If you have set out on an entrepreneurial journey to be your own boss, either as a network marketer, Internet marketer or any other type of self employment, you will almost certainly have read about the importance of written goals.
Any one who aspires to achieving anything in business, sports or life is advised to have clearly written goals.
Why then if there is so much emphasis on having written goals, so much information freely available on how to set goals and so many good examples of high achievers having attained their goals, do so many people struggle to reach their own goals?
There are as many goals as there are people to set them, but some goals seem easier to reach than others. By easy I don’t necessarily mean that the goal itself is less difficult, but that the process of achieving it is easier.
Whether we achieve our goals or not depends more on our commitment to achieving the goal than the difficulty of the goal itself. Our commitment is a product of our beliefs, if we do not believe we can achieve our goal, our commitment is going to weaken, falter and eventually disappear.
One question that has intrigued me for many years is why large numbers of people find it easier to maintain a high level of commitment to achieve physically demanding goals than to achieve business, relationship or creative type goals. Several people have shared their experiences with me, but here is an example from my own life.
I was a hopeless athlete at school, slow, clumsy and un-coordinated at track events, dangerous with a javelin, discus or shot put. Add to that a poor performance at cricket and rugby and my school sports career was a dismal failure. I did however do well at several equine sports.
In my late 30’s, the “fun run” craze swept South Africa where I was living. My two boys would come home from school pleading with me to run 2 or 3 km at the weekend to raise money for some cause. For a while I was able to buy my way out of running by sponsoring them. Ultimately, their disappointment at having one of the only fathers who would not run with his kids became unbearable and I reluctantly agreed to run with them.
I clearly remember being reduced to a walking, breathless wreck in one of the first runs, being overtaken by “old” people of 60 or so telling me I should be running.
The humiliation was enough to make me start serious training, join a running club and set my sights on a 10 km race.
At the time, South Africa hosted one of the premier ultra marathons in the world; the 85 km (50 mile) Comrades Marathon run between the cities of Durban on the Indian Ocean coast and Pietermaritzburg at an altitude of over 2000 ft. The start and finish of the race alternated each year, one year an up run and the next down.
Running at least 1 Comrades within the 11 hour time limit, became a goal for every serious runner, myself included. For someone who could barely run 10 km in an hour, this was an extremely challenging goal.
I completed my first up Comrades in 1989 in 9 hours 20 minutes, two and a half years after starting running. Then I went on to run 3 more and many other ultra marathons, standard marathons and shorter races.
Achieving the goal did not put any money in the bank, it did not give me any material benefit at all. The satisfaction and feeling of acccomplishment were found in achieveing a goal that most people could not or would not attempt. The lessons I learned about myself on the journey to achieve that goal were invaluable. The pure exhiliration of running under the finish banner on that first race, was one of the most intensely emotional moments of my life.
Despite a hectic work schedule, with frequent travelling, business entertaining and many late nights at the time, my commitment to train did not waver. My goal was not written down, it did not have to be, it was a burning obsession. Some mornings I dragged myself out of bed at 4 am to run after only a couple of hours sleep. I ran in rain or sun, hot or cold, I ran whatever distance was required by my training schedule, including several 50 km Saturday morning runs.
Except for a few genetically perfect runners, for most mere mortals, running the distances required to train for races of that length result in extreme pain. Parts of the race itself and several days afterwards pass in a haze of exquisite agony. I am sure that the huge distances I ran contributed to deterioration in my knees.
So why did I and thousands of others do it?
Because we set a goal, made a commitment and stuck to it.
Right there in those 12 words is the secret to achieving goals. It is that simple.
Yes we need to believe that we can achieve the goal, but if I am honest, when I lined up with some 12 000 other runners at 6 am outside the Durban city hall waiting for the start gun, I was as nervous as a condemned man at his hanging. I was determined that I would not quit, but I did not have 100 % belief that I would complete the race.
So to me the commitment not to quit, to persevere, the determination to do our absolute best and then to hang in some more are all as important as believing in the outcome.
Why was that goal easier in many ways to achieve than some business goals?
Part of the answer can be found by using the SMART acronym which states that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and have a Time limit
- Very Simply stated goal: I will run 85 km in less than 11 hours on May 31 1988.
- Easy to Measure: There was no disputing the outcome, either I crossed the finish line or I didn’t.
- The actions needed to achieve the goal were few and simple: eat correctly, get good shoes, run.
- The steps needed to achieve the necessary level of fitness were easy to define as weekly mini goals.
- The goal was Achievable: around 10 000 runners did it the previous year including 2000 novices.
- The goal was Realistic: I had run distances of 56 km in training and shorter races
- The Timing to achieve the goal was clear and could not be changed: – May 31
It is generally easier to make a physical goal fit the SMART criteria than a business goal.
There are often fewer distractions when training for a physical goal, provided that the commitment was strong enough to get me out the door to run, I ran. Email, phone calls, employee problems, customers or any one of the myriad details connected with running a business could not reach me when I was out on the road running.
Rapid feedback, by keeping good records, I could track my progress each week, increased distances and reduced times were immediately obvious and motivating.
I have already mentioned it but it bears repeating, simplicity, in both training and the actual race, absolute focus on just one action: putting one foot in front of the other – and keeping on doing it for as long as it takes -87 500 times for my first race and around 14 million times during my serious running years.
This post is already too long, but I hope it has given you an idea what ordinary people can achieve when they have a burning goal to go for. I will be exploring how we can apply lessons from sports goals to business and life goals in subsequent posts.
Wishing you success in all your endeavours.
- p.s. A great book by Jeremy Rolleston, an extraordinary goal achiever in two Olympic sports, business, coaching and speaking, is “A Life that Counts”