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Crossing Uncertain Terrain Towards Goals

I remember when the director of the camp that I worked at during the summers of my college years took me out for a drink one night and asked me, “Do you have a sense of your five year plan?” I stuttered, I had no idea what I wanted to be doing in 5 years. In an attempt to answer the question, my mind went into a frenzy. I had some ideas of things I wanted to do and some vague goals but I preferred to keep the specific undefined. My brain told me that this vagueness was genius because then I could never fail. The director was a mentor to me and he obviously saw potential and cared enough to ask, but did I really know what I wanted?


I brought up the discussion with friends when I returned to college in the fall and many of them shared a similar sentiment. We all had things we cared about and wanted to do but we couldn’t come up with specific goals for how we were going to get there. Asking “So what is your five year plan?” became a joke with some of my close friends whenever the subject of goals or career decisions came up. Back then I had an opinion that goals were for really driven people, were too regimented, and were too overwhelming to think about. I could dream about what might be possible but making it specific seemed ridiculous.

I have found a new approach to setting goals that has been a powerful way for me to reframe these thoughts, get more clear about what I want to do, and move closer to the things that I want to achieve. I want to share a little bit about what I have learned from experimenting with setting goals and the approach that I use now.


My Goal Story


Up until recently I haven’t found a regular routine for exercise that works for me. I knew how important it is to get exercise for sleep, metabolism, and long term health, but found it challenging to consistently get to where I wanted to be. When I set my first goal for getting more exercise I started with, “I want to lose 15 pounds in the next couple of months.”


This seemed like a great goal. It was measurable so I knew how to track my progress and it felt like something I could do. The problem was that it didn’t have a purpose behind it besides losing weight. While I could go to the gym, work out, and regularly weigh myself there wasn’t a lot of excitement or energy behind doing this. It is no wonder I stopped going to the gym and started taking more trips to 7 Eleven to get ice cream.


When I started working with a coach in 2017 I gained some skills to make my goals more clear. I saw how I was previously making my goals about “NOT” doing something, “LOSING” something, or “STOPING” something. Goals like this might sound like, “I quit smoking” or “I will eat less bad in 2019.” Perhaps you can think of some goals like this that you have set too?


Instead of focusing on what “NOT” do it is extremely valuable to think about what the goal will allow you to achieve. In this example the question I asked myself was what would losing weight allow me to do? I set a new goal for exercise. “I will join a team of at least ten people for a club sport by May 2018.” But guess what? I didn’t achieve this goal either.


While this goal focused on making something new possible and required me to train to get

there, it wasn’t something I wanted to be known for. It wasn’t relevant to who I am and what I care about. It was just something that I thought I should do.


For a while I couldn’t come up with any thing that exercise would allow me to do that was important to me, so I started to think that maybe it wasn’t really something worthwhile to set a goal for.


Then when I was hiking with friends one weekend, I had a breakthrough. I loved hiking! The fresh air, beautiful views, and the challenge of summiting a mountain make it memorable and exciting experience. I thought about what was important to me about hiking and what would be an exciting hiking accomplishment. I have always wanted to hike the Vermont Long Trail but I never really thought of it as a goal, just something I might want to do someday. What if I actually set a goal with a deadline to hike the whole trail?


I started getting excited about the day hikes I could plan with friends, potential camping trips, and the next steps I could take. Hiking and camping have always been things I have wanted to do more of but now there was a clear reason for doing them. Going to the gym has also become more relevant because it makes it a lot easier to hike when I am in shape for the trails. Having a clear purpose behind why I am exercising has allowed me to direct my focus towards something I want to achieve. Do I still have concerns about it taking too much time, and doubts that this is something I could really do? Yes! But now when it happens I am able to shift my attention and remind myself of how exciting and exhilarating it will be to score my goal of hiking the Vermont long trail.


Setting Your Goals


This method of goal setting is based on the Academy for Coaching Excellence’s approach to the SMART Goal Framework.


1) Take a moment to think about what you would love to be known for in your life. If you were to imagine yourself living a long and healthy life what would be great to remember and look back on?


2) Take five minutes to write down your ideas on this prompt.


3) Make a list of some of the key things that stand out to you.


4) Of the items on this list which one of them stands out to you right now. Which one has

more excitement and energy behind it?


5) Write down what is important to you about this potential achievement. Why does this matter to you? What do you love about it?


6) Set a larger goal for this achievement with a timeline for a year to two years.


7) Write your goal in the SMART goal framework outlined below. Check to make sure your goals fits each of the following categories. This acronym is a slight adaptation from other SMART goal acronyms you might be familiar with.


  • Specific (Is the goal clear and precise?)

  • Measurable (How will you know you accomplished the goal?)

  • Attainable (It is a stretch but not impossible?)

  • Relevant (It is related to your desire or inspiration to be known for something?)

  • Time based (Is there is a specific date by when it will be accomplished?)


8) Break your goal down into lots of sweet steps and make deadlines and specific actions that build on one another.


9) Create a place where you can post or share about the progress of your goal with the people in your life that you care about and want to have you cheer you along. This could be a blog, social media, a newsletter, or a photo drop box and/or person to person.


10) Tell your friends and family about your goal and where they can get updates about what you are working on.


Example Goal: I will hike the 272 miles of the Vermont Long Trail by November 30th, 2020.

  • S- Specific (There is a specific trail not several trails or trails in any state.)

  • M- Measurable (There is an exact number of miles of the trail.)

  • A- Attainable (Hiking 272 miles is a stretch for me but 100% attainable if I prepare for it.)

  • R- Relevant( Hiking is relevant to my inspiration and desire to be physically fit and healthy.)

  • T- Time based (I will do this by November 30th, 2020.)


Break it down:

  • I will do three day hikes with at least two friends by October 30, 2019

  • I will do three backpacking trips by November 30, 2019

  • I will work out three times a week

  • I am posting about this goal on my blog.

  • I am sharing this with you now :)


For me it looks like hiking the Vermont long trail. But for you there might be something totally different. What things would be out of the ordinary for you but 100% attainable if you put in the practice and training to get there? Feel free to share your goals below and let’s celebrate as we move toward them together.

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©2018 by Eric Sargent. 860.910.8641. coach@ericsargent.com Boston, MA