07 Feb 2017

Why We Don't Achieve Our Dreams

Last night, as I lay in bed, I thought to myself that it would be really cool to qualify for the Boston Marathon. My next thought was that running 3:05 isn’t actually that hard. Sure, I did promise myself after my last marathon that the damage I was doing to my knees wasn’t worth it. There was the loneliness night after night on those long training runs. Otherwise, running 3:05 seemed quite possible with some months of training.

It turns out what was stopping me from achieving this supposed dream of mine, was not some external obstacle. I had simply chosen not to: The expected costs outweighed the rewards.

Then I thought about my other dreams and had the small revelation that, most of the time, we fail not because we can’t, but because we don’t want to. Put another way, it is a problem of resource-allocation and not resource-constraint.

Sure, one could argue that with more resources, more time, better knees or natural running ability, we wouldn’t have to bother about misallocation — we could train a little, not get injured and still qualify for the Boston Marathon. Nevertheless, actually differentiating the first from the second problem is crucial because a solution is possible in the first but not the second.

In fact, it even suggests what the solution should be. Trying harder or getting better makes sense in a resource-constraint problem. But in resource-allocation problems, we have to shift the cost-benefit equation in our favor: We need to reduce the cost of achieving the dream, and increase the benefits so that we are compelled to devote the resources necessary to achieving the dream.

Perhaps one day, I will manage to make training fun and painless, and make running the Boston Marathon so meaningful to me that I will be compelled to do it.