Setting effective goals

Now on the final leg of this journey I find myself reflecting on the year, the experiences, the lessons and the personal development I have undergone. There is a lot to process however one inalienable conclusion I have come to is that I would not be where I am now were it not for the goals I had set for myself. Setting goals can be difficult and scary, however, the positive influence they can have is powerful and if we avoid them, we do so at our detriment.   

“We are not only the sum of the mountains we have climbed, but those we aspire to climb.”

Unknown.             

I love the above phrase. I brought it up while chatting about this very topic with a climbing buddy of mine. Neither of us could remember where the quote came from however it sums up perfectly my experience and the essence of big picture goal setting.

The end goal is important. However, it is the landscape which the goal creates that is more powerful in my opinion. A goal’s landscape is filled with numerous pathways; skills and experience necessary to achieve the ultimate objective. However, these pathways can also be a gateway to new opportunities we either may not have considered or thought possible otherwise. Some pathways are obvious and easily identified from the onset. Others are more hidden and may only come into view as we start to explore that landscape in more detail. Those more hidden are often the most exciting and rewarding.

When I set myself the goal of having the capability of independently climbing a peak like Alpamayo, a new landscape lay before me. I knew I would need to ascertain certain skills and experience in order to be successful. Building strong and reliable anchors in snow and ice, efficient climbing techniques, rescue skills as well as a good level of experience on various mountain routes, in a variety of conditions to ensure I had the confidence to make safe decisions.

As I started to gather those skills and experiences however, these new opportunities started to arise. The most exciting of these was of course the idea of the Vertical Year. Dealing with dangerous situations helped build my self-confidence which enabled me to back myself and pursue this project. Not only would it facilitate achieving that original goal, it would provide opportunities to develop other skills such as creative writing, photography, website development and online marketing. Skills I wanted to develop but would not have necessarily pursued otherwise.

Based on my experience, what would I advise someone who is trying to set their own goal? Below are a series of questions and tips to reflect on when thinking about your own goals. Please keep in mind that I am talking about big picture goals here. Looking to the horizon for direction working in mid to long term time frames.

1 – What capability are you trying to add to your life?

Be it in your career, a side-hustle or personal life what is the capability you wish to acquire? I believe this sets up the most interesting landscape. Rather than setting a specific objective such as a position in a company or indeed a specific climbing route; there is more benefit in identifying the key capability(s) required. The aforementioned objectives are then more likely to materialize as a result of achieving that capability.

Having the capability to climb Alpamayo was my goal. Before we even stepped onto the mountain, I knew I had that capability and so had achieved my goal. Climbing the route well was the icing on the cake. Conversely if did not have the capability, I might still well have climbed the route but the experience would have been vastly different, not to mention at an unacceptable level of risk.

 Me leading Stanely Falls Senior in the Canadian Rockies. Steep ice climbing was a technical skill I needed in order to obtain my goal and has presented other opportunities for me along the way. (Photo by Jaz Morris).

Me leading Stanely Falls Senior in the Canadian Rockies. Steep ice climbing was a technical skill I needed in order to obtain my goal and has presented other opportunities for me along the way. (Photo by Jaz Morris).

2 – What is your inspiration?

Being inspired is important. It provides motivation when times are tough and clarity for how you want to utilise your capabilities. Therefore, I think it is necessary to be more specific here. Your inspiration should link very closely to the capabilities you have identified, and MUST be intrinsic in nature.

Alpamayo was my inspiration for several years. Whenever I looked at a picture of it’s South Face or thought of what it would be like to be climbing that face, I was motivated to continue my journey. Upon reaching the summit the joy I expressed was evident and came from within. It wasn’t dependent on the approval of others. I believe goals that are inspired by external motivations are less powerful, you risk losing motivation along the way and the fulfillment you experience in the end is temporary.

Your inspiration is a good test for whether you have the right goal.

 Alpamayo, an inspiring peak for me helped me re-focus when things got tough.

Alpamayo, an inspiring peak for me helped me re-focus when things got tough.

3 – What is a realistic timeframe?

Every goal requires a timeframe. Be realistic taking into consideration your circumstances and the level of progress required.

Living in Australia, my ability to climb in the mountains regularly or develop ice climbing skills was limited to overseas holidays perhaps once or twice a year. As a result, I had to think in terms of years. If I was living in Europe, Canada or New Zealand I would have had greater opportunities to develop these skills and the timeframe should have been considerably shorter.

 We certainly don’t have mountains like Ranrapalca in Australia. The red line shows the line of ascent I used on the beautiful North Face in July.

We certainly don’t have mountains like Ranrapalca in Australia. The red line shows the line of ascent I used on the beautiful North Face in July.

4 – Take your time

Setting a good goal takes time. Don’t put pressure on yourself to set a goal within a certain timeframe, it only leads to ineffective goals; New Year’s resolutions are a great example. Instead invest the time to really think about what is important to you, does it align with your values, what you are willing to sacrifice and how this will benefit you for the rest of your life.

Don’t be discouraged if the process takes a few months or a few iterations to get right. When I returned from Europe having first been introduced to climbing in the mountains, I took several months to think about how I wanted to pursue it.  What amount of time and money was I willing to invest? How was I going to integrate this into my life? What sacrifices might I have to make to realise this goal?

Some extra time thinking about the right goal will save a huge amount of effort pursuing the wrong goal down the track.

With the end of the year quickly approaching I am already starting to search the horizon for my new goals. Not only in my climbing life but also my professional and personal lives. What capabilities do I want to attain and what inspires me? These questions take time to answer and I plan on exploring them thoroughly.

Don’t be afraid of goals. Without them, the skills, experiences and new opportunities remain unseen by us. Take the time to identify what lies on your horizon and shine light on the landscape before you. As the Zen master would say, “once you have set your destination, forget it and concentrate on the journey”.