Goal Setting?

Forget being SMART it's time to SWEAR...


We’ve all seen different acronyms and approaches used by individuals and coaches alike to try and come up with a plan to actually achieving something and we’ve also seen the same SMART ones being used to death, that even when mentioned cause everyone’s eyes to glaze over and the yawns to start!


I’ve come up with a method that attacks the fundamentals of success whilst utilising the various elements of your goal that you need to work on, to build a bulletproof approach to your goal setting, plan building and the most appropriate way to attack for optimal results.  Trust me, it’s a plan to SWEAR by regardless of what it is you want to achieve!


This is based on a workshop that I was asked to deliver by The North Face a few weeks ago, to those looking at various adventurous and race related challenges, however, as you’ll soon see you can use it for ALL your health, fitness, work and life goals!


I have a long history of choosing seriously challenging, ermm challenges, be they sport, race, adventure or career related and have been faced with numerous physical and mental barriers that have required me to dig extremely deep to try and keep progressing, sometimes successful, but far more often unsuccessfully! Ultimately, for me it’s the trying that counts.  I don’t want to be that person who gets to a stage of my life, where I really am limited and be stating, ‘I wish I had tried that….’.


I have been fortunate enough to have been mentored, led and taught some huge life skills, from a few teachers (many moons ago!) that actually got ‘it’, through to some of the most mentally resilient and unrelenting Marines that I’ve had the pleasure of either serving alongside or being instructed by, through to seeing my wonderful children grow up and teach me far more in their short lives than I have learned in the rest of my life put together.  I have also had the most incredible privilege of being educated in a wide variety of of personal and team development methodologies that I can honestly say that I use elements of which daily, be it personally or with my clients (generally without them realising it!).


Enough about me!  Let’s look at you, your ideas and your dreams, because until you start putting that plan, time line and commitment together that’s all they are, ideas and dreams!


This next section is for you to read, think about, grab a pen and paper (or tablet - I must get around to being in the 21st century!) and then to start adding the elements to make this all about you and your goals so that you can start developing a plan that leaves you with little option, but to achieve!


The acronym (because it wouldn’t be goal setting without one!):




or more relevantly, the formula:


S + W + E + A = R







Standing for:







All the points are mutually supportive and interlinked, so you may find that you as you start to look at your goal or plan you will have to adapt or amend elements until you establish that bombproof plan*.


We’re going to start with RESULT and then pick up the other elements to the formula as they become relevant.



Background:  The result, your intended goal, can sometimes be simple to define, but from what I’ve encountered it is generally pretty difficult to quantify and commit too.  You must be fully aware that when developing or choosing a goal that ultimately it will require change, which is seems that most people are either afraid of or they try to resist.  Well here’s the thing, if you are not willing to adapt or to change an aspect of your routine, or your attitude, or your approach, you will not improve and you will definitely not achieve.  The two biggest things that holds people back is the fear of failure just as much as a fear of success, whether that’s linked to a lack of confidence or a realisation, that guess what, if you succeed change is next thing on the cards!


Homework:  Grab paper, pen, pencil, tablet, it doesn’t matter, and just start listing all the things you've wanted to do or actually write down the things that you’ve already decided to do.  If necessary put them in different categories - for example, home, work, fitness, athletic performance, adventure.  Next have a read through them and get rid of the weak ones (unless they can be used as milestones towards achieving THE big goal, then add them to your strategy list).  Next, try and put them in some kind of order, whether that is related to time, personal circumstances, optimum climate of the place you are wanting to adventure in!  This is where you may need to get help.  Ultimately the final decision is yours to make as have true ownership of a task or a goal is so incredibly key to the chances of success, however, don’t be afraid to ask advice from people you trust or someone who has already achieved or tried the very thing you want.  Once you’ve nailed that specific goal or goals and put them in a list of priority, that’s it you’re committed! This is a truly fantastic milestone in the journey towards success and one that you need to recognise, as from this point onwards, at the appropriate time you must do everything possible to achieve them.



Background: One of the most important things to realise about your goal!  The reason why you want, or have to achieve the things you want, is key to understanding the value, the importance and most importantly, help provide the motivation that will help you to succeed.  There maybe a deep reason, ‘if I don’t improve my health I will not be around to see my kids grow up’, but still quite obvious, through to the extraordinarily simple and generally linked to activities that you are passionate about, ‘because it’s there’ or ‘because I can’, which can be equally as motivating if you have truly committed, because you understand the point to it.  Believe me when times are tough, sometimes the only clarity in your mission or the only energy you can draw on is the belief in your goal and yourself, which is extremely empowering.


Homework:  For each of your goals, write down the reasons why you are looking to do these things.  If it’s because someone’s told you to do it, seriously question it as a life changing goal, as when you start to struggle you won’t have that responsibility or ownership of the goal to use as a motivator.  You should end up with personal reasons, the intrinsic value that you can apply to your journey.  You may also end up with some external motivators, extrinsic reasons that you’ll be able to use too.



Background:  Understanding your limitations and strengths whether that’s with a particular skill, level of education, physicality or even amount of money needed is the next step up the ladder.  Working out what the fundamental requirements of your goal are and then looking at which things you are already capable of and the elements that you need to work on will help build your plan and most importantly, will ensure that you don’t just reinforce the things you can already do, but encourage you to  have a structure for progressing the elements that need most work.


Homework:  Look at your goals and start writing down your strengths and limitations for each one.  Ensure that you note down every single element that you need to work on.  For example, if your goal is to climb Everest and you have never climbed before you will need to ‘find out who teaches climbing’, ‘learn how to put a harness on, how to tie yourself to the rope’, ‘how to belay’, ‘how to make yourself safe’, ‘how to lower someone’, ‘how to be lowered’ - you can see where I’m going with this.  Be specific.  If you’re not sure, FIND OUT and write them down, this is all part of the process.



Background:  This is your plan of attack, your approach up that real or virtual mountain of a task.  This is where you start to come up with that bulletproof programme that will become your next stages in your journey towards achieving your goal.  Putting your plan together is no mean feat.  It will take commitment, research, stacks of confidence and a whole load of time and energy, but trust me time spent in this phase is seldom wasted and will save a whole load of time, effort and potentially money along the way.  This is where you need to be humble.  No.  this is where you need to be sensible and pragmatic about your approach.  If you do not know the answer to something or how to clearly define your programme seek advice - a professional, someone who’s done or attempted it before.  These days there is no shortage of advice or help available, I realise sometimes this can lead to conflicting opinions and confusion on your part.  Do your research into the person you’re looking to for advice, again, you will only end up with a stronger plan for it.


Homework:  Take all the aspects that you learnt about yourself and your task in the ‘ability’ section and put in them in an order of priority - think back to the learning to climb analogy above, or if you want to run a marathon and currently can’t run 5km, straight away you have the different milestones to put down - 5km, 10km, half marathon in a basic order.  The next step once you have all the hoops that you need to jump through is to start putting a time line next to each one.  Again, this can be quite difficult to do, but trust yourself and any advice that you’ve been given, but equally, don’t be soft on yourself or your level of commitment - don’t give yourself a year to work up to a marathon if you can do it safely and sensibly in half that time.



Background:  Get comfortable being uncomfortable!  Because until you are ready to do this do not expect to progress and improve.  This is your level of physical and mental dedication when doing something that will take you one step closer to success.  Look at the formula S+W+E+A=R.  If your goal equals 100% you need to ensure that you commit physical and mentally 100% in every aspect of your journey (every step of the formula) to expect to achieve 100% of your goal at the end.  If you don’t commit time and effort to developing your plan to be the best it can be, don’t expect to achieve 100% of what you want let alone in the time frame that you’re capable of.  Committing and giving 100% can be putting time in your diary to research the next step, or it can be giving your all whilst in the gym, through to eating appropriately to maximise the potential and adaptation that you actually deserve from your time and effort training; it doesn’t matter what it is you are doing as long as you are happy to commit and if you’re not, then have a good look at your ‘Whys’ to motivate yourself to step it up a gear.


Homework:  Commit 100% to developing each stage of your formula.  Commit 100% to everything you do physically and mentally.



1.  What do you want to achieve?

2.  Realise and understand why you want these things - these are your strongest motivators

3.  Work out the steps that you can and can’t already do - your strengths and limitations

4.  Research, develop and build your bombproof plan using what you have learned

5.  Get comfortable being uncomfortable!  COMMIT 100% to each phase physically and mentally


So, why SWEAR?  Well, lets look at the dictionary description and the two meanings for it.



Pronunciation: /swɛː/



1. Make a solemn statement or promise undertaking to do something


“I swear that I will do hundred burpees before bedtime"


2. Use offensive language, especially as an expression of anger.


“Swear just one my time, I dare you"


Your goals should be that significant that an oath to yourself or a public promise of commitment (whatever you’re into!) is necessary to focus your mind and attention to every step in the process, whether that’s with pen and paper during the planning phase or in each and every rep of squats that you do.  They also, should be that challenging that at times you are literally swearing with either the magnitude of the task ahead or the amount of physical or mental effort that you are having to inject!  Again, if neither of these elements are present I would question how significant or appropriate your goals are…  Just saying!



Good luck and have fun on your adventures….




*Marines have a saying that no plan survives contact with the enemy, which basically means that whatever your plan is, be ready for external factors to influence possible changes to it, but please recognise that this is all part of the constant planning and personal review process.