actually, I wrote one novel using this strategy and I’m 60,000 words into the sequel now. 2K words a day, rain or shine … nothing more and nothing less.

Some people think you have to wait for inspiration to show up in order to accomplish their goal. I find that if you make the decision to start toward the goal, the inspiration shows up along the way.

4 Tahseen January 6, 2013 at 11:19 pm

This article reminds me of “The Tortoise and the Hare”:.
I have a question. Can I have multiple 20 mile marches going at the same time? For example, one for exercising and one for my career/studies?

5 Jack Henry January 7, 2013 at 1:26 am

Just the stuff I needed today. Thanks Brett and Kate

6 Cole Matson January 7, 2013 at 1:33 am

Thanks for this. My two 20 Mile Marches for the year are:

1) Complete a first draft of my PhD dissertation.
2) Lose 35 pounds.

My daily goal (Mon-Fri) is 500 words/day (about a page-and-a-half), which is quite doable. With what I’ve written so far, that’ll give me a 60,000-80,000 word draft by fall.

My daily goal for the weight loss, at this point, is to return to my daily 1/2-hour walks which got interrupted over the holidays. After a month of those, then return to either my running program (which was interrupted a few years ago by an injury, and never resumed), or my horseback riding lessons (depending on schedule and cost). Increasing exercise is easier for me to changing diet, to starting to make small dietary changes (like drinking Coke Zero instead of Coke) will come in a third phase later in the year.

7 Phil January 7, 2013 at 2:05 am


I don’t think that’s impossible. As long as you don’t maladjust your goals, that is, you should know which one comes first. For example, I wouldn’t bother with becoming a professional in weightlifting simultaneously with my studies, because I put more emphasis on the latter and it’s much more important to me. But it is still manageable to do both – exercise and studies – just make sure to pay attention to your limits when you set your goals.

Anyway, nice article Brett! Thank you.

8 Becky January 7, 2013 at 2:08 am

Really excellent article. I loved the part about not “shoulding all over yourself.” Thanks also for all the links to more great articles and books. I really enjoy the stuff you guys put out.

9 Scott January 7, 2013 at 6:08 am

Great article folks. I’ve been trying to figure out how to properly set out my New Year resolutions and this guide is the perfect way to go about it :)

ps. Got the ‘Art of Manliness’ book for Christmas. A superb read and essential for all men-folk out there.

10 Derrick January 7, 2013 at 6:14 am

I believe you can have multiple 20 mile marches going on at the same time but be wary of stretching yourself too thin.

To stick with the South Pole race example. If Amundsen had a second goal of making it to a certain set of coordinates or geological feature on the way to the South Pole it would have lengthened the amount of time required to make it to the South Pole, potentially. He would have, potentially, conflicting goals and priorities vying for his attention and resources.

You only have so much time in a day, so much money to spend, and so much willpower to focus with. Be wary of stretching yourself too thin and making it more difficult to meet goals and priorities. However, there are ways to create synergies with multiple goals and there are ways for you to manage having multiple 20-mile marches at the same time too.

Back the previous example. If Amundsen wanted to see a specific place of Antarctica on the way to the South Pole maybe in his original planning he could place that point as near to the desired path as possible or maybe he chooses an alternate return route. So in reaching his overall goal he would be meeting the second goal in the process. What if his desire was to travel the entire edge of the continent? In that case he must choose one or the other.

So if you have multiple 20-mile marches you are trying to focus on look at ways you can create synergies between them instead of having them fight for your personal resources. An example to explain myself. If I have a goal to lose 50 pounds and read 50 books this year. I will take my free hour each day to go to the gym. I could create a synergistic effect by reading while running on the treadmill. I may not be able to read all 50 books this way but maybe I could get through 15, which reduces the additional amount of time I need reading.

At the end of the day it depends on what your 20-mile march will be and whether you have the resources, not necessarily the willpower, to dedicate to them. Make it a well thought out decision. Each secondary goal you create for yourself will distract from the others.

11 Brian January 7, 2013 at 7:03 am

I haven’t read the book yet, so this was a great review of it. Good tips and good examples. I write and speak about fitness, and definitely endorse the “slow and steady” (perhaps even boring) approach. It’s the intentional, scheduled exercising five days a week for 45 minutes that wins over the New Year’s Resolution to give up and only eat vegetables!

12 Brian January 7, 2013 at 7:08 am

BTW, I’ve also used this approach in my work life. Working as a software engineer for software startups, I’ve always taken the approach of working 9-hour days every day rather than working 40-hour weeks most of the time and then having to work weekends or 70-hour weeks for stretches. I’d rather have a consistent and maintainable schedule for the sake of my family and for the sake of my “intellectual endurance.”

13 Sean January 7, 2013 at 7:08 am

Great article.

14 J. Delancy January 7, 2013 at 8:51 am

Brett, you always write the kind of articles I wish I could write.

The real power of this piece is not the description of the race to the South Pole or the difference in the two leaders of the expedition. The power is in your personal story of how you read Scripture and meditate each day. Whether believer or atheist most of us do not spiritually or mentally focus ourselves on a daily basis. In a world in which we can be distracted by our phones, tablets, social media, etc, it is easy to lose sight of goals and how to reach them.

Also, western culture seems to have largely abandoned steadfastness as a virtue. Strategies for success in sports, business, relationships and life seem to all be variations of Blitzkrieg.

Kudos on this post, BrettandKate.

15 Glen Long January 7, 2013 at 8:56 am

Fascinating stuff – I knew a bit about Scott and Amundsen but had no idea their approaches were so different.

Love the 20 Mile March concept though. Some days it’s easy, some days it’s hard, but you always do your 20 miles.

I guess it’s also much easier to predict when you’ll reach your goal.

It reminds me of a book I read years ago about project management which talked about the folly of relying on pure “heroic effort” to complete a project on time. Even if it works in the short term, your team is so burned out by the end that they’re not fit for the next project (in Scott’s case – getting back home!)

16 LacksFocus January 7, 2013 at 9:26 am

Slow and steady wins the race. No doubt! My wife and I are applying this approach to saving for retirement and paying off debt – a real challenge for us since we’re so good at spending money. Thanks for the article!


17 Nicholas Ward January 7, 2013 at 9:43 am

Thanks ya’ll. Nice article.

18 Mark January 7, 2013 at 9:48 am

The internet can be maddening. I read this site religiously, and I also read others that appeal to me, and while you guys advocate this approach, there’s another dude who says that goals are actually *bad* ( http://goo.gl/tKYh ). I would sorely love to write him off as just a lucky nutcase, but the thing is that he’s pretty much succeeding at this. It’s sometimes hard to know what to do, you know?

19 Aaron T. January 7, 2013 at 9:58 am

My 20 Mile March is to pay off student loan debt. My wife and I have a plan that we are sticking to strictly.

20 jerry January 7, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I was a mutt and a hard head until I joined the Marine Corps and found the real me within myself or get run over and left behind. That was nearly 50 years ago and I am thankful for the privilege every day since. I mean that. Semper Fidelis

21 mark January 7, 2013 at 12:35 pm

My 20 mile march is to get ready for a GURUCK challenge in June… Almost a month in and still strong

Thanks for this great post

22 David M January 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm

As an ex-marathon runner, I had 3 hip surgeries by the time I was 36, each one requiring 6-8 months of rehab. My discipline was to do 30-45 minutes every night post-op on the bike or elliptical and all the stretches and exercises prescribed by PT – NO MATTER WHAT. This means if you go out with your buddies, go on vacation, you HAVE to hit it for that small amount of time- even if that translates you working out at 1:30 am (it happened often). When people ask why I handled it that way, I always say that is is very easy to find a reason NOT to do it on any given day (have a cold, tired, laundry, holiday party…the list goes on), so I eliminate that option to avoid a slippery slope of taking days off.

23 Ethan January 7, 2013 at 1:43 pm

A great method to assist in achieving large goals. No matter how big a project or even dream, it can be broken down into manageable chunks.

I have a few “20 Mile Marches” this year, so I better get my boots on.

Great Article!

24 Brian January 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm

This is an excellent expansion on the given principal. I am reminded of my own personal success when applying it to fitness goals, and this article has made me think of other ways in which I might be able to institute these methods. Thank you

25 Mike January 7, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Brett, Kate,

Articles like this, and the recent series on honor, are what keep me checking this site daily. I’ve told you before, but AoM is incomparable when it comes to providing motivational fuel. Thank you both, and keep up the great work.

26 Nathan Magnuson January 7, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Brett & Kate, this is a great piece expounding on some great writers/researchers. I remember being pretty excited reading Good to Great the first time through. Thanks for bringing us back.

27 David Y January 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm

The “slow and steady” approach has worked well for me over the years, whether in exercise, finance, or other areas. Just a boring, methodical guy I guess.

Anyway, welcome back. Hope you all enjoyed your holdidays.

28 Roger January 7, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Thanks for the great article. I just recently discovered your site and I think it’s great. I have been reading ‘Self-Control; It’s Kingship and Majesty’ as recommended on your site. This is truly inspirational stuff.

This is the perfect article for the beginning of the new year. My father just passed away a couple of weeks ago. To me he was an example of manliness. I loved his example and words of wisdom. Of course, nothing can replace my dad, but this site has so many words of wisdom that I can picture him giving to me.

Thanks again.

29 K January 7, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Great Stuff- a lot of powerful ideas to consider. Collins totally rocks. A lot of his other books hit some great points on how to bring greatness to life and in general are greatly inspiring. I used them in the past while coaching. Thanks!

30 Daniel Howard January 7, 2013 at 6:48 pm

This is a wonderful article. I wanted to print it out for future motivation, but … perhaps you folks can tune your print medium stylesheet sometime? Thanks!


31 Bryan January 7, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I’m pleased to realize that now approaching the age of retirement, I have lived something of a 20 mile march for most of my life, without really understanding the merit. Slow and steady has considerably more merit than the flashy approach I used to envy in some of my contemporaries—some of whom have now succumbed to coronaries, divorce, bankruptcy or alcoholism. I guess a life well lived may be a plodding 20 mile march after all.

Great article.

32 channel_one January 7, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Extending the North Pole attempt analogy, pay attention to the subtle, but powerful consequences of setting a goal *slightly* too high for days on end and then sticking to it at all costs.

Day 4 of walking for 6 hours/whatever hours is not bad. Day 14 is pretty tough even if you have 1000′s of KM in your legs from the start.

My point as mentioned, be ready to lower the goal and don’t judge the lower goal as bad. Just hit the goal on day 30, 90, 180, 360 days.


33 Cesar Santamaria January 7, 2013 at 11:38 pm

This is a great article. Many times I’ve been caught in not stopping myself in work because I ‘get inspired’ and work well past what I planned to do, only to be exhausted and mentally wasted the next day, and of course awfully less productive.

Great advice!

34 Thomas January 8, 2013 at 12:45 am

It’s great how this puts you in control, rather than being subject to your situation.

35 lp January 8, 2013 at 2:08 am

wow. i have been working on becoming a better man for the past couple months now. (i’m 21). newly.

this website has been a nice “rock” among my numerous rocks in which i seek guidance, reassurance or just something to enjoy that isn’t mind-numbing.

So thanks for this article, it was great!

36 Caleb January 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Ive had several 20 mile marches going on for a while now. paying off debt. completing my MDiv. starting a non-profit counseling ministry. losing weight. fixing up our formerly foreclosed house. redoing our yard. cleaning out old clothes/books/etc that we don’t use.

it is definitely the way to go! Thanks for the article!

37 Jonathon Reed January 8, 2013 at 8:45 pm

For the first time in my life I find myself faced with an overwhelming amount of doubt and uncertainty regarding my future. I allowed myself to become distracted and my mismanagement of stress lead to an unsuccessful semester at my University. I have decided to make a change of study and I feel that because I ended my last semester in such a bad way that I won’t be starting my new study off with the momentum I’d like to have. This article took me back to my time in the Corps when our Drill Instructors would press us on by stating, “One foot in front of the other.” This has certainly helped me find clarity in what I need to do now to ensure that I begin a good steady pace at my new study and that I see it through to the end. Thanks AoM for another great article!

38 Justin January 9, 2013 at 12:42 am

What an awesome article. I am a youth minister at a growing church, trying to reach new people and have fallen into the pitfalls you describe here. Some days I will work until I collapse, other days it is difficult to motivate myself to do much at all. I was listening to a podcast by Andy Stanley earlier today outlining the same principles or leaving yourself breathing room, with the implication that you should still be faithful. I will be printing this one out – thanks!

39 Matt January 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I made a resolution this year to memorize the book of Romans. Thanks to the prompting effect of this article, I have decided to do 5 verses a day.

If I can memorize the words to a tongue-twister of a Hobbit drinking song in roughly an hour and have it secure in my head by the end of the day, I can certainly do this.

40 West January 9, 2013 at 3:55 pm

This post answers the whole “How do you eat an elephant?” question. (One bite at a time.)

@Matt Go for it, man. I memorized Romans 1 a while back and have been meaning to do the whole book, too.

My 20 mile march is to read Calvin’s Institutes, take a missions course (which I’ve begun), and start taking piano lessons. I created a new Google calendar to track my days in 30 minute segments, and am finding it very useful. I’m using CalenMob on my iPad and iPhone to help out. Working well.

I’m also using a couple of workout apps that operate in the spirit of this post: Runtastic’s PushUps PRO and Squats PRO. They’re excellent and match up methodically/ philosophically with the post, in that they set reachable goals if you push, but have ceilings to keep you from burning out.

41 Rob January 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

Thanks for another great article Brett & Kate. As many others have said, this is a great way to start and maintain the New Year. Keep up the great work.

42 Meaghan January 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm

What an incredible article, philosophy, book. I look forward to reading more like this- my male friend sent this along assuming I’d enjoy it, and I fear I’ll be stuck clicking around your site for hours.

Sure, some of this we’ve heard before, but I think a phenomenal and oft overlooked point is to have that upper limit as well. Discipline doesn’t always mean keep going- sometimes it means pulling back, conserving, strategizing. Truly, thank you.

43 Joel D Canfield January 10, 2013 at 7:00 pm

This is how I’ve written 10 books in 5 years. Excellent extraction from Collins’ book. Great application.

These concepts tie right in with the book I’m writing about creating art. Good stuff.

44 John January 13, 2013 at 7:28 pm
45 Waylow January 23, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Where are you getting these great vintage pictures and when will we see a 20 Miles TEE SHIRT

46 Hassan January 24, 2013 at 8:10 am

I love reading from you guys and I think you have really molded me to be someone different in a positive manner. Thanks

47 Patch Vader January 28, 2013 at 9:21 am

I agree with the philosophy, but add a thought.
I have found that adding a stopwatch to the routine to be quite helpfull. Buy one at wally world for around $15 and integrate that into your daily list and work plans. It adds the desciopline that we sometimes lack.

48 John Stirling January 31, 2013 at 8:54 pm

This was a very useful article. I have found the greatest success I have achieved is in long-term change with daily effort toward it. I have used this especially in the physical aspects of my life but looking forward to pushing my consistent 20-mile march mentality as well. Reading and studying other role models and man I admire is a very useful exercise and one I will use as a starting point for the application to my own life.

“I am going outside. I may be sometime.”
-Captain Lawrence Oates, Antarctic Explorer

49 Prince Walter May 8, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Daily effort is indeed key. And i think once everything becomes a habit then it’d be easier. 20 miles will be nothing.

50 Jason Viper June 28, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Excellent piece. I have been applying many of the principles already, but this article led to a deeper reflection and I have found many gaps that I can shore up. Most poignant to me was the principle of achieving things which you control (getting straight A’s, not getting into Harvard.)

51 Georgene Spitsberg July 22, 2013 at 10:48 am

I love to get letters with U.S. commemorative stamps on them; I collect these. How are your letters stampedor are they metered (yech)?

52 Alex September 4, 2013 at 6:46 am

it’s an interesting read however I do not agree with many points you made in this article.

the idea of slow and steady makes much sence but it is a princible which cannot be confined to doing ‘X’ and only ‘X’ every day. This seems so limiting and doesn’t take into account practicalities.

You say that Amundsen kept a pace that didn’t deviate and lead your readers to belive that this is what one the day however you also state that he and his team travelled many fewer miles and had an easier path.

You mention motivation be present however I fail to see how this is likely for such a repetitive routine and question whether one would still ‘march’ when ill or dealing with other priorities.

Lastly, although I like the passion and understand the idea, you are presenting only the possible benefit and not mentioning the limits, difficulties and flaws in this idea.

53 andarb October 8, 2013 at 5:27 pm

“Lastly, although I like the passion and understand the idea, you are presenting only the possible benefit and not mentioning the limits, difficulties and flaws in this idea.” What might those be?

The concept is sound. Demanding a certain amount of progress from oneself, regardless of any and all obstacles, and limiting one’s efforts to reign in overzealous effort. Refusing to say “I’m too tired” or “The weather’s poor” and instead saying “I’m going to go out and do this.”

54 Nate January 8, 2014 at 9:16 am

How would one apply this to a draining engineering program at university? Week to week the 20-miles seems to vary, based on assignments, text readings, exam preps and outlining.

Since the activity varies so much, how can a student avoid setting his 20-miles to simply be X-hours/wk (not ideal at all)?

55 Alan January 8, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Yes, thanks for posting. I believe that squad leader on the left is SGT Audie Murphy.

56 Jared January 15, 2014 at 10:42 am

Thank you for posting this. I’m a scout, and I’ve been moving my way up in the ranks of our National Youth Leadership Course. I’m taking on the challenge of leading it this year. While we have some great steps to setting goals, this is a good way to look back on them, and compare them to outside knowledge, and improve them when I can. (also really like the linked article to the expedition. It was eye opening look at leadership.)

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