It’s the end of December. 2023 is knocking at the door. While I don’t believe New Year’s resolutions work well, I do think the start of a new year is a great time to set some big, scary, and exciting goals. So let me walk you through my process for setting big goals.
One of my goals for 2023 is to complete the WURL, which is a 32.2-mile ridge scramble along the highest ridges of the Wasatch mountains. It’s a beast of a day, to say the least, and I’m super excited to tackle it this year. So follow along as I walk through my goal-setting process for this big goal.
Step 1. Dream Big
Take about 5-10 minutes to brain-dump all your big ideas and bold dreams of who you want to be or what you want to accomplish in the future. Don’t think too hard about how to phrase it or if it makes sense at this point. Just dump out all your big idea.
Here’s my list:
- Ski all couloirs on Deseret Peak
- Run the Quest for Kings Marathon
- Serve 20 new coaching clients
- Pay off the mortgage
- Drop Neon or Mystery Canyon
- Buy a new house
- Live with complete integrity
- Go on a family adventure each month
- Plan a trip to the Philippines
- Learn Spanish
These are most of my big ideas for the year, but if you have bigger plans that may take more than a year, put those down too.
Don’t judge any of your ideas at this point, just put them down, and don’t worry about how ridiculous or crazy your dreams may be. Get excited and create an amazing future for yourself in your mind. If you aren’t motivated to dream big, imagine if you were motivated, what would you want?
Step 2. Rank your dreams
Take your list and start to sort them by priority and categorize any that may be able to fall in the same bucket as others. Pick your top three dreams and set the rest aside for now.
Step 3. Pick one dream and make it a goal
Now get serious about these top three ideas. Sit with them for a bit and decide which ONE to focus on first. This will be your top priority goal. I’ll discuss living aligned with values and purpose another day, but for now, think about how this dream aligns with your core values and life purpose. If it’s out of alignment, you’ll have a hard time accomplishing the goal. Also, consider who else may have a stake in this goal. If your significant other will be negatively impacted if this dream becomes a reality, you may not have the support you need.
For me, my top goal from my list isn’t the WURL, but that’s the one I’ll focus on in this post. So I need to consider if taking all the time to train and prepare for this would be supported by my wife and kids. If this were a goal to summit Mt. Anconcagua, right now might not be the best time in life to do it as I would need to take more time away from my wife and kids than they or I am willing to give.
But the WURL is in my backyard and I already spend plenty of time traipsing about in the Wasatch so it won’t interfere with my relationships and it’s in alignment with my values.
The dream you pick should also make you excited. It should be something you could dream about for a while imagining what you’d feel after completing it and feeling motivated to put in the work. If you’re not excited now, you won’t be when the work gets tough.
Step 4. Make it a SMART goal
You’ve likely used the SMART model before to set goals. For me, this is an important part, but it’s only part of the process. I won’t go into detail here because most people are familiar with this process, but here’s a high-level overview of the SMART model I use as a check on my goals:
S – Specific and Simple – is it specific enough that you’ll know exactly when you accomplish it and is it simply stated so you’ll be able to remember it throughout your day?
M – Measurable and Meaningful – Is it measurable? Can you put a number on it? Is it meaningful to you enough to motivate you to put in the work?
A – Achievable – Is your goal something you can actually achieve? This doesn’t mean it will be easy, but is it possible?
R – Realistic and Responsible – Is it realistic that you have the resources, time, knowledge, and skill – or can find them? Is it responsible for you to spend time and energy to accomplish this, both to others in your life, to yourself, and to the world at large?
T – Time-bound – Do you have a specific date by which you’ll complete your goal?
Here’s my SMART model for the WURL
S – Finish the WURL – very specific and very simple
M – I either finish it or I don’t. This means one go to finish the entire route.
A – I’ve done almost this entire route as separate segments, so I know I have the skill and knowledge to do it.
R – It will require a lot of work, but I have the experience and skill to do it and do it responsibly. I wouldn’t feel this was responsible if I was new to scrambling in exposed terrain and long days at elevation.
T – I will accomplish this by the end of September 2023. I would pick a specific date for this, but it’s very weather dependent so I’ll start slotting in completion dates starting early in September to ensure I have plenty of time if I have to reschedule a few times.
If you can’t meet all these requirements for your goal, take some time to tweak it and refine it until you can.
Step 5. Define the gap
Assess and define the gap between where you’re at now and where you need to be when the goal is complete. What skills, knowledge, tools, or resources will you need to succeed?
This part is important. Fast forward in your mind to a time right after you’ve completed the goal. Visualize it in your mind. For me I’ll be exhausted, thirsty, hot, dusty, and elated. I’ll have gotten up before sunrise for an early start, scrambled my way through the route, grabbed food and water from my caches that I’ll have strategically placed prior to the big day. I’ll have completed every segment of the route on its own prior to linking them all together, and I’ll have put in the physical work to do it all in one go. My wife will pick me up when I’m done and I’ll go home with a lot of good stories to tell her as I rest, recover, and celebrate.
This visualization will help you see what will need to be in place for you to be successful. Be as specific and detailed as you can here.
Step 6. Chunk it out
This part is where the real work of setting and achieving goals is and also where most people fail. We need to break big goals down into an action plan made up of small milestone goals. For an annual goal, I typically break it down by quarter and then split it into monthly, biweekly, or weekly action plans. I like to work backward from the goal and build a base plan from that.
Here’s what my WURL action plan looks like:
Complete each section of the route prior to linking them all together
- Section 1: Ferguson to Twin
- Section 2: Twin to Flagstaff
- Section 3: Flagstaff to Point Supreme
- Section 4: Point Supreme to Red Stack
- Section 5: Red stack to Pfeiff
- Section 6: Pfeiff to Lone Peak
- Section 7: Lone Peak to Bell’s
I’ve already completed most of these, but some I’ve never connected across tricky ridge scrambles so I’ll need to practice each one starting from the finishing point of the prior section to ensure I’ve seen the full route in its entirety and don’t have any questions about route finding. I plan to use these segments for my training runs so I’ll get several reps on many of them before the big day.
Since the majority of the route will be buried in snow until midsummer, I’ll need to start building fitness at elevation before that. I’ll do that by clocking at least 5,000 ft of elevation gain either on my skis or trail running each week going as high up as I can based on avalanche risk and weather.
I’m currently getting between 3-5k vert so I’ll have to up that a bit. I’ll also need to build my endurance up a lot since the WURL will likely take me about 16-20 hours. This will become more important as I get closer to the goal, so I’ll build to longer days during the summer months building up to several long days with easier terrain as well as a few days where I do a big chunk of the actual route.
I’ll place two caches along the route with water and food at strategic locations.
Step 7: Schedule every action
This is where you commit yourself to your plan. If you put a date on an action it becomes a milestone goal you need to hold yourself accountable to (and if you’re bad at that, look at finding someone else to help hold you accountable).
I won’t share my specific calendar for the WURL, but I’ve mapped out all my workouts and a potential route for it. Mountain training is tricky because it’s weather dependent, so I have backup routes and flexible dates. This will make it harder for me to back out of my plan if the scheduled route is rained out or high avy danger. I was also sure to plan in vacations, holidays, birthdays, etc, so I can be sure those don’t derail my plan.
A week may look like this:
- Monday – Ski to red top or alternate (~3700 ft vert)
- Tuesday – Yoga & Strength training
- Wednesday – Trail run in Dimple Dell for 2 hours
- Thursday – Yoga & Strength
- Friday – Rest
- Saturday – Ski Argenta or alternate (~3400 ft vert)
- Sunday – rest
Step 8: Execute the plan
After you’ve got a detailed plan laid out on your calendar with clear actionable items that will get you to your goal, all you need to do is execute the plan – day by day, week by week, until you cross the finish line. It sounds easy, and if you’ve followed all the other steps, it may be, but you’ll certainly run into obstacles, and justifications for not wanting to wake up early or stay the course on hard days.
Step 9: Manage your thoughts
The moment you start to formalize your plan, your brain is going to start fighting you. Your brain doesn’t want to get up early and work hard, it wants to sleep in and not stretch. You need to be continually vigilant of your thoughts and accept that you’re going to feel doubt, discouragement, disappointment, etc., and understand that this is totally normal and expected.
The trick is to manage these thoughts appropriately so they don’t knock you off track. You can do this by tracking the thoughts back to their root and understanding why you’re thinking what you’re thinking and adjusting as needed.
Once you understand that the actions you take are directly tied to the thoughts you’re thinking, you will recognize that if you have the wrong thoughts, you’ll take the wrong actions and you won’t get the results you want.
It all starts with thoughts and it all hinges on thoughts. If a thought isn’t moving you toward your goal but is pulling you away from it, you need to change it or you’ll have a hard time.
I also like to keep my vision of success front and center. Some people use vision boards for this, but I like to set up a folder on my computer full of images that represent success to me. I set this folder on shuffle for my computer background and then I see images that inspire me all day as I sit at my desk.
Step 10: Celebrate your success
If all goes as planned and you’re able to execute all the steps of what you put on your calendar, you will accomplish your goal. YOU WILL ACCOMPLISH YOUR GOAL! You need to believe this. And once you accomplish your goal, you need to celebrate. Plan out your celebration just like you did your actual goal. What will you do? Who will be there? Make a plan, calendar it out, and stick to it. This will help your brain stay motivated and focused. Make the celebration equal to the work required to complete the task.
For me, the celebration will be a vacation to Moab with my wife. We’ll swim, soak, relax, bike, eat delicious food, and rest.
This is my 10-step model for setting and accomplishing goals. I’d love to help you with your goals if you feel intimidated or confused about what goals you want to set or how to accomplish them.
Reach out to me here to set up a time to chat.