The Problem With Swinging For The Fence

I don’t watch a lot of baseball anymore, but if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’d know that I think there’s some great metaphors in the sport.

When I was younger I remember always hearing the announcers talk about simply putting the ball in play instead of swinging for the fences and trying to be the hero.

Being a 10 year old I thought the idea was absolutely stupid.  I didn’t have much logic behind my rationale, but I knew that home runs immediately added to your score and were a lot more exciting than singles so why not go for the long ball?

Of course, the thing I never considered was the opportunity cost of the go big or go home mentality. If you swing for the fence and miss you’re out.  The bases remain empty and your teammate coming up to bat has nothing to work with.

I’m not a strategic baseball mastermind, however, so we’ll leave the direct application of going for the long ball vs putting it into play for the announcers to discuss.  What’s more important is how you can use this idea to easily build momentum and dramatically increase the chances of achieving your goals.

Let’s use exercise as it’s a simple objective example.  Say you’re fifty pounds overweight and you’re so sick of being fat that you decide you’re going to begin running every day.  What’s the intelligent way to begin doing this?

Most people will run for an hour the first and second day, skip a day, run for 20 minutes the next, and then ultimately fall off the train all together.  Why?

Because they tried to be the hero.  We tend to overestimate our will power and once the initial motivation of starting a new workout program wears off I’ve found that nearly everyone who tries to hit a home run ends up striking out.

But if hitting a home run isn’t the answer, what’s the solution to this problem?  Yep, you guessed it.  Just putting the ball in play.

It’s great to use motivation as a push to change your behaviors, but you have to understand that motivation rarely lasts long enough to cement them as habits.

The intelligent way to adopt running or any new behavior for that matter, is to start so trivially small it’s impossible to fail.

Make the commitment to put on your running shoes and run to your mailbox at the end of your driveway.  You may feel stupid, but it’s virtually impossible to fail.  The next day put on your running shoes again and run to the next door neighbors mailbox.  Each day go one mailbox further, and in a couple months you’ll have a respectable running habit.

The catch?  You obviously won’t be getting immediate results.  That’s irrelevant, however, on the backdrop of your whole lifetime.  The weight may not come off immediately, but by dropping your ego and intelligently leveraging momentum you’ll begin dropping weight quickly within a few months.  More importantly you’ll have cemented running as a lifelong habit.  In addition, you’ll also have improved your self-discipline and have an increased ability to adopt any new habits you want.

For each new habit you decide to take up you can start less trivially small than the previous.  The important thing is you’re able to honestly evaluate your level of self-discipline and then set an appropriately small starting point for it.

Although I still occasionally attempt to hit home runs, I’ve found that the majority of the time doing so ends in frustration.  Try both approaches for yourself and let me know how you tackle goal achievement in the comments.


I apologize for this being my first post since Friday.  Ironically enough, the reason it’s been so long since I last posted is because I’m working on a HUGE post that I know is going to be a big home run.  It’s still a week or two from completion, however, so I’ll get back to putting it in play and writing daily blog posts in the mean time.

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