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Marathon or Sprint? Goal Setting and Well-being

(Originally posted on October 8, 2021)

The most difficult academic challenge I ever faced was in the first semester of medical school. At 16, I knew I didn’t want to be a medical doctor, so I traded Biology for Mathematics the first chance I got. Years later, when I started medical school, I faced completing those 2 years of Biology in 2-3 months. I persevered, but I had my Plan B waiting in case I failed (I always have a Plan B). Trying to survive those dreadful months, a study group asked me to join their ‘all nighter’ because they had the strategy all figured out. I never did this before so I told myself that this is med school, work hard, it comes with the territory! The next day was a tailspin, and I knew that this strategy was not for me. Fast forward 5 years later, in the final year of med school, one of my study-mates said, “Don’t mess with Farah. She makes time to eat, pray, sleep and watch Smallville”. It shocked me that she knew the parts of my life that kept me whole.

Doing what everyone else does, doesn’t make it suitable for you and for me, studying medicine wasn’t a short-term plan, it was a long-term goal, so my approach had to be sustainable. My view of the situation was that I had to plan as if I was running a marathon and this meant building my endurance was key. Whereas for a sprint, if I had to push all of my effort over a short period of time to win, that 'all nighter' approach might have been appropriate. As studying medicine was my marathon, I knew I had to approach it steadily, with consistency and care.

Our reality is, we all have goals and tasks to achieve. We want to be successful, but what do we often have to trade to accomplish this? In high school, someone told me the key to success was sacrifice. While I understood it then, as the years passed, I decided that not everything is worth sacrificing to be successful. My well-being is important and setting clear boundaries within myself was necessary to protect what I did not want to sacrifice.

My well-being is important and setting clear boundarieswithin myself was necessary to protect what I did notwant to sacrifice.

So how do we prioritise our well-being when we are goal setting?

First, consider the timeframe and the required effort.

Is this a marathon or a sprint?

The Marathon: if achieving your goal is in the future and requires a great deal of effort,then you need to build endurance. Here are my well-being tips for preparing for amarathon:

  1. Be consistent - During my Masters while I was working in my afternoon clinic, a colleague told me, “chip away a little at a time”. This perspective is extremely helpful for long-term goals. Being consistent means working on your goal/task every day, even if it is just 2 mins on a bad day or hours on a good day.

  2. Be efficient - Time is precious and efficiency is a crucial part of time management.To help with this, break up your time into chunks or segments and set categories: ‘Work’, ‘Cooking’, ‘Sleep’, ‘Food’, ‘Fun’, ‘Children’ etc. Categorising is important because it helps with focus. When we can focus on one activity at a time, we get more done. We also cannot spend all our time on one activity. It gets monotonousand we become less productive. By alternating and completing activities, using different parts of our brain and focusing on the task at hand, we naturally become more efficient, and it becomes easier to accomplish our goals.

  3. Be grateful - celebrate every small win! In a marathon, it is important to recognise all your small achievements along the way. Without these, we lose focus and lose ambition. Our wins do not have to be related to our goal, it can simply be finishing a task in one of our segments of time. For example, when I wake up in the morning and make packed lunches for my kids for school, that is my win and Icelebrate! Being thankful for the opportunity to do this for them while achieving my personal goals releases my natural endorphins. We all need these highs when on the long journey.

The Sprint: if your goal/ task is unexpected, has to be completed in a short time frameand requires a significant amount of effort, this is when sacrifice counts. Here are mytips to survive the sprint:

  1. Gather your support system - Calling in backup is important. Everyone has access to some sort of support, but whether we want it is another topic. However, at the moment of the unexpected sprint, any support can be a pro when weighing the pros and cons. Whether it is a call for support in terms of childcare, asking not to be disturbed or asking someone to cover other tasks, you need that space to minus everything else and focus on the task at hand.

  2. Gather your supplies: Before you begin your sprint, spend a few minutes outliningthe things you need. These aren’t just items related to the task, but also include food and water. Notice I’m not saying caffeine and energy drinks. Planning will save you valuable time and increase your efficiency.

  3. Gather your thoughts: With your support system and resources in place, it is time to map out the plan. Spend 10-15 mins writing out how the next few hours, days or couple of weeks will look in terms of steps and timing. Write your ideas and organise your thoughts. Recognise that sacrificing other less urgent tasks is important, so you can stay focused and succeed. If your sprint is longer than a day, know that sleep deprivation is accumulative, so getting that much needed rest is important. Power naps of (20-40mins) can go a long way to help with productivity and thought processing as well.

In the end, even if we are in the marathon with sprints in between, it is important to findapproaches that help us live better and smarter. Hard work is necessary for success, butit should also be strategic and empowering. Hoping my tips are helpful. If you have more to add, please drop me a line!

For more well-being tips, reach out to us at Noor Corporate Health. Visit our or send us an email

Wishing you contentment and success,


Originally published on Linkedin on Oct 07th 2021

Photo by Malik Skydsgaard on Unsplash

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