Goals are a funny thing. Specificity is typically the name of the game when it comes to choosing a goal. Be more specific. Clarify your goal to the point where you can clearly envision all of its details and exactly what it looks like. If you can see it, you can achieve it. And, this is really what the mind wants – an edge on which to grab rather than trying to focus on some ambiguous shape. Just for comparison, describe the details of your day and then try to describe the details of last night’s dream. There is no comparison, right? It’s just a lot easier to talk about reality than an ill-defined scenario.
The bottom line is that we, as humans, are way more equipped to deal with concrete rather than abstract subjects. So we’re vastly more successful when we can create an image of clarity in our minds about what it is that we want to accomplish.
Interestingly, however, is the fact that sometimes the more specific we are with our goals, the more elusive they become.
I realize that this is in direct contrast to the aforementioned concept and the first rule of choosing SMART goals, which is to be specific. It’s also contrary to the applicable shooting and target practice adage which is “aim small, miss small.” But, ultimately, the nature of a thing sometimes just won’t afford you guaranteed success regardless of planning or effort.
Now, keep in mind that I’m not referring to something ludicrous like attempting to fly to the moon using a kite. Or, wanting to win a gold medal at the Olympics in Judo yet never spending a single day on the mat. Obviously people have flown to the moon and people do win gold medals at the Olympics. However, no one would consider either of those actual goals. Although specific, stuff like that’s just not realistic and, therefore, not achievable.
But even choosing a smaller and more down to earth goal can be impossible to guarantee success. What if you wanted to win the 5km race hosted by your local community college? Unless you were an Olympic-caliber runner with intimate knowledge of your competitors, could you truly guarantee a win? Probably not, because even in that small-scale environment there are way too many variables of which to contend. And there’s only one first place, after all.
So if you can’t achieve your specific goals, what’s the point of even declaring one?
To that I would ask, what’s the point of doing anything if there’s no intention or purpose (i.e. a goal) behind the act?
The obvious thing to do then, in the example of the 5km race, is to declare that you want to place in the top three, or maybe just the top ten. Or, maybe your goal is to complete the race in a certain timeframe that’s within your ability. That’s great. But we need to be careful about shifting that marker too far from the specific to something more generic like “my goal is to have fun.”
There’s obviously nothing wrong with having fun. In fact, having a good time should be a requisite for completing any goal. Well, that is unless you’re goal is to change the wax ring on the base of your toilet because it’s leaking. There’s nothing fun about that. But a lot of times just wanting to have fun doesn’t yield the proper motivation to cause a person to challenge themselves to (potentially) achieve something great. At some point while pursuing any passion, fun becomes work. So the work better be fun, right?
I always struggle to reconcile the fact that in spite of wanting to accomplish a thing (regardless of scale), I know there’s seldom a guarantee that I will succeed at it. But that’s the discipline. We forge ahead in pursuit of our passions regardless of outcome because our curiosity needs to be sated. We need to answer the question. We need to scratch that itch.
Right now, this is the world in which I live regarding my 2021 Tahoe Big Year. I’m currently in a bird slump. Not that I haven’t seen any birds. I just haven’t seen many new species of birds recently. To add insult to injury, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard and searched for various birds that I need for my list, yet never have actually seen them. Mountain Quail and Hermit Thrushes come to mind…
Again, that’s one of the funny things about goals. You can plan, prepare, and then go look for those Mountain Quail, for example, in their preferred habitat at the right time of year. However, if they don’t want to be found you’re not going to find them.
This unpredictable nature of birding, though, has reminded me of a lesson I learned long ago. And that is that the majority of my most memorable life experiences have manifested from having clear goals, but approaching them with high hopes and low expectations.
In the end, there’s always adventure to experience and something wonderful to discover when you’re flexible and open-minded about what you seek to achieve. And, as paradoxically as it sounds, sometimes you have to clarify your goals to actually be less specific because once you target-fixate on a thing, you become blinded to all other opportunity.
For those of you interested in reading more about my thoughts regarding goals, check out my mini-series of articles regarding goals and backpacking.
Here are some images of Sierra Nevada birds that I photographed this past month.
Click on each photo for its name and the date taken.
I shared this video a few months back but it’s still relevant, particularly to this month’s essay 🙂
Believe it or not, I actually produced a new YouTube video! Although, it is cross-country skiing oriented. haha. I think the bottom line is that I’m just not going to get around to producing summer-related content this year. I have to decide and clarify what it is that I want to accomplish with my YouTube channel for the summer.
Please subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already. Thank you 🙂
Thanks for being a part of my life. Until next time…
Tahoe Trail Guide is an online resource for hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the Lake Tahoe region. In addition to trail data, I offer backcountry “how-to” articles and information about the local and natural history of Tahoe. Tahoe Swag is a collection of art and design products I create based on my love of the outdoors and appreciation for Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains.
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