“Why are you doing this?” This must be one of the most frequent questions I have been asked in recent history. Though I have responded to this question many times over, it has prompted me to reflect deeper on the subject. I found that the underlying principle of ‘why’ can enable us to set meaningful goals and helps fuel our motivation to achieve them.
Now for those of us that don’t like the word ‘goal’ please don’t get freaked out and turn off here. Its fine if you don’t like the word goal, you might find it intimidating or make your nervous. Please recognize that we all set goals in our life. Some do this in a very structured and explicit manner whereas others are more fluid. We all do this to help give our lives meaning and direction. Call them what you like, the themes discussed here are relevant.
For those of you who have been following my journey so far you will have (I hope) a reasonable understanding of why I decided to start the Vertical Year. For those who are a little less sure, I suggest you quickly go back and read some of my first posts here.
My standard response often refers to themes such as being out in nature, immersed in an environment which forces me to look inwards and deal with fear, problem solving and the physical act of climbing. It provides me with physical, mental and spiritual nourishment.
What do you notice in the above? Not once do I talk about the elation of standing on the summit of a mountain, the tangible goal of climbing. In every interview I have done so far, I have to be prompted by the journalist about this very specific thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I love summiting a mountain. Any person who climbs technical peaks in remote areas that says they do not is simply lying. I mean, you are standing atop a mountain, soaking in the most incredible view, smells and sound that only an extremely small percentage of the world’s population will ever enjoy in person. It really is a fantastic reward.
Summiting in itself though has nothing to do with why I climb. It merely occurs as a result. A by-product if you will.
So if it is not the tangible goal that drives me, what does? Simply put, it is ‘a love of the process’. The entire process. Or as my girlfriend’s father likes to say, ‘the journey’. You will notice that everything I described above forms part of that journey.
I realised that I love the work that is required to stand on that summit. I love the 2am start after a few hours of poor sleep. I love the freezing cold air on my face. I love the physical pain that comes with standing on the tips of your toes for hours on end. I even love the hours upon hours of logistical planning. Researching countries, areas and specific mountains, staring at maps, reviewing route descriptions, reading trip reports and trying to ascertain how the hell I am going to get to and from whatever route we wish to climb.
Even the stuff that sucks, or that I am nervous or afraid of. I am only too happy to endure those parts of the process. As an engineer marketing and media relations is about as far away from my formal training as you can get. So I would be lying if I did not say that writing a media release and exposing myself to the judgment of complete strangers was a little nerve racking. Or that being away from my loved ones for extended periods of time is not the most joyous thing in the world.
In the end though, it is all part of the process. I love that process and the parts I don’t love so much, I endure with a smile on my face. That is why I climb. That is why I stay motivated.
That was the first key learning for me. To sustain high levels of motivation to achieve any goal requires a person to look beyond the goal itself. Beyond the reward at the end of the process. We must enjoy the process which leads to the reward otherwise we will simply burn out.
The CEO of a company didn’t get there because they hate doing 80 hour weeks in the office or playing the political games that come with climbing a corporate ladder. People that can run a sub three hour marathon can’t do so because they hate running more than 150km’s a week and the crippling joint and muscle pain it takes to do that. The people that are successful in losing weight and keep it off do so because they enjoy (or come to enjoy) the healthy lifestyle choices necessary to do so. If they didn't, they would simply burn out long before getting to their respective goals.
Now that’s not to say that the reward itself is not motivating. On the contrary it can be very motivating. However if you hate everything you have to do to get there, the end goal is simply not enough to sustain your motivation. It will become harder overtime before eventually fizzling out.
There is another benefit of identifying the process you love. It helps you identify and focus on the goals that you truly value.
If we were to be honest with ourselves, how many goals do we set based on the end result compared to the process of getting there? The answer is probably all of them or very close to. I am certainly guilty of setting a goal based on the outcome and hey, that’s natural. The goal after all represents the reward and makes us feel good, proud and happy.
The process in getting there can be fun and enjoyable too, though it inevitably contains hardship, sacrifice and pain; stuff we instinctually try to avoid. If we neglect to think about the process or are honest with ourselves about how we feel about every task within, we put at risk our ability to actually achieve that goal.
I am not saying don’t dream big, I encourage everyone to do exactly that. Nor am I saying that you have to love every step of the process. There will surely be moments that suck big time. You just have to be happy to endure those moments.
What I am asking you to do is think hard not only about the end goal, but exactly what is involved in getting there. The good and the bad. Interrogate how you feel about each task and whether you are not only willing to endure each and every one, but enjoy it. If and only if you are going to love going through that process should you then go, “Yep, let’s do it! Let’s go inhabit Mars!”
Ensuring that you will enjoy the process in getting to your final goal provides more surety that you will be able to stick out the tough times because let’s face it, life is full of them. Doing so will help you identify the goals that are truly meaningful to you, enabling you to focus your time and energy rather than wasting them on goals that don’t truly represent your values.
As much as I enjoy the summit, those precious few minutes would not be as sweet if I did not enjoy the hours or days of climbing to get there nor the months, even years of preparation before that.
So as you sit down to set out your goals for 2018 and beyond (yes we all do this either explicitly or implicitly). Spare a moment and think about the process required to get you there. Be brutal in your honesty and use this as an opportunity to identify the goals that really do matter to you. As a result you will be more likely to value that goal, stay motivated and more likely to succeed.