Setting unrealistic goals

 In Motivational

We all know that the goals we set ourselves should follow the S.M.A.R.T principle . Specific, measurable, achievable , realistic and have a timeframe. We think of anyone who sets unrealistic goals as having a few screws loose in their head.

So imagine the response from an experienced Everest mountaineering guide when he was approached by a completely blind man who wanted a guide to help him climb Mt Everest.

Or the Director of a company who was approached for sponsorship of several £100,000 for an expedition involving two men pulling sleds weighing over 200kgs each, over a distance of 2500 km across the Antarctic continent, something no-one had even come close to achieving before.

One of the most ridiculous ideas I have heard recently was from a 47 year old man with no history of running ,who trained for 5 weeks and then attempted to run 43 marathons in 51 days.

Lunatic! What on earth was he thinking. People train for months or years and struggle to finish one marathon and he thought that 5 weeks training would be enough to get him through 43 in 51 days. Complete nutter obviously, with no idea at all about how hard it would be.

All of these goals are completely unrealistic by anyone’s definition except for the individual’s involved. Despite what everyone else thought, they were convinced that they at least had a chance of achieving them and for them that was enough to warrant making an attempt.

Saying you are going to do something and actually doing it are two different things. Did our totally unrealistic goal setters come anywhere close to achieving their goal?

On May 25 2001 Eric Weihenmayer became the first blind person to summit Mt Everest.

In March 1992, ninety three days after setting out, Ranulph Fiennes and Mike Stroud crossed the entire Antarctic continent unsupported.

The 47 year old trying to run 43 marathons in 51 days – well he was and still is a complete nutter but on September 15th 2009 British comedian Eddie Izzard completed his 43rd and final marathon in 51 days.

If these people set realistic goals they never would have achieved what most people would say is impossible. They set completely unrealistic goals then found a way to make them possible. They sacrificed a lot, suffered a lot and took some big risks but to them it was worth it.

In the words of Michelangelo “the greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it , but that it is too low and we reach it. ” Too often we sell ourselves way short of what we are capable of.

T.S. Eliot once said “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

You never know what you can achieve unless you try. Don’t let your own beliefs or other peoples beliefs put you off.

When setting yourself goals, allow yourself to dream a bit. Play out the “what if I could achieve anything I set my mind to ” scenario in your head. Let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you. If you find something that really inspires you then investigate it further and see what you would need to do to make it a reality.

Once you understand the sacrifices, risks and time commitment necessary you can then determine if it is still a goal you want to pursue.

For example finishing a marathon is a fantastic achievement and one that many people would love to say they have done but a lot less people are willing to undertake the training and suffer the pain that it will undoubtedly involve.

There is nothing wrong with this, it just means achieving that goal is not as important as other aspects in your life.

If you decide that the hard work and sacrifices would be worth it (sometimes you dont know and it is a risk you have to take) then the next step is to start getting realistic. Break down the big goal into smaller realistic goals.

You don’t even need to believe that you can achieve your big goal as long as you believe that you can achieve the smaller goals along the way. Break any goal down into small bite size believable chunks.

As some of you know I run Ultramarathons and before my first race of 155km , my longest training run was 75km. Trying to mentally deal with the fact that the race was twice as far as I had run in training was difficult so I broke it down into smaller sections of less than 20km. At the end of each section I forced myself to forget about how far I had come and how far I still had to go and just focused on the next achievable section. Mentally I could cope with the thought of running another 10-20km as long as I ignored the fact I had already run 60,70,80km beforehand and the fact that there was still another 40,50,60km to go.

Achieving a progression of small believable goals allows you to realise big seemingly unbelievable goals.

Here’s my three rules on goal setting.

1. Don’t be afraid to dream of achieving remarkable things.
2. Work out what is necessary to achieve your goal and then determine if you are prepared to do what it takes and make the necessary sacrifices.
3. Break down what you need to do into smaller realistic goals. Don’t think about how far there is left to go or how far you have come, focus only on what you have to do next.

4. Believe in yourself even if no-one else does.

Sorry that’s four but the fourth one is the most important.

I would love to hear about your goals for the next year or so. I am always inspired by hearing other people’s goals. Sometimes the most inspiring are not the people doing the incredible news worthy challenges but people taking on seemingly small challenges that are well outside their comfort zone.

Whatever you goals are, whether they are physical, mental, financial or something else, believe in yourself and find a way to make it happen.

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Showing 11 comments
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  • garrymoore

    hi to all this is my first post and thought i would say hello to you all –
    thank yous speak soon
    garry moore

  • 3ds r4

    I must say you have a cool post. This hit the spot and then some! Thanks for posting this and sharing it with the world. I’ve just bookmarked your site. Keep up your awesome work.

  • Tim

    Great to see people actually replying as requested ;-p
    Also my first post, really enjoying your info Andy, thanks for putting it all up here and publically accessible.

    For me, I’ve always been chubby, and in the last 6 weeks I’ve lost 3kg’s, and am determined to get to low body fat % over the next couple of months, just by losing 1kg fat at a time.

    My other goal, I’ve never been able to run. Can cycle all day, but running hurts my back, shin splints, stuffed shins, Osgood Schlatter’s in the knees etc etc. So just a picture of health.
    This year I want to be able to start running.

    Incidentally Andy, I’m in Sydney (Kellyville), and will be in contact sometime in the future to hopefully talk about some training sessions toward these goals!


    • admin

      Hi Tim

      Thanks for posting. 3kgs in 6 weeks is spot on. Half a kilo a week is an achievable and sustainable rate of fat loss so well done. I am sure carrying a few less kilos will help your running also. Good to hear you haven’t given up on the idea . Keep me posted as to how you are getting on and I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

  • James C

    Thanks for the post Andy.

    Makes my dream of running an ultra achievable if I break it down and run some shorter distances first.

    • admin

      Glad you liked the post James. Running an ultra is achieveable for almost any runner. All you need is the desire to do it and the belief that you can. The great thing about ultras is that your belief in the ability to finish is often a leap of faith since if you haven’t run that distance how can you possibly know? The belief comes from the qualities of you as a person and the training you have put in. Come race day it’s one big adventure for all of us. Nothing is certain but that’s a big attraction in doing an ultra. If you were 100% certain you could finish then the attraction for many is not the same. That’s why we run ultras not 10k races

      For many, confidence is built up through a series of progressively longer shorter events or training sessions. Through the completion of these we base out foundation of belief in finishing longer events.

      Enjoy the journey – it’s a rich and rewarding one.

  • Rich @LeJOG_2014

    Great post and a motivator that I’m sure I’ll be referring back to. I agree totally with the “next 10-20km” approach, it’s so much easier if “impossible” tasks are broken down into immediate and achievable parts.

    My challenge is to get back into running after 22 years out & 60+ lbs on the waistline, so I set myself the mad task of cracking the unsupported LeJOG record of 17 days. Thankfully I’ve tipped a nod to sanity in giving myself a year to prepare.

    Not sure what the next 425 days will hold (yes, I have a calendar countdown app), but it’s going to be interesting finding out, and if I don’t get there, I’ll have got fit trying.

    • Andy DuBois

      Thanks for your comments Rich. Sounds like a great challenge ahead of you. Good luck with your preparation.


  • Aaron

    Possibly the best post/article I have read! So inspiring. A couple of years ago I decided to get my life back on track (story for another day). Since then I have managed a couple of Half Marathons, the Marysville to Melbourne Multisport challenge, 3 Peaks (cycling) and in 11 days will tackle my first Ultra, the Surf Coast Century. On the 9th November I am going to attempt to ride 500klms in 24 hours, followed the following week by my first Half Ironman. This post has just solidified the belief that I can achieve what I set out to!

    • Andy DuBois

      Thanks for the kind words Aaron. Best of luck with your upcoming races – love to hear how you get on

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