A person holding an ice cream cone.

What a Botched 7-Day Fast Taught Me about Goal Setting

And why I was proud to walk away from it.

What’s the longest you’ve gone without eating? For most, it’s around 14 hours. The time between dinner and breakfast. I recently attempted to go without food for one week. For one week I was to eat nothing. Water, coffee, and tea would be my sustenance. Oh and a small handful of spinach I needed to consume each night before taking medications. Other than that, it was just me and liquids.

The fast started easy enough. I regularly do 24-hour stints. In fact, my current goal is to do at least three each week. I’m used to not eating. A couple months ago I completed a 48-hour fast as well. Seven days would certainly be a challenge, but I knew what to do.

Leading up to it, I mentally prepared myself. I pictured it being easy. Moreover, I imagined waking up on the morning of day eight, the day I would resume eating, with the feeling that I could keep going. I performed this visualization many times prior to the start. Then it began. Day one was fairly standard. Normal hunger pangs and all that. The first evening though was rough. The spinach didn’t provide enough cushioning for the meds. Needless to say, I didn’t feel very good.


A dawn realization

Day two was also fairly easy. Or, if not easy, what I had expected. In my research, I learned that the hardest part is 48-72 hours in. After that, hunger dissipates and the rest of the way is smooth sailing. On day two I was certainly hungry. But I made it through. Unfortunately, that evening too the spinach failed me. I was sick once more. The good news was that I didn’t feel hungry.

Then I woke up.

Around two or three in the morning of day three, my eyes opened. A thought poured over me. It was loud. It was clear. This is unhealthy, extreme, and excessive. Logic soon kicked in to validate that sentiment. It said: You’re doing this for the challenge, but just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you should attempt it. You’re doing this for so-called cancer prevention, but the proof backing this claim is weak. A 24-hour fast makes sense. A hunter gone all day would naturally go without food for an extended period.

A seven-day fast is irrational though. It’s certainly doable, but it is completely unnecessary. If a 24-hour fast is passed down from hunters, a seven-day fast is passed down from serfs who had no other choice. It is something a starving person would do out of necessity, not out of honor. This goal is dumb and you know it. You should end it.


The lunch hour

I’m not sure where those thoughts came from. Maybe my subconscious decided to finally take the reins. Perhaps my poor sleep that night helped nudge the realization. Regardless, I listened to what was said. And I agreed with all of it. I spent the next hour writing. I updated my plans for the week. Additionally, I wrote down that I was concluding my goal and specifically why I was doing so. Then I went back to sleep.

When I awoke I felt that maybe I had been too rash. I told my wife I would keep going. Or, at least, give myself time to mull it over. And that’s what I did. Hours passed. I was still torn on what to do though. So I looked at my phone. I pulled up the notes I had so fervently written down in the middle of the night. I read through them. By the time I was done, the decision was obvious. The fast was dumb and I was done with it.

After 60 total hours, I had lunch. The fast was over.

The toughest part? Knowing whether I was quitting because of logic or because of difficulty. I know when something is tough though. That seven-day fast was tough. But I could have made it. I’ve done hard things in the past and this was no different. However, unlike past experiences, the reasoning didn’t hold up. I recognized the pursuit was silly. And in that realization, came acceptance. I made the right decision and I made it for the right reasons.


Quit for the right reasons

The hardest part about goal setting isn’t failing at your goal. It’s quitting on that goal. At least, it is in my case. If I come up short, I generally know I did my best. I worked as hard as possible. I am proud of my efforts. Furthermore, I know that just because I failed doesn’t make me a failure. More often than not, it just means the goal I set didn’t match my reality. If I were to learn from the experience, I could adjust things and try again. And that’s exactly what I do.

But quitting on a goal is different.

Quitting on a goal and failing to achieve it are similar. But they are cousins, not twins. When you fail at a goal, you finish what you start. You don’t get the desired result, but you made it through anyway. When you quit a goal, you not only don’t get the desired result, you also can’t fall back on the fact that you stuck it out. Suddenly the term “quitter” can be applied to you. And that’s not a good place to operate from.

Concluding my seven-day fast, I kept asking myself: Am I quitting because it’s hard or for the reasons I wrote down? I woke up on day three not hungry at all. Remember, I told my wife I would keep going. But when I reviewed those notes some hours later, they made too much sense to ignore. I ended the goal knowing that if I was quitting, I was doing so for the right reasons. And thus, I walked out of the arena with my head held high.


Moving forward with more intention

Failing and quitting. Two things no one wants to be identified with. Yet, they are inevitable. They are natural. Moving forward, know that quitting a goal is totally fine. Just so long as the reason feels right for you. That takes introspection. It requires you to check in with yourself and ask tough questions. If you neglect to do those things, quitting may start to become the norm instead of the edge case. That’s when problems begin to arise.

However, if you recognize why you are quitting, and the reasons hold up, you have nothing to worry about.

I quit the seven-day fast. My reasons for doing so felt valid for me. I’m bummed I didn’t cross the finish line. But, I’m proud I realized that particular race wasn’t for me. Further, I’m proud of what I did accomplish. After all, 60 hours without food is nothing to laugh at. Moving forward, in your goal pursuits:

  • Put in the work;
  • Be honest with yourself;
  • And be proud of whatever happens.

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