Monday, October 9, 2006

Limitations of goal-setting

This is an extract from Why Lawyers Should Surf co-authored with Dr Michelle Tempest which is now available on Waterstone's website here or can be ordered from XPL Publishing on 0870 079 8897 (p&p is included). Further extracts can be found here. To see a review of the book in The Independent click here.

Unlike most sports, there is no scientific criteria for distinguishing success for a surfer. Every surfer knows what it is but it’s often hard to put into words. In fact even to try to do so can potentially devalue it. Maybe it’s catching the longest ride, maybe it’s just getting out there and clearing your head of the day’s chores. Maybe it’s simply getting “stoked”. Whatever it is, it’s entirely subjective and the measurement for each person can even change from day to day. Surfing in this respect is more of an art than merely a sport. It is a means of self-expression. Of becoming something more and inspiring something deeper than merely the physical act.

With this in mind, it’s pretty impossible for surfers to set down an objective set of goals which they can daily work towards. Sure, they might want to improve their bottom turn or cut back. But ultimately what it boils down to for each surfer is whether they feel that sense of stoke by the end of the session. They therefore approach it with a completely flexible agenda, looking to make the best of every time they paddle out, not quite knowing what is going to happen.

Rather than being defined by goals, surfers are defined by commitment. Commitment to life in all its glory, to riding nature’s forces. Commitment to paddling out in all weathers, through all waves. Surfers learn pretty quickly that to suffer from ‘rubber arms’ where you simply go through the motions without actually getting anywhere is unsustainable. Commitment to paddling hard into waves that can truly terrify. One of the skills which a surfer learns early on is that if you’re going to catch a wave you have to commit. The crucial moment comes just when it feels like you might not make it and you’re looking down at a sizeable drop. The need to make that extra paddle, to jump up and to take the drop. In doing so, you almost join with the sea, become a part of it. Lord Byron described it in this way, “And I have loved thee, Ocean! …I wanton'd with thy breakers…And trusted to thy billows far and near, / And laid my hand upon thy mane -- as I do here.”

This also provides a very powerful metaphor for life itself. Many motivational books often get pre-occupied with the act of goal setting and in the process perhaps lose some of the soul, forgetting what it is really about. The goals are merely a means to a deeper end. This is not to say that goal-setting is not a powerful tool. Simply that it must be seen in context and if the path towards those goals is not quite straight then this must be seen as part of the great adventure rather than a deviation from the course. Goals can be good but they can also put a straight-jacket on creativity. They should be seen as setting a direction for the journey rather than determining the end of the journey in advance. When this is set, the key is to take action and commit with all the heart of a surfer paddling for a wave. The following should be seen in this context.

No comments: