How do we make achieving goals actually happen?
The 28th of July was huge for me. I had been chasing a goal for nearly a year, and was doing my best to make it a reality. On that particular Sunday, after months of effort, it happened.
What was the goal? More importantly, what were the five critical things that helped me, and that can help any of us, achieve the goals we set for ourselves? All that and more in today’s post.
My big dream was the Ironman triathlon. Not just to do one – I had already completed six. My hope was to finish an Ironman high enough in the standings to qualify for the world championships in Kona, Hawaii. To do that, I would have to finish either first or second in my age group. It was a tall order; the best I had done before was 12th.
This year’s training campaign began last November. The following July, thousands of swimming, biking and running miles later, I lined up on the beach to test the results of my efforts. At Lake Placid, New York, I joined 2,500 other hopefuls in a race that combined 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and a full 26.2 mile marathon.
In the short version of the story, this was one of the most difficult editions of Ironman Lake Placid in recent memory due to winds, heat, and humidity. Average finishing times were significantly slower than the historic norm, and my own finishing time was slower than many of my previous races.
Yet when the results were announced, I was a solid second place in my age group, and had qualified for one of the two available slots to Kona. I was ecstatic!
As with most things, I like to pause and reflect on what went well, and where I could make some improvements, and this race was no different. There was plenty of time on the long drive from New York back to Minnesota to think about it.
Several things emerged as being pivotal to reaching this point. And what was fun to realize was that anyone can use those same things for whatever goals they might be trying to accomplish.
So what were the five key things that can make achieving goals a reality? I’m glad you asked.
Five Keys to Achieving Your Goal
1. Target what you can control. To get the Kona slot, I had to race well enough to beat almost everybody else in my age group. The problem was that there was no way to control who else showed up to race and no way to know how fast I’d have to go.
We already know that aiming to just “race faster” is not a SMART goal and lacks the specificity to be useful. Instead, I set more concrete goals that I had a better chance of actually realizing – finishing times for each event and an overall time goal.
Based on historical averages I knew about how fast I’d need to go to have a chance, so I made that my goal. As race day approached, I was able to achieve those target times in training, so I knew getting there was at least a possibility.
As we think about what we’d like to achieve, it’s more productive to focus on what we can directly impact. Sure, we might want that promotion at work, but we’re not the decision-makers. Instead, maybe we focus on that project we are in charge of, and bringing it to conclusion ahead of schedule or under budget.
2. Prioritize time. Time is our most important asset; nobody has any more hours in the day than anyone else. Success comes in using those hours as effectively as possible. During weekly planning sessions, I started by prioritizing my training efforts and putting them on the calendar first. Swims in the morning, biking and running in the afternoons. I also used a distinct color to highlight these events so they stood out.
Only after the key events were plugged in would I go back and slot in the other things I wanted to accomplish that week.
And once it’s on the calendar, treat it like a key appointment. We wouldn’t skip out on a job interview or a medical appointment, right? Consider these goal-based entries as being of equal importance – it’s an appointment we make with ourselves, so keep it!
3. Celebrate. Oddly enough, crossing the Ironman finish line is only a small part of what drives me to race. For one thing, that finish line comes only once or twice a year – what a dreary sport this would be if those were the only times to feel good about our efforts. What appeals more is the prospect of daily successes.
With my time planned out, I like to track the workouts – the laps swum, the hours cycled, the miles run. Each time I achieve the daily and weekly goals I’ve set for myself, it’s cause for celebration. It’s nothing crazy, but I do indulge in a little positive self-talk “Good job today, Ken!” take a moment to allow myself to feel good about sticking to the plan, and treat myself to a well-earned and delicious recovery smoothie (strawberry-banana with vanilla protein powder – my favorite!).
Any time we can break a big goal down into smaller daily and weekly chunks we multiply the opportunity to celebrate the fruits of our efforts. And doing this puts a meaningful, achievable target directly in front of us.
Whether it’s the number of sales calls made, words written, or another project step completed, taking a moment to celebrate those accomplishments in small ways helps build the momentum and motivation to continue.
4. Visualize. We all learn and respond to things differently, but just about everyone can find value in being able to see where they are and where they are going. One of the primary ways to use this to advantage is to visually display progress.
What worked for me was an Excel spreadsheet that graphically displayed the result of my work every time I updated it. Having a tool like this made me more eager to keep it up to date and a lot less likely to skip a workout, knowing that otherwise I’d have to look at a gap in the chart for the rest of the season.
Whatever you do, look for a way to track it and display it. When working with a team, post it where everyone can see it, and update it constantly.
5. Get a Coach. I thought I was an OK swimmer. I had watched a bunch of training videos, and with a lot of effort I was getting faster by degrees. It was only when a coach on the local triathlon team saw me in the water and offered a few suggestions that I realized that I could be working a lot smarter.
In just a few coaching sessions he showed me that things I was doing with my arms and legs were actually slowing me down, not making me faster. With the help of his insights and steady practice, my swimming made a big leap forward. At Lake Placid I was many whole minutes faster than I had ever been before.
As hard as we may try, it’s impossible to get a truly objective perspective on anything we are trying to accomplish. But with the aid of a mentor, a coach, or another person who is informed and supportive, we can accelerate our progress.
By seeking perspective and informed input, we can minimize wasted effort and focus our energies to get us more quickly to that finish line. Who is it that can do this for you?
Achieving Goals – The Takeaway
These tips are just the “tip” of the iceberg as far as achieving goals goes, but they can make a huge difference. Start with a goal that allows you to control the outcome; focus your precious time on doing the things that matter most; create opportunities to achieve and celebrate on a daily basis; track progress visually; and take advantage of the expert perspective of others.
To me, goal success comes down to the idea that setting a good target is only the first step in achieving big things. If we want to have a decent shot at actually accomplishing what we set out to do, we need to build a framework around that goal that helps us stay focused, accountable, and motivated.
If you are interested in learning about several more specific techniques you can use to make your dream a reality, I hope you’ll consider checking out the online course I’ve developed for just this purpose. Here’s a short video about it; the first several lessons are free.
In closing, I’ll add one more (bonus!): Build a Team. We can accomplish a lot on our own, but if we always play “lone wolf,” we are missing out on an opportunity to accelerate our growth in several ways.
For my Kona journey, those around me supported my schedule, my wife became my de facto nutritionist, friends from my Friday morning breakfast group encouraged me, and training with another friend made the journey more enjoyable while also keeping me accountable for doing the work when the time came.
And just this weekend my friends from our Team World Vision Saturday morning running group surprised me by wearing leis and presenting me with a pineapple to help me celebrate (thankfully, they didn’t expect me to run with it!)
When we gather support, coordinate our efforts, and support each other in our goals, we enable not only our own success, but that of others as well, and that can be far more powerful for everyone involved.
As my teammates at World Vision like to say, “If you want to go far, go together.”
I wish you the best in achieving your goals, and I’ll see you in Kona…