The 20 Mile March: The 1 Habit that Makes You Unstoppable

You’re at the South Pole. The weather is awful and danger is everywhere. What do you do? Do you go as far as you can every day or do you travel when the weather breaks? What do you do?

20 Mile walk: march on - quote from MLK

In his book “Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All” Jim Collins shares what two teams did. One died. The other made it out.

Equipment and Skill Didn’t Matter

Both had the same equipment. Both had the same skill set. As you read on, see if you can guess which one made it.

What Did Matter

One team’s strategy was to complete a 20 mile march daily, no matter the weather. No matter what, they would march 20 miles a day… day in and day out.

The other team would use good weather to their advantage and sometimes went 40-60 miles in a day. When the weather was bad, they would use that to their advantage too and rest warmly in their tents.

Robert Falcon Scott's team marched when the weather was good and paused when it wasn't as they tried to reach the South Pole.

Robert Falcon Scott’s team marched when the weather was good and paused when it wasn’t as they tried to reach the South Pole.

Which one lived? The team led by Roald Amundsen that marched ahead 20 miles a day no matter what got to the South Pole first and more importantly, lived to tell about it. Robert Falcon Scott and his crew were found dead the next spring.   Read more.

What Matters: Equipment and Skill spurred on by consistent effort

From this we can learn, consistency is the best friend of the successful. If you’ve got skills and if you’ve got the equipment then just get consistency and you’ve got it made.

We also learn from this example that there are never enough good days to get the job done. Few days are sunny. Few days are perfect. Instead, most days have something wrong with them, us or others. Stop waiting for perfect days and start marching forward.

Consistency: Is it Really Necessary

There are lots of stories about people who worked in spurts. Right?

Sure there are exceptions but lets talk prolific writers for a moment. In the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, there are some artists and writers who stand out:

  • Stephen King writes every day of the year even on his birthday and holidays. He will rarely if ever let himself quit before he reaches his daily quota of 2,000 words.
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words a day.
  • Jerry Seinfeld, famously, writes one joke a day and his habit of marking it visibly on his calendar gives us apps like Don’t Break the Chain and Lift.
  • Twyla Tharp (choreographer and author of The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (2003)) shares how her only routine is waking up at 5:30 am, getting dressed to work out and walking outside her home to hail a taxi to go work out for two hours. She says:

The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym, the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

There is always a sign of hope for change when you  have people willing to consistently move forward together every day, no exceptions. Don't wait for good weather just know that today is always the day for progress.

There is always a sign of hope for change when you have people willing to consistently move forward together every day, no exceptions. Don’t wait for good weather just know that today is always the day for progress.

The Habit of Moving Forward Every Day

This applies to your school and your classrooms every day. Early in my teaching career, my wise Curriculum Director Mrs. Betty Shiver told me:

Bell to bell every day is the secret to accomplishing more than you ever dreamed in the classroom.

March on.

How about the boss who sees people “hanging out by the timeclock” for the 15 minutes before they clock out? Is that boss going to add headcount when everyone in the whole department obviously has 15 minutes to spare per day?

Do we REALLY use all of the time we have?

We don’t need more school until we better use the school time we have.

If you are given $100 to hold and you only give back $80 because $20 fell through your pocket… why is anyone going to give you $200 to hold?  If schools waste the time they have, who says the answer is giving the school more time? Use what you’ve got before you ask for more. March on.

March ahead every single day.

Read the The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg or Habits of Mind for more about habits. Change your habits and you change your life.

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Do we move forward even on the snowdays?

Far too many teachers, schools, and people make these epic 60 mile marches and stay warm in their tents on snow days and convince themselves they are moving forward.

How about all these snow days lately? Some schools are turning them into virtual learning days.

March forward consistently every day towards your dream. Don’t stop. Teach this to students. You might call this grit (the buzzword of the moment) or determination or tenacity.

I don’t know what you call it but I know what you will call it when you’re done: your secret to success.

Take the time today to determine what thing you want to march towards every day. Then, do it. As your habits go, so goes your life, your classroom, your school, and you.

Be excellent. Be noble. Be habitually excellent.

March on.

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