The Secret of living an accomplished life

The Wolf RunWhy would anyone choose to run 10k across open fields, wade waist deep through stinking thick mud, plunge into an ice cold lake, and then crawl though stagnant water filled ditches all in the cause of accomplishment? That’s a good question. On Saturday 22nd September, along with around 2000 other people, I did by taking part in The Wolf Run. It’s the only Wild Run in the UK. You tackle a series of seriously tough obstacles, both man-made and natural, designed to test your mental and physical strength, skill and stamina. I am not really that fit, I wouldn’t call myself a runner, I can’t say as Eric Liddle did, “God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure,” it’s more God made me for comfort rather than speed! So, what was it that pushed me to put in miles of preparation, pain, effort and exertion just to take part in the event? The reason I ran was solely for the sense of accomplishment. I completed the run just to feel the thrill of accomplishing something personally inspiring. Does that sound so strange?

Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, has been exploring what makes a “happy” life for many years.  In his 2002 book, Authentic Happiness, he suggested that there were three key elements that we chose for their own sakes –positive emotion or “The Pleasant Life,” engagement or, “The Engaged Life,” and meaning, “The Meaningful Life.”  If we intentionally engage in these three actions, he suggested, it could bring authentic happiness or fulfilment. But following an observation from a colleague, Senia Maymin, he significantly changed his thinking. Maymin asserted that he had a huge hole in his theory; she argued that people pursue success, accomplishment, winning, achievement and mastery just for winning’s own sake.  Following this insight Seligman moved from promoting an Authentic Happiness theory to a Well-Being theory. How do you measure Well-Being? By how much we are flourishing in life. The goal of our lives should not be the quest for authentic happiness, but the never-ending journey towards a life that is flourishing. The theory of Well-Being has five elements:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Therefore, when we intentionally pursue success, accomplishment and winning for their own sakes; it’s part of what he calls, “The Achieving Life,” part of a life that is flourishing.  What determines how much we can accomplish? A key factor in how much we can accomplish is how much self-discipline we have. Achievement is directly proportionate to the self-discipline we employ. Psychologist Roy Baumester calls self-discipline, “the queen of all virtues, the strength that enables the rest of all the strengths.” Martin Seligman calls it GRIT.  High persistence + High Passion = accomplishment.

I also believe accomplishment needs something else, something that sparks self-discipline, something Donald Miller in his book, A Million Miles, calls an “inciting incident.” Miller explains it this way, an inciting incident “is an event that forces a character in a story to move.” Quoting Robert Mckee Miller says, “Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, the character won’t enter into the story. They have to get fired from their job or be forced to sign up for a marathon. A ring has to be purchased. A home has to be sold.” I needed an “inciting incident.” I needed to open a door that I couldn’t walk back through. I needed something that would force me to enter into a better story for my life, a story that had a new chapters called accomplishment.

Accomplishment When a colleague in the office told me about The Wolf Run I thought that sounds like fun! And I thought about it for a few days … and then a few more … and then a few more. I watched videos on Youtube, which was really not a good idea! It was only when I went to the website, opened a page and filled in the application form and paid some money that it become really serious.  But it was the next step that made the crucial difference in developing the self-discipline I needed to train. I started to tell people that I was going to do it! That was a key step in the process of self-discipline, now I had something to live up to, I was writing a better story. Signing up was important, but the telling others was even more significant. This is a key secret to living an accomplished life, create an inciting incident and then tell other people about it.

I am learning that well-being does come from intentional accomplishment and if you add into that building relationships through shared experiences, it inserts new chapters, new twists and turns and forces you to write a better story with your life. Please don’t get me wrong I love stuff! I would love to see sitting on my drive a British Racing Green Morgan sports car. It would be a thrill driving down the country lanes with my dog “Pippa” sitting in the passenger seat, Biggles goggles on and ears flapping in the wind. Yet, deep down, I know that once the initial euphoria had worn off, the day would come when the next “thing” would be needed to feel the same way. I am realising the essence of a good story, and in turn a good life, is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Accomplishment begins from the character choice, personal choice, and free will to choose to accomplish just for accomplishments sake.

Many ran that day I am sure just for accomplishment, but many also ran for a purpose bigger than themselves, to raise money for a good cause.  Some ran in memory of friends and family who no longer were around and others ran for many different reasons, but they all had this one thing in common, they all ran!, By running that day they accomplished much more than just completing The Wolf Run.

What about you? What significant accomplishment could you create an inciting incident this week to achieve? Could it be to play the piano, speak a new language, run a marathon, or change your job? What can step can you take this week that forces you to walk through that door with no return? More importantly, who are you going to tell? Why not tell me, I would love to hear about it.

Thanks to Elvis Santana for the image via Stock.Xchng Also, thanks to Lynne, Tom and Hana who encouraged me when I was flagging, pulled me out of ditches when I was fading and shared the wonderful experience of accomplishment!
For more pictures of the day go to  flickr


Posted on by Peter Billingham in Blog Posts, Happiness, Legacy

About Peter Billingham

Leader, Learner, Speechwriter, Storyteller, Author. a.k.a. 'The Artful Speaker' Enjoy working on social action projects, Toastmasters, films & adventure travel.

6 Responses to The Secret of living an accomplished life

  1. Michael Wetzel

    Wow…what a man! Good going Peter keep pressing on.

    • Peter

      Thanks Michael – not as prolific a writer as you, nor as good, but I really appreciate the feedback from you, especially because of your knowledge and experience in writing, thanks.

  2. Lynda James

    Absolutely brilliant, Pete! I makes my 7.5mile Starlight Walk, for St Giles Hospice, last Saturday night, look very tame. Nevertheless, I too had that sense of accomplishment you talk about. Yes, I’m definitely someone who can do something just for the achievement, to say I did it, and in that I think we must be quite similar.

    Andy, on the other hand, NEVER sees the need to do something, just because it’s there, particular if it involved physicial exercise! His purposes are more far reaching and enduring, he weighs up the lasting result and calculates whether the effort involved is worth it – hmm me thinks Wolf run is, count me in for next year’s team, if you’re up for a comeback?

    • Peter

      Hi Lynda – thanks for the comment – yes, I am really up for it!

      Thanks for the feedback as well, I appreciate that. Not as accomplished writer as you, but thanks for taking the time to respond.

      Hey, 7.5 miles is no tame walk! You comment about Andy makes me laugh, it’s a good job we are all different, the world would be too boring otherwise!

  3. Laura Billingham

    The Wolf Man! Handed my notice in today – ready for a new adventure! Thank you for teaching me to live a big life! love you Dad x

    • Peter

      A new chapter beckons …!

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