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The Movement of Goalposts


No radiologist wants to be told to do more for the same result.

Recurrent readers of this column may know that I’m more than a little committed to physical fitness, and that as an inhabitant of a temperate zone I undergo a reluctant late-autumn routine of swapping outdoor running for an indoor treadmill. The happy flipside of this is, sooner or later, circumstances permit me to leave that torture-device behind and I once again get my aerobic activity in the great outdoors.

There’s always an uncertainty as to how I’ll do when resuming running an actual 6-7 miles, as opposed to flailing my legs, cartoon-like, in place while the treadmill belt scrolls 6-7 miles past under my feet. I daresay anybody who’s done much running will tell you that it’s just not the same thing. Increase the machine’s speed and/or incline, spend longer amounts of time on it, whatever…some degree of deconditioning will present itself. (For instance, my legs currently feel like Silly Putty after yesterday’s outing.)

Enough years of this, and I’ve gotten accustomed to the humbling experience of not quite being able to do the same degree of roadwork I had been just before retreating indoors. Instead, as I head out for the first time in weeks/months (depending on how harsh the winter has been), the internal dialogue begins as to how much I’ll be able to accomplish.

It’s not the first time this has happened, but I took particular notice of it this time around: The self-assessment changes as I go along. First, it’s whether I can maintain a run over each upcoming hill along my course. Once it becomes evident that I can/did, the focus shifts to whether I’ll be able to complete my usual distance without slowing down to a walk (or taking a shortcut). If that’s going well, I find myself wondering whether, upon getting home, the clock will reveal that my pace wasn’t too far behind what I had been maintaining the previous year.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"46674","attributes":{"alt":"reluctance in radiology","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_9910444118492","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"5434","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 190px; width: 190px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©shockfactor.de/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

In other words, as I’m doing well, rather than mentally patting myself on the back for meeting these mini-goals, I tend to shift my goalposts to what the next achievement might be. (And, for those years in which things aren’t going so smoothly, I try to soothe my wounded ego by scaling back my expectations…for instance, focusing on how I managed to get out and run at all.) It’s not out of some grand preconceived scheme for perpetual self-improvement, but I suppose that’s what will hopefully result.

It did occur to me that I have not always been in favor of such moving of goalposts. Namely, when outside forces see fit to move them for me, a la the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” Nobody much likes it when outside forces meddle, say, to make it so they have to read 10% more cases or spend 10% more time at work to earn the same amount…but I suspect that self-motivating types, accustomed to turning up the heat on themselves when they feel capable of it, particularly resent someone else talking the liberty of telling them what they should be able to do.

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