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The Goal-Excellence Connection

iStock_000004857525XSmallI have been teaching goalsetting for nearly 20 years but it always amazes me when I can find even better methods for setting and achieving goals.

Surfing legend Laird Hamilton, in his book, Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, And, of Course, Surfing, provides some solid advice here.

  • Visualize. This is one part of goalsetting that most people can figure out unfortunately many people never move beyond this stage. It is essential to visualize exactly what you want, right down to the details (Hamilton 20).
  • Challenge Yourself. Hamilton believes that most “people underestimate themselves” and I agree (Hamilton 20). While you should set goals that challenge yourself, do not set them so that they are completely impossible (Hamilton 21). These are typically referred to as stretch goals: the goal that you might be able to do if you stepped up to the challenge, found an effective strategy and persisted. Don’t set goals too far beneath your potential, these will not motivate you and there is no sense of accomplishment when you achieve them. Also, you have not likely expanded your sphere of capability by setting a goal that is too easy. There is one exception – sometimes its good to have a small goal, just to help you build some momentum and in preparation for the larger goals – just don’t stay stuck there on small goals.
  • Improvise along the way (Hamilton 21). Just like every airplane is off course the majority of the time, you will find that the path to achieving your will not be the path you thought. Do not be rigid in how you get to a goal. If things are not going according to plan, reassess the plan (Hamilton 21). Life doesn’t always follow your schedule (Hamilton 21).
  • Accept that there will be obstacles (Hamilton 22). It is just a law of nature, whenever you set out on a new goal life begins to throw obstacles in front of you. Accept that they will happen and resolve that you will overcome them. I saw this just the other day with a new student group that is organizing in our aviation department. Everything was going along well for several days, then they hit their first roadblocks – I know that if they stop now, or if the individual members who were directly affected just stop trying, then they were not worthy of the goal. If they persist, they are worthy and have learned how to handle the next challenge. Remember that the struggles and the challenges you face are building your muscles to achieve the larger goals.
  • Allow satisfaction but keep the edge (Hamilton 22). When you accomplish a goal it is perfectly okay to bask in the enjoyment of your achievement (Hamilton 22). You should let yourself enjoy these moments of satisfaction and don’t worry, the next big thing is not going anywhere (Hamilton 22).

One of the things that has always fascinated me are those individuals who achieve the highest. The Michael Jordan’s, the Tiger Woods’, the Lindsey Vonn’s, Gabby Reece’s, the Harrison Fords’, the Tom Hanks’, the Gwyneth Paltrow’s, the Jennifer Aniston’s, and the Laird Hamilton’s. What makes these people so extraordinary when there are thousands of amazingly talented people out there who we’ve never heard of?

Somethings are simply there from the start, says Hamilton (Hamilton 26). As his wife, Gabriela Reece’s is volleyball coach once said, “you can’t train height.” Work capacity may also be set, to a certain extent. But, work capacity can be expanded through physical movement.

The areas that really seem to stick out that make the best of the best, literally the best, are:

  • They are masters of eliminating or ignoring distractions (Hamilton 26-27). There’ll always be something gnawing at you in some aspect of your life, and the ability to push aside the distractions and focus on the task at hand will help you rise above (Hamilton 27).
  • They are tough (Hamilton 27). This really comes down to doing the “sets and reps.” Of all of the people I have studied who are at the top of their game, there is one common trait and that is that they all put in the work and then some more work, and then some more work – they essentially outwork everyone.
  • They are sensitive to the details (Hamilton 27). They pay attention to the little nuances that many of us miss. I heard the other day when the Colorado Avalanche were playing hockey the announcer talk about how one particular player is looking at the other players when he is approaching the puck. Most players look at the puck, and then whey they get it, they begin to look around for what to do with it. This one particular star player though was already thinking about his next actions before he was even to the puck, which allowed him to make decisions and move just a split-second quicker than his opponents – but hockey and life can be a game of seconds.
  • They sweat the details (Hamilton 20). You care about what you’re doing and you’re aware of every component, “you’re not satisfied with subpar execution” (Hamilton 28). You practice your weaknesses until you do not have any and no attempt is ever less than 100% (Hamilton 28). I sometimes annoy clients if I am doing a training program as I am very particular about the room, the lighting, the acoustics, the seating arrangement, the equipment and everything else that I know goes into creating a good training environment. Most people are happy to have a USB drive and a PowerPoint clicker, and they think that’s good enough. Meanwhile, half the audience can’t see the presentation, the other half can’t hear it, and everybody is going to sleep because someone turned down the lights to far.
  • Don’t indulge the voice of doubt (Hamilton 28). Everyone of us has that negative voice inside their heads but it doesn’t mean you have to listen to it (Hamilton 28). You still get to decide what you want to believe.
  • You can operate hurt (Hamilton 28). This goes back to the old coaching advice, are you hurt or are you injured. Excellent players play hurt. Excellent players are also smart players and do not play injured because playing when they are injured means long-term damage. Playing hurt means you’re in pain, so you just suck it up and press on.
  • You’re solid (Hamilton 28). This speaks to the whole person, your depth of character. Are you a person of principle, honest and caring about others or will you stop at nothing to win no matter who you have to run over to do it? If you’re in the latter category, life has a way of catching up with you and it’s not going to be pretty.

When you review these previous points, you can see how these values and principles could contribute to attaining the goals you have set. Time for an exercise here: pick a goal. Follow the formula above – visualize it. Make it challenging enough to test you. Think about the different ways of achieving the goal and decide how you will handle foreseeable obstacles. Then, write down what you will say to yourself when you face the unforeseeable obstacle – something like, “I expected this and I can handle this, what else ya got for me?!”  Now, imagine you’re already the kind of person described above – the best of the best. How would you approach this goal if you embodied those values?

Hamilton, Laird. Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, And, of Course, Surfing. New York: Rodale, 2008. Print.

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