"There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto."
It's the start of a new year, and if you haven’t written out a list of 2021 goals yet, I’ll bet it’s at least crossed your mind. Goals are great—without them who knows the degree to which we might just float through life. Without them, would we even be human?
When they first teach trainers the tricks of the trade, they teach you to help your clients set S.M.A.R.T Goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. Makes sense. Especially from the trainer’s perspective. Once your client sets a S.M.A.R.T. goal, the clock is ticking. If you’re a good coach, and the client does all the stuff you tell them to do, great! You hit the goal, you check it off the list. On to the next.
In my time as Head Trainer at Longmont Climbing Collective, I’ve had the honor to be a part of several stories like this. From breaking into the next climbing grade, to hitting a deadlift PR by the end of the year, to fitting into that old pair of jeans. Seeing people hit their goals is The Best part about coaching. But when you hit the goal, it begs the question: now what?
That’s the thing. More than once, I’ve seen goal-oriented people sort of…run out of goals. We set personal record after personal record, and then one day the shine wears off. At that point, it can be difficult as the coach to convince this driven person that it’s about the journey, not the destination. None of this is to say that I don’t think we should all have goals. We should. But what if instead of starting with S.M.A.R.T. goals, we started with S.T.U.P.I.D. goals:
- Theoretically possible
- Unbound from time
- I couldn’t think of anything for “I.”
Spectacular. This is according to your own opinion. Climb double-digit boulders, deadlift triple bodyweight, still be training hard when you’re “elderly.” You get the idea.
Theoretically Possible. While the goal should be grand, it should still be theoretically possible for you. It might be a long shot, but it could happen. For example, “climb Denali” works, but “learn magic” doesn’t.
Unbound From Time. If you’re used to setting time-bound goals—shredded abs by summer!—it can be wholly refreshing to embrace a goal that you hope to hit “someday.”
Personal. This one is simple. This is your goal. Don’t set it according to anyone else’s opinion. What do you want out of life?
I Couldn’t Think Of Anything For I. That is all.
Dream-Worthy. What gets you going? Wouldn’t it be awesome if _________? Fill in the blank with something that you daydream about and then read the next section.
So now we have a goal that we might achieve, something that can guide us for years. Training sessions (if applicable) are now waypoints on a journey, instead of dramaturgical performances that exist for the glorification of our own achievements. We have embraced the moment, are enjoying the feeling of using our bodies in conjunction with our minds, and have let go of the need to push toward some arbitrary thing happening at an arbitrary time. Through the application of the S.T.U.P.I.D framework, our goals can serve as North stars, guiding our choices for years. Now we can get smart.
This is when you apply the S.M.A.R.T goals concept within a larger, more meaningful framework. Start working backward from your goal until you get to where you’re currently at. Like this:
Goal - deadlift 505 pounds.
Prerequisites - 455, 405, 365, 315… and so on.
Now the most important part: start where you’re at! Be honest with yourself and maybe even be a little conservative about where to start. Write it down, talk about it with your friends, make a plan. Will you need help? A coach, guide or instructor can greatly expedite this whole process (it’s what we do for a living). Are there books you can read to gather the knowledge required to progress toward the goal? Get into it!
Of course, you will not progress toward such lofty goals as these in a straight line. If that was the case, we’d all be climbing double-digit boulders and benching 3 plates. Two steps forward, one step back, juke move, three steps forward—that’s usually how it goes down in real life.
Don’t worry too much about when you will achieve the goal, just enjoy having something to work on. I think I’ve said this before, but enjoy the process—it’s all there is.