In 1911, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott each led an expedition to be the first to reach the South Pole.
Both Amundsen and Scott set out at the same time but their strategies varied significantly. Only one group of explorers returned.
Robert Falcon Scott let the weather determine his team’s movement. If the weather was favorable, they would push great distances. If the weather was brutally punishing, they wouldn’t move at all. In early December, stopped by a blizzard, Scott wrote in a journal entry, “I doubt any party could travel in such weather.”
Roald Amundsen’s team advanced 15-20 miles every day, regardless of weather or how the team felt. 20 miles a day, no matter what. Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole on the exact day he planned to and returned with all men in his expedition team alive. In similar weather conditions, here was Amundsen’s journal entry: “It has been an unpleasant day. Storm, drift and frostbite, but we have advanced closer to our goal.”
Scott’s team perished only eleven miles from the supply depot. In the end, it was believed that Scott’s strategy of inconsistency was what caused the death of his entire expedition team. Amundsen’s team arrived at the South Pole on the very day he planned.
I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.
– from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen
This is the essence of the 20 Mile March: consecutive, consistent performance. The 20 Mile March is a term coined by Jim Collins, the author of Great By Choice (HarperBusiness).
We all have a vision, a goal. We want to accomplish it. More than that, we need to accomplish it.
But each time we start our journey, life interrupts. We face distractions or setbacks. We need to move forward but we don’t know how.
We need a 20 Mile March.
The 20 Mile March is how I reach my writing goals. I break down each writing project into manageable daily word counts. I aim to finish a project months before the deadline, so there’s plenty of breathing space for editing, for improvements, for the unexpected. When I interrupt my consistency, the next few days become more stressful. I need to play catchup and have to push harder than before.
Even if I’m on a roll, I stop when I hit the day’s word count. Sound counter intuitive? Stopping actually helps me not over-stretch. It sets me up the next day to pick up the story at a good place and run with it.
Back to the South Pole in 1911…
Amundsen’s team was 45 miles from the goal. They could make it to one giant push to the pole. They didn’t know where Scott’s team might be because his team was coming in from a different angle. So what did Amundsen do? He went 17 miles that day. He knew that if his team made it to the Pole in one push, they would be exhausted. If something unexpected happen, if a storm brewed, they wouldn’t make it back. He held to that steady philosophy, even in the toughest of conditions.
If you have a goal and haven’t broken it down into daily targets, I encourage you to create your own 20 Mile March. It will help you focus on your goal and what needs to be accomplished. Regardless of what your march is–literal or metaphorical–just remember the importance of being consistent and consecutive.
Question: Do you have a 20 Mile March? How has it impacted your life? I’d love to hear your goals and how you’re achieving them.