The producers of the first Toy Story call it Black Friday. In 1993, Toy Story was on track to be the first full length computer animated film. It was a joint effort between Pixar and Disney.
The movie was being made by the creative people at Pixar, but was being paid for and would be released by Disney. Two years into production, Disney executives didn’t like what they were seeing and ordered production on the movie shut down.
That was Pixar’s Black Friday and there’s a lesson in there as we approach January 1.
In a few weeks, millions of us will dream big. We will write down these dreams and call them our New Year’s Goals or resolutions. Most of these goals will focus on health, finances, and relationships. Some will be all about adding new habits and/or getting rid of old, bad habits.
It’s an exciting time because we are filled with the prospect of transformation.
At the same time, in a few weeks, far fewer people will cross the finish line of the goals they set almost 12 months ago. Research tells us that only 8% of all goals ever reach success. What happens between the starting point and the finish line that derails so many of us?
So does March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November.
In 2006 Ava and I put an addition on our house. We hired a builder who told us before we started, “You’ll love me now and you’ll love me when we get finished, but you’ll hate me in the middle.”
The beginning of a new project or goal is almost always full of excitement. Reaching the finish line is thrilling, but it’s all that stuff in the middle that derails 92% of all goals.
And, all that stuff in the middle is really the stuff of life. And, the stuff of life becomes either a speed bump or a brick wall. How you handle it determines which. For only 8% it’s a speed bump.
To the people working on Toy Story, Black Friday must have felt like a brick wall. But, even though they were told to shut out down, they didn’t. They couldn’t. They were committed to their movie and figured out a way to make it work.
The Disney executives didn’t like Woody’s character. He was nasty and mean in the rough production the Pixar animators were showing them. Disney has a long history of making great movies with characters people love. They knew what they were seeing was not good. It was so bad they pulled the plug.
Making movies is not easy. The hardest part is getting the story right and creating characters the audience pulls for. Walt Disney understood this better than most. He always challenged his story people to try again if it didn’t feel right. Even if it meant adding extra months to production as the stories were rewritten.
The Pixar people understood this. They knew making a full-length movie would be hard and there would be speed bumps. After Black Friday they were determined to turn what felt like a brick wall into a speed bump. So, they appealed Disney’s decision. The Disney executives gave Pixar just two weeks to restructure Woody and the entire story. Pixar did and Disney liked what they saw so production was restarted.
Two years later Toy Story opened to glowing reviews and set box office records.
The excitement was intense at the beginning of the project and it was a thrill to watch audiences love their work, but the people of Pixar had to push through the messy middle to reach their goal. They had to turn what felt like a brick wall into just a speed bump.
On January 27, 1967 the nation was stunned to learn about the deaths of three US astronauts at Cape Kennedy. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were doing a test in their space craft on the launch pad when a fire broke out inside their capsule. They didn’t stand a chance.
Six years earlier, President John Kennedy thrilled the nation declaring the US would land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade. With less than five months remaining in the decade, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin completed President Kennedy’s goal with their successful Apollo 11 mission.
Most thought the moon landing goal died with those three astronauts, but the president and the leaders of NASA remained committed even in the face of terrible tragedy.
Because they knew reaching the goal was going to get messy. They even knew that people would likely die because what they were doing was extremely dangerous.
What separates the 8% from the rest of us is not just the level of their commitment, but also their understanding of how difficult the journey is between the exciting start and thrilling finish.
A few years ago, I set a goal of reaching 1,000,000 steps in a single month. I picked July since there were 31 days and my calendar wasn’t super busy. To reach the goal I would have to average 32,258 steps every day.
My motivation was simply to do something hard. And, I knew the hardest part would be the middle two weeks after my excitement at the start faded, but before I felt the thrill of the finish line. I wanted to challenge myself during those messy middle weeks to keep going even when I didn’t feel like it.
And, you know what? Those two weeks were harder than I imagined. Every day I questioned myself, “Why am I doing this? What a waste of time!” I felt embarrassed to go out for ANOTHER long walk each afternoon. Every day felt like a brick wall.
Knowing in advance how challenging those middle couple weeks would be, even if I underestimated the difficulty, was what kept me going. My real goal wasn’t the million steps, but not giving up.
It was a great lesson that still impacts me five years later. It helped me better understand the dynamic of reaching a challenging goal. Now when I set a goal I have a better understanding of what’s coming. And, what’s always coming is the messy middle where the real work happens without all the fun emotions of the beginning and end.
I have a friend named Steve Miller who is losing a LOT of weight. When he started he weighed well over 400 pounds. He tried losing weight many times, but failed. This time he did something different. He mentally prepared for the messy middle.
He started his weight loss journey on January 1, 2018. He used the month of December to get ready by imaging how he would handle all the scenarios that could derail him. For example, Steve loved fast food so during December he would sit at his desk and imagine how it would feel to NOT run out and get a burger for lunch when he was hungry. Steve understood the excitement of beginning a transformative journey WOULD NOT sustain him in the middle of February when he wanted a quick burger and fries for lunch. He prepared for that and so many other situations he knew would come up.
And, when they did he was ready.
The most amazing thing about Steve’s weight loss, to me at least, is that he has NEVER allowed himself a cheat meal or even a cheat bite. He says those old food desires eventually weren’t even a temptation. He’s got so much momentum now that he’s cruising towards getting under 200 pounds for the first time in many years!
As we get close to a new year and you start thinking of areas of your life you want to change I strongly recommend you take time to do what Steve Miller did. After you set your goals, think about the messy middle. Imagine yourself weeks or months into the journey and how you will handle those situations that have derailed you before.
If you are considering a new fitness goal think through what you will do on those days you simple won’t feel like it or the circumstances of your day make it difficult to do your fitness activities. How will you answer yourself when that small voice in the back of your head asks, “Why are you doing this?”
How will you handle the messy middle when your perceived results don’t equal your perceived effort and the excitement of the goal has faded? How will this new fitness routine feel in April or September?
Taking time to really consider the messy middle of any goal is valuable. It really could mean the difference between being part of the 92% who give up when it feels like a brick wall and the 8% who cross the finish line after turning those walls into mere speed bumps.
If you are considering a brand new fitness effort I also want to recommend using walking as part of what you’re doing. It’s effective, sustainable, flexible, and fun. Walking is also the perfect exercise to start with. To help you get started, I’ve put together a 30 Day New Year Fitness Challenge. This free guide will help you set the perfect goal for you and includes other resources that provide added motivation once you reach that “messy middle.”
If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the brand new Fitbit Inspire 2! The Inspire 2 has double the battery life, and also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.
(By the way…if you use the link above to buy a Fitbit Inspire 2 this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)