Goals Setting Success
The following story is an extreme example of goal setting in practice, but also serves to demonstrate that, if it can work in a life-or-death situation, it can be applied just as effectively in normal life.
He fell, severely breaking his leg. Storms were coming; he and his partner, Simon Yates, were out of heating fuel; and Simon and Joe were climbing Alpine style, which means that they had no camps along the climb, no extra supplies, no help.
They were all alone. Their story is brutal & yet heroic. Simon lowered Joe with a rope 300 feet at a time down the mountain. He lowered Joe over and over until he accidentally lowered Joe off a cliff. Joe hung on the rope looking at a 100 foot drop below him, unable to move up the rope or get down to the bottom.
At the same time, Simon hung onto Joe for hours, not knowing what had happened, and not knowing why Joe did not release the rope so he could climb down the mountain and meet him. Simon hung on during a storm until he, too, began slipping down the mountain. Simon had to make a terrible decision. He cut the rope and let Joe fall.
Joe fell into a crevasse and landed on a ledge. After realizing that Simon would not find him, he lowered himself 150 feet to the crevasse floor, and climbed up 130 feet through a side passage out of the crevasse.
He crawled, slid, hobbled and fell for miles and miles, across glacier and rock bed to get back to the base camp. He did this all with no water, no food, frostbitten fingers, and a leg that was completely shattered.
How did he do it?
“And then it occurred to me that I should set definite targets”- Joe Simpson from the movie “Touching the Void.” * Joe’s story is a gut-wrenching example of SMART goal setting. And while it may seem incongruous to compare how Joe survived his life and death ordeal to setting goals in our every day lives, I believe that Joe’s story is a testament to how powerful this technique is.
Over and over, Joe set small, doable goals to get his life back. He clung to these little tasks and had laser focus in their completion. He got his life back 20 minutes at a time.“I started to look at things and think, ‘If I can get to that crevasse over there in 20 minutes, that’s what I’m going to do.’ … And it became obsessive. I don’t know why I did it. I think I knew the big picture of what was happening to me, and what I had to do was so big, I couldn’t deal with it.”
Never have I heard such dramatic and poignant use of SMART goals. Crawl for 20 minutes to the next rock. Then crawl for 20 minutes more. Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Timely. Over and over. Joe focused his mind on the small goals he could manage instead of being overwhelmed at the enormity of his situation.
“I’d look at a rock and go, ‘Right, I’ll get there in 20 minutes.’ Once I’d decided I was going to get that distance in 20 minutes, I bloody well was gonna do it. And it would help me because I’d get halfway through the distance and I would be in such pain, I just couldn’t bear the thought of getting up and falling again. But I’d look at the time and think, ‘I’ve got to get there.’ ”
His focus was complete. His goals were his only attention. One of the best ways to face a stressful situation is to break it into smaller tasks, and have each task very attainable and with measurable results.
As we looked at in the previous chapter, Joe used SMART goals to get himself to safety and save himself in 1985. Joe crawled off a mountain, with a leg that was so badly broken that his lower leg was pushed up through his knee, splitting the bone above. He crawled for miles until he finally reached safety.
For Joe, his SMART goals literally saved his life. Unlike most of us, Joe’s stress was not a function of modern life – stress which has perceived negative consequences but not actual life-threatening risk. Despite the difference between Joe’s circumstances and ours, Joe’s story offers great help to us all.
Extreme stories like Joe’s are beacons to what is important in less extreme circumstances. Whenever I feel a task is too big or against all odds, I remember Joe crawling 20 minutes to the next boulder. Completing one simple job within a big project, making it through one difficult day during an emotional crisis, reacting one time with patience and humor instead of anger, one step at a time, we can all make our bigger goals.
In the next article, “Marc’s Big 4 0 Plan” I show you how goal setting transformed and gave clarity to my life. For many years prior to this I had simply reacted to events rather than controlled my destiny. This became one of the best, most productive times of my life. I wish I had learned this skill earlier.
*Joe Simpson’s story is told in his book “Touching the Void”, published by Harper Paperbacks in the revised edition in 2004. It was also made into a stunning move, “Touching the Void” directed by Kevin Macdonald and produced in 2003.
Author: Marc Walton