The Art of Goal Setting
I have always approached life with the freedom to go after my dreams. Perhaps one of the greatest life skills my parents taught my brothers and me was to be fearless in setting big stretch goals. They encouraged us to reach for the stars, and taught us that whether or not we attained those pie-in-the-sky dreams, the act of trying and striving for them was enough to help us achieve more than we ever thought possible. Fearless means not to be afraid, even if the reach exceeds the grasp. Embracing fearlessness allows us to reach our highest potential, bringing success, learning, and a lot of happiness along the way.
During the summer between my Sophomore and Junior years of college I decided to spend my school break on Martha’s Vineyard. I wanted to do something to challenge myself, so I set a goal to make $10,000. It was a lot of money for a kid who didn’t have a job and needed to pay for rent and food. However I was undaunted and undeterred. I got down to the island and immediately went to work setting up a plan for the summer. Within a week I had landed a job as a part-time nanny, in exchange for a place to live in the family’s 1-bedroom guesthouse. They also agreed to pay for my food and gas. On the days when I was not nannying I had landed five other jobs. During those days I either worked as a waitress at one of the nearby restaurants, or for a construction company shingling houses. At night I worked either as the hostess at the fanciest restaurant in town, or as a waitress for a catering company at weddings and events. And every Saturday I was at the local farmer’s market helping to sell salsa made by a local family. I worked a LOT, but I made that $10,000, and my summer experience was full and rich. I met so many people from so many walks of life and I left the island that year feeling content and satisfied, and a lot wealthier!
As another, more recent example, in 2009 I was working 100+ hour weeks as an Investment Banker on Wall Street. I was smoking 1-2 packs of cigarettes per day and doing nothing healthy for my body. On a whim, I signed up for a triathlon, and when the race was over I was hooked. I went home, bought a bike and started training. In my second race, I won! In an instant, I went from building a successful career in Finance to suddenly dreaming of becoming World Champion and winning the Hawaii Ironman.
I remember first meeting coach, Matt Dixon of Purplepatch Fitness. He asked me what I wanted to achieve, and without hesitation I responded “I want to be World Champion”. I had nothing to show for such an outrageous claim other than a few average amateur age-group results. Yet I knew that if I was going all in on triathlon then my goal was to be the best in the World.
Over the past decade, my life has been committed to being World Champion. The process of striving for that goal has brought me great success. I have been ranked 3rd in the world in a single season and have twice finished 7th at the World Championships. I have won 11 Ironman and 70.3 titles and achieved over 50 podiums. I set the 3rd fastest time for an American woman in Ironman and am currently one of the fastest runners in the sport. Traveling all over the world to compete, I made countless friendships that would have never have happened if it were not for the sport. I pushed my body well beyond any physical and mental limits I may have imagined. Chasing my huge dream is the whole reason I have achieved more than I actually thought was possible.
Chasing my goal has also brought me many failures and frustrations. I suffered a fractured femur, which put me out of competition for 6 months. To this day my coaches and I have not been able to progress my swimming to the level we have hoped for, and have had to re-adjust race strategies and training plans to emphasize the bike and run. One year, I DNF’d at the World Championships . I have crashed my bike and been taken by ambulance to a hospital in a foreign country. I have had long periods of burn out. I have questioned my capabilities. There have been times when my progression has plateaued in one or all of the sports within triathlon. We have had to constantly re-assess and adjust short-, medium- and long-term timelines based on break out performances, or slumps, or just a need for rest.
The process has been anything but easy. In fact, in 2018 I had one of my worst years ever from a performance-perspective, and I was so burned out that I was contemplating leaving the sport. Then, after a significant break, 2019 proceeded as a breakout season and my best year ever. And after that AMAZING season, I went into the World Championships expecting everything would come together. Instead, I had my worst performance to-date in Kona. This is how progress goes.
Whether in sport or in life, learning how to chase big stretch goals fearlessly is an important skill set to master. Setting goals can breed confidence, motivation and increases your likelihood for success. In a 2015 study by Psychologist Gail Matthews, participants who simply wrote down their goals were 33% more likely to achieve them than those who kept their goals in their head.
So how do you set big stretch goals? You can’t simply say “I want to be World Champion” or “One day I will be President” and expect that you will go from A to B in a linear way. No – there is a long and often arduous process that needs to be explored. I am delighted to share my experiences and ideas on setting big goals with each of you, and invite you to embrace a new approach that promises to enhance your long-term and day-to-day life.
Below I have outlined just a few of my top tips for how to fearlessly set dream goals, and how go about working towards them.
Sarah Piampiano-Lord’s Top 8 Tips for Big Stretch Goal Setting:
- Pick a Big Stretch Goal: Think about the biggest goal you can imagine – Something that you would love to achieve but are not sure it is possible. That pie-in-the-sky moment or thing. THAT is your Big Stretch Goal. Write it down. Tell someone what it is. Make it real.
- Consider Your Timeline: Consider a realistic timeline for achieving your Dream Goal. Usually it is a longer time-frame, like years, not weeks or months. Big goals are seldom achieved over the short- or medium-term.
- Find Your Inner Circle: Create an inner circle of close advisors and mentors who will help guide you. They are the people who will help guide/inspire you on your journey. This circle may evolve, but it is typically made up of individuals whose honest opinions you respect and are allies in your journey from the start.
- Create a Realistic List of Your Strengths and Weaknesses: Understanding your core set of strengths and weaknesses, and how they can impact your journey will be critical to the process. Self-awareness and introspection must be a regular part of every good success plan. Seek advice from your advisors and challenge them to identify your strengths and weaknesses as well. Work with them to determine how to leverage your strengths and what actions you can take to address your weaknesses.
- Create a Road Map of What You Must Accomplish First: Make a list of everything you think you must do to achieve your goal. Ask your advisors what they feel are the most important first steps. These can be in the form of accomplishments, promotions, accolades, skill development, networking, etc.
- Determine Short-, and Medium- Term Goals: With your longer-term Big Stretch Goal in mind, begin by establishing 3-month, 6-month, 1-year, and 3-year goals that you will begin to work towards. This helps break each step into tangible and manageable areas of focus. It can help you focus and feel confident in achieving smaller steps one-by-one.
- Master the Basics: To achieve great success, you must master the basics of your craft. Think about several key factors what will contribute to long-term success such as consistent regular sleep, good communication, and important personal boundaries. Identify areas where extra focus will be necessary and then begin to implement and comit to those basic habits.
- Be Flexible: Understand that at times you may need to pivot. Some near term goals may take longer than expected, and others may take no time at all. Be willing to constantly re-assess. Being open to new ideas is an important part of any goal setting process.
Goal setting can be exciting, motivating and inspiring. To make progress, goals are essential. And setting Big Stretch Goals help us reach our highest potential. I hope these tips offer some guidance and motivation to begin setting your own goals.
If you would like to learn more, I would love the opportunity to explore each of these ideas with you as well as offer some practical case studies on how each concept can apply to your own goal setting processes. I host webinars on The Art of Setting Big Stretch Goals, as well as offer 1×1 sessions.
Maine-born Sarah Piampiano is a professional triathlete who now resides and trains full-time in Northern California under the guidance of purplepatch fitness founder and coach, Matt Dixon. Piampiano is a four-time IRONMAN champion with a career best time of. 8:40:46, setting the third fastest time ever for an American woman at the IRONMAN distance. She is a seven-time IRONMAN 70.3 Champion and has placed seventh overall female and second American female at the IRONMAN World Championships in 2015 and 2016. You can learn more about Sarah on her ProKit profile (https://theprokit.com/p/spiampiano/) or her website (https://sarahpiampiano.com/)