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Friday, October 08, 2010

Keeping (some) Goals to yourself

Creeping towards a goal with the eyes and focus of friends behind. Unknown climber’s hand on The Rails, Glendalough, Ireland
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Steve sent me on this link to one of the TED talks (iTunes link) recently discussing goals and the fact that much research shows that “people who talk about their ambitions are less likely to achieve them”. I've embedded the video at the bottom of the post. It’s only 4 minutes long, but in short, it’s basically saying that when you state out your goals to someone else, you’re starting to trick your own mind into thinking that it’s already done.
It’s an interesting point, that whether shouting (or even just talking) out your stated aim is detrimental to helping you find success. And in many ways I agree with this concept, I’m sure many of us can think of that person who is always spouting off of doing [insert completely outrageous ambition here] in the next weeks/months. In many ways it’s easy to get sucked into this idea of talking all about what you’re going to do (and spending more time talking about it than doing it), but never actually getting there.
Personally though (and this is blog is essentially my own perspectives on topics), I am adamant that you can’t achieve your goals on your own, so obviously there must be some middle ground. There’s massive examples of this:
  • Lance Armstrong openly discusses this in his books that he wouldn’t have achieved his outrageous feats without the support of his Mum, trainer Chris Carmicheal, and numerous other athletes/friends/contacts that have supported him his ambitions (fair enough, there may have been some other, ahem, supports but we’ll ignore those! :)
  • Pick a football/soccer player. Bet you they wouldn’t have made it to the top of their profession without support of family members, etc.
  • Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who undoubtably wouldn’t have wiped the board with gold medals in China last year
Don’t get me wrong, all these people had to have unbelievable exceptional ability and determination to get them there also. But I really believe that without external support (and luck), they wouldn’t have gotten to their respective levels.
So where do I stand on goals? Firstly, I do have the obvious podium of this blog that could easily be construed as publicizing ambitions but I can honestly state that some comments have also given me the motivation to push through at whatever I was working hard on at the time. That there’s no point in shouting out your more ambitious aims from the rooftops because people stop listening, and it can almost become something mythical that will never be achieved as (described in the TED talk) you almost convince yourself that you’re almost there. The very real danger is that you stop thinking about the work/effort required to make those goals happen as you start to think that the motivation of others will get you there.
But that if you also keep it to yourself, you just won’t get the support that is also part of the recipe. I really think, and follow the principle of talking and making some of my closest friends/relatives of my ambitions because they will support and understand those days when you have to put in that extra training/work hour and give you the pushes on the days when you’re feeling unmotivated. I personally know for a fact that without support of friends/families and the motivations of other people who I’ve climbed with, that I wouldn’t have aspired to my own goals of traveling to multiple locations for climbing, or to aim for random different grades that have motivated me over the years. I also know that there’s other goals however that I’ve never really spoken to anyone about and they’re ones I’m slowly chipping away at myself. If they ever happen, I’ll take the pats on the backs from people then :)
Of course, for those of you feel like they’re not getting any closer to some of your goals - if you want to rewire your brain to restart motivation, try listening to this free podcast (iTunes link) from Pod Climber and Eric Horst, writer of ‘Training for Climbing’ and ‘ ‘ who talks about “The Best Mindset for Maximum Performance and Optimal Experience. Learn how returning to a beginner’s mindset best sets the stage for peak performance and experience.”
What do you think? Is it worthwhile or does it motivate you to talk out your goals, or do you find that you stop thinking about the work required to make it happen? Or do you feel like motivation from friends while doing your sport/hobby/job helps you to achieve new levels you would have struggled to find without them? Love to hear your thoughts!


  1. That's my hand!

    I achieved some very serious goals in deep diving this year. I would have been afraid earlier in the season to state those goals (on the basis that they were outrageous). I did mentally note that some lesser goals might be attempted if the conditions were right. However when some opportunities presented themselves to do things that exceeded my original expectations I took it.

    A couple of folks used to talk about "sneaking up on climbs". I think it might be equivalent to that. A very ambitious goal may dwell heavily on your mind. I don't think its understating your goals based on ability but more not being lumbered with the baggage of expectation.

    I do find it very important to surround yourself with people who have similar goals or have already achieved what you are trying to do. In their company you'll get advice, support and the goal will be treated as a plain everyday event which makes it seem quite achievable.

    Not sure if all the above is right but works for me!

  2. To agree with you there Neal - there is a large amount of Sport Psych. literature suggesting making your goals 'public' increases your chances of achieving them. Especially so in the team environment. Kindof contradicts what this dude is saying.

    Was an interesting take on things though. I want to onsight 9b by the way.... :)

  3. Good to know whose hand it was, I really couldn't remember :)

    Really like your idea about surrounding yourself with people with similar goals or mindsets - even if they don't know what your overall aim is, theirs and your own motivation will feed off each other.
    Was actually chatting to a friend online today who has some very high achievements in her running career - she talked about the fact that while she didn't publicize her goals, her closest partner (and closest friends) knew to give her some extra support.
    Probably ties into your comments, Nigel....

  4. I subscribe to Nige's views. Always think it's good to get your goals out in the open... sure half the battle is believing they can be achieved in the first place. I guess different people preform better with the little extra pressure associated with peer expectation. "Sneaking up on a route" for me has always taken the form of not putting a route up on a pedistel and hearing all about the different yarns associated with it etc... Moving to the UK was great for that. See a line, check the grade, climb it AND THEN listen to all the stories of "such a guy climbed really hard and fell off at the mono etc..."

    Good post dude!

    9b RP will do for me :o)