Earlier in my life I was never much for setting goals. But now, I set goals for everything. I have health and fitness goals, I have financial goals, I have recreational goals and of course, I have rowing goals. And since January is a time when many of us make new year’s resolutions (goals), I wanted to share how I started making goals and and why.

How I started

About midway through my career I was kind of stuck. I mean, It wasn’t like I didn’t have a good job or worked at a lousy company. It was just that I was chugging along everyday like Freddie Flintstone at the rock quarry waiting for the five o’clock whistle and “Yaba-daba-doo!” time. Then, one day, a mentor of mine asked me “Giles, what are you doing with your career?” I wasn’t sure I knew what he meant. I was a hard worker and was good at my job. I was was just doing the best that I could every day and trying to provide the best for my family. So, I asked “What do you mean? I’m working as hard as I can.” He replied “That’s great but what are you doing with your career? What’s your goal?” I had to admit I didn’t really have one. 

He said “Giles, run an imaginary clothesline all the way across this room. At the far end of the clothes line take a clothes pin and hang up a picture of what you want your life to look like in 30 years.” I closed my eyes and thought about it for a little while and mentally hung up that picture. Next he said, “Now a little further down the line hang up a picture of what it looks like in 20 years.” Again, I thought about it and hung up the picture. As we repeated the exercise for 10 years, 5 years, 3 years, and 1 year, the imaginary pictures got closer and closer on the line as the years got shorter. It took time but I had a vision of each one. 

And then he dropped the hammer. “Great! What do you have to do today, right now, to start making these pictures come true?” A little stunned, I thought to myself, “Shit, now I need to do something about this.”

So what did I do now?

Now that I had a vision, I took those mental pictures down from the clothesline, and started working the other way. What did I need to do to get to year 1? I wrote down what I thought I needed to do to achieve year one’s goals. Did I just say goals? I had goals!!

I continued to write down for years 3, 5, 10, 20, and now beside goals – I had a plan! I wrote it all down and I followed it. And I surprised myself by some of the things I found myself writing down. It wasn’t just work hard to get a promotion or learn a new technology, It was things like “build better relationships” “Earn the trust of my team” “go talk to successful people” “Listen more”  But those pictures guided me through it all. 

Did stuff change? Heck yeah! Did all work perfectly? Heck no! Stuff went wrong all the time. Mistakes were made. But I always let the pictures guide me.

But you know what, it worked! My vision of 30 years was to be retired, live in a nice house, be  in good health and be financially secure enough so I didn’t have to worry day to day. To be able to enjoy my family and my grandkids. It was a simple vision but truthfully, not an easy one. There were times in my life when those things did not seem achievable.

What does this have to do with rowing?

When I discovered that I loved rowing, I knew I needed goals. At age 64 (at the time), I knew that I probably shouldn’t have a 30 year rowing goal (but now as I’m writing this, maybe I should!) So, I created a 5 year plan. I put up that clothesline again and created pictures in my mind about what I wanted my rowing and fitness to look like in 5 years, 3 years, 1 year. 

I started by picturing what I would look like sitting and rowing on the rower in 5 years. I mean, yeah, I’d be quite a bit older but that’s a given and even brought out a chuckle in me. But I thought about how fast I was going, how hard I was driving, how much I was sweating in that picture. Then I started quantifying things – How fast did I want to be going? (I use a 2000 meter row as my benchmark) How much did I want to weigh in that picture? What is my heart rate? What does my muscularity look like? I wrote it all down. 

I repeated the process for 3 years and 1 year.  Having all my goals now. I wrote down the things I needed to do to get to each milestone. Again, like all those years ago, I surprised myself. It wasn’t just about rowing, it was about the things I needed to do to be a better rower. It wasn’t just “row harder,” and “lift weights.”  I wrote things down like “eat more vegetables,” and “get 7 hours of sleep,” “Walk 3 miles a day.”

Rowing with a purpose

Because I’ve made goals, I get to row everyday with purpose. It makes my workouts so much more meaningful and enjoyable knowing that each day I’m getting closer to my goal. Everyday is a “now” moment and of course, there is a goal for each day. I set a goal for each workout then write it down on a small whiteboard that I hang on the wall right in front of the rower and use that goal to guide my workout. They are challenging goals that sometimes I meet or exceed and sometimes I don’t. And the times I don’t meet my daily goal it’s ok because I know that even though I may have fallen short that day, I still worked hard and I am still a day closer to my longer term goals.

Do it your way – but write it down

My pictures turned into goals that turned into spreadsheets and whiteboards. It’s just the way my mind works. Maybe that’s not for you. Maybe you’re a list person, or a paragraph person, or a drawing person. Whatever kind of person you are, I say write it down. Write down whatever your goals are whether it’s rowing or other fitness, career, or just personal goals. Write it down and keep it where you can see it. Because if you can see it, you can live it.

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