A year ago, I set a goal of climbing Born on the Fourth of July at The Obed in Tennessee. The deadline for achieving it was the end of this year. I didn’t achieve the goal. Plagued with a packed schedule, I didn’t devote enough time to it. Not achieving the goal, however, isn’t necessarily a negative event. It’s evidence that the goal wasn’t as important as achieving other goals I had. 

We need to make sure that the goals we set are the most important ones we want to achieve. For me, the business goals of coaching, training trainers, and writing another book took time away from my climbing goal. My actions demonstrated what was most important. Therefore, as we shift into the new year, I’m going to set goals differently. 

We can utilize climbing as a metaphor for setting goals effectively. First, it’s important to pick goals that inspire us the most. Right now, my business goals inspire me more than climbing goals. I’m older and inspired to share this training with others. Making sure the goals we set are the ones that inspire us the most helps guide us toward achieving them.

Second, we should understand our motivation. I used to think we had a choice between comfort-based and stress-based motivation. Shouldn’t we choose to be motivated by stress, since stress is where we learn? I’ve found that it’s not about choice. Rather, it’s understanding that comfort-based motivation is natural and nothing in the world is stress motivated. We are constantly looking for the easiest way to do things. Rivers flow the easiest way toward the ocean. We move our bodies in the easiest way as we walk or run. Businesses look for the easiest way to create new products. Google Maps looks for the easiest way to get us from point A to point B. We’re naturally motivated towards comfort, but inspiring goals guide us so we willingly engage stress to learn.

In climbing, we set inspiring goals. Then, as we climb, we look for the easiest way to climb. We rest to recover energy; we move to apply our energy efficiently; and we cycle in a timely manner between the two. We’re motivated by comfort, but guided to welcome stress, be present for it, and do the necessary work to learn. The climbing metaphor requires both inspiring goals and accepting our natural comfort-based motivation. The goal gives us vision that directs our attention toward the inevitable stress we’ll experience as we do the work.

We celebrate when we achieve the goal. Achievement is a test of our learning; it’s evidence of the work we’ve done and what we’ve learned. Achieving goals is meaningful, but a deeper meaning comes from being present for and enjoying the struggles along the way. We don’t do the work because of the goal. We do the work because we find meaning in act of doing it. That shift helps us be with the struggles of our lives instead of striving for future achievements. Being becomes more important—and meaningful—than achieving. 

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