In August, I had the opportunity to step foot on the 5th largest peak in the contiguous United States. How would I describe it? Epic.
Mt. Rainier is not only a difficult & technical climb, it is used as a training mountain for higher peaks of the Himalayas. Those who have reached the summit will tell you, it is both physically and mentally enduring.
So what grand lessons did I learn from this adventure? Lots. But the most analogous were those to my personal life and career, specifically around goal setting.
It is usually necessary to do some type of homework before you set a serious goal. You need to answer all the usual questions: what, where, when and why? For example, what are you trying to accomplish, specifically. I mean, specifically. Where will you work on this goal and when? But most importantly, why is this important to you? I think the ‘why’ answer is the best indicator of the rate of success. A clear, personal motivation will carry you a long way. Thoughtful planning upfront can really make the difference between crushing a commitment and something that fades out over time.
Hire An Expert Who Has Done It Before
This is obvious when talking about a climbing a mountain, but it applies for many personal-life and work goals too. I decided to climb Rainier with a guide… but not just one. We had four guides for the eight climbers in our group. Having them was critical to the success of the team that eventually reached the summit.
Notice the guide, with the orange helmet, second from the left? While the team was working hard and enjoying the experience, the guides were ALWAYS planning ahead. If you want to be successful, find someone else that has done it before you. Or even better, find someone that does it frequently. This might be a public speaker, personal trainer or a former smoker. Anyone that has walked the path before you will be a great mentor and coach to help you reach your own goals. A coach has the ability to look out ahead, while you are focusing on the effort.
Don’t Set Out to Climb The Entire Mountain
This was my mantra through my training and the actual climb itself. Some goals are just too big and daunting to take on in one effort. For many people, focusing on a smaller goal, like: “I just need to climb for one hour!” is much easier, and more mentally achievable, than “I need to climb for fourteen hours?!?!”
In the professional world, we break large projects down into more manageable tasks all the time. Not only does this help us better estimate the amount of effort it will take, but it also helps us focus. Summit day was one-foot-in-front-of-the-other for 14+ hours. The goal is to reach the top, but that is really only half way. A safe step is one step closer to returning home as well. In our daily lives, the same applies. The focus should be on completing smaller tasks with frequent breaks.
Don’t Let Your Mind Play Tricks On You
On the mountain, it’s very easy to psych yourself out. You’re climbing a 35 degree incline of ice with 50′ wide and 100′ deep crevasses…and a backpack full of gear. It’s dangerous. It’s very easy to let the element of danger get in the way of putting that next foot down safely.
In the real-world, we don’t have the same types of physical dangers, but we do have lots of other mental distractions. Some of these distractions come in the form of doubt or worry and others more digital like Facebook and ESPN. On the mountain, keeping focus on your steps helps your mind from wandering. Only during planned breaks can you really stop and take in the experience around you. The same applies back at sea-level. It’s more effective to proactively plan out specific times for addressing these distractions. That way, when you are working, you can focus better at the task at hand.
Make Intelligent Choices Along the Way
Mountains are constantly changing. Even with guides (who climb every day), a path that worked the week or even the day before may not even exist today. We experienced this several times when the path in front of us suddenly disappeared into a crevasse. The constant re-routes were exhausting, but it was important to stay mentally strong for the team.
Many times a difficult maneuver presents itself to a team. It’s important to take the time to slow down and make sure everyone is making the right strategic move. Sometimes it’s necessary to slow down to go faster. Or at least, safer. The key is to work as a team to make sure you don’t make a mistake and everyone succeeds together.
Celebrate Small Milestones
During the ascent, we climbed for 1 hour and then rested for 10 minutes. Climbed 1 hour, then rest 10 minutes. …for 14 hours. The first 15 minutes of each of those climbs was usually easy. You’ve just come off a rest, are re-energized and ready to go. The middle 20-25 minutes were a steady decrease in energy and excitement. And usually by about 45-50 minutes into a climb, you were ready for a break again. The 1 hour schedule seemed less and less like a coincidence, it was required.
While climbing, I didn’t have much time to pause and enjoy the scenery around me; you’re pretty much looking at your feet for 14 hours straight. But the scenery is half of the reason for being there! So, during my breaks I made sure to stop and really appreciate where I was. And appreciate that so few people get this opportunity and that I wasn’t going to let myself or others down by not enjoying it.
Stopping for a moment along the way also gave me the ability to look back on the path behind me. This gave me a sense of accomplishment and additional motivation to push for the next hour. This is incredibly important of teams and people with person goals. A recovering addict will tell you: every day is a struggle – but every day is also an accomplishment. Making sure to be aware of these small accomplishments can give you the push to make it through the next hour climb.
Celebrate Big Milestones
Of course, the reason you set out to climb a mountain is to reach the top (and back down safely). And when you do so, there better be a can of beer waiting for you at the bottom.
It’s important to take the time to pause and reflect on the accomplishment you just made. Reflecting gives you the ability to appreciate the hard work that you just gave and learn from any mistakes you may have made along the way. It also gives you the ability to share your experience with others.
Rainier was an awesome place. I met some great people and learned a lot about myself, hard work and commitment. It opened my eyes to a new way to looking at goal setting and goal execution. For that, I thank the mountain for allowing me to be there that week and I wish you the best of luck on climbing your next mountain.