This Is How You Achieve Big Goals.

I really like the idea of having a personal BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

While the term was initially coined for use in strategic and competitive business by James Collins and Jerry Porras, its application to personal growth is just as relevant. The primary difference in how I interpreted it for use in my own life came down to a much smaller time-frame.

So instead of a ‘Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal’, this blog is all about a ‘Big, Hairy, Annual Goal’.

A BHAG is something significant and detailed to aim at. They’re inherently unsettling, especially when there’s a chance you could fail.

And they take time to achieve.

Staying persistent is a difficult task when you’re innately excitable and addicted to goal-setting. It’s even harder when you’re impatient. Success is the result of hard work, application, and a desire strong enough to weather the tides of doubt, stagnation and disillusion.

That’s why it’s so important to remember that it’s a ‘Big, Hairy, Annual, Goal’ and not a ‘Big, Hairy, Instant Goal’ (BHIG).

I’m guilty of chasing BHIG’s instead of BHAG’s in the past. I’ve thrown myself off numerous emotional cliffs in an attempt to do everything immediately; to overhaul every facet of my life to achieve a new goal.
After landing in a heap of exhaustion, burnout and frustration at the bottom, there is one vital thing I’ve learned. Preparation is paramount.

Here’s what happened when I decided to chase a few Big Hairy Annual Goals in 2016…

In 2016 I had three BHAG’s.

I wouldn’t normally advocate sharing your BHAG with too many people, especially the World Wide Web… but for the purpose of illustrating my ideas with real life experience, I think I’ll make an exception.

Last year my life plate was full. I had just started my first ever full-time job, I was still studying and training full time for the Olympic Swimming Trials and selection to the 2016 Rescue World Championships.

My 2016 BHAG was underpinned by three specific goals.

  1. Qualification to the Rio Olympic Games
  2. Lower my own World Record in the 50m Manikin Carry
  3. To win my first ever individual Lifesaving World Title in the 50m Manikin Carry

Of those three goals, I achieved two and failed one. It hurt missing the Olympic Games. In hindsight, my desire to achieve three goals could have diluted the potential to achieve the biggest one, qualification to the Games.

But that failure to qualify for the Olympic Games was the first time I have ever gained inspiration from disappointment.

I redeployed my energy in to my preparation for the Rescue World Championships. I had clarity and an insatiable hunger to achieve my second two goals. While the Olympics had escaped my grasp, I was dogged with determination not to let the second two fall through.

I had failed, but it subsequently liberated me of a lot of fear associated with failure.

Things I had formerly avoided at training, such as hard kick sets and underwater, became favourites. My entire attitude shifted. The pressure to excel drove me to finally improve my weaknesses.

I met with key support networks, my coaches and management team, my bosses. The ensuing discussions helped me to buffer and shine my plan so that I could identify and track specific KPI’s. I pieced together a strategic, simple and purposeful plan.

That was the first time in my sporting career (14 years) that the performance planning meeting I had was driven by my ideas, not the coaches…

Here’s the thing about a BHAG. It has to be well planned and it has to be driven by you, for you.

Plucking goals from the coattails of inspiration is unrewarding. Just because your best friend’s goal is to run a marathon, it doesn’t mean it’s the right goal for you. BHAG’s require a lot of investment, time and effort. Preparation is paramount.

The dangers of inspiration and dreams is that we may become so drunk on excitement that patience falls by the way-side. We burn with desire like a blue flame, hot with ideas, motivation and passion. But it flickers out quickly.

BHAG’s are marathons, not sprints. The journey will be riddled with complications, which is where your mind-set comes in to play. Do you rise and accept the troubles on the road, or get frustrated and petty?

Take the time to sit down and consider how your life will change.

With work, training, study and day-to-day admin, I realised very quickly that I needed to pre-plan almost every aspect of my life…

To ensure I was getting eight hours of sleep a night to recover properly, I was in bed by 8.15pm six nights a week and asleep by 8.30pm. At 4.30am I had 8 minutes to get dressed, eat a pre-training snack, pack a proper breakfast, lunch and pre-training afternoon snack as well as my corporate clothes, swimming gear and gym clothes.

I was willing to do all this because I had a clear goal and simple plan. When it got hard, I imagined how painful it was to under perform at the Olympic Trials and how much I wanted to to win in Eindhoven. I mixed a mental concoction of emotion to keep me driving forward when I wanted to let it all go.

The planning stage of your BHAG is like sticking a stake in the ground. It gives you something to wind upwards. Without the stake, you’ll end up creeping along the ground directionless, fueled by intermittent ideas and wracked with inaction.

We all know life is littered with challenges. From the hours spent on life-admin such as cleaning and cooking dinner, to birthday parties or illness, trying to predict our lives is impossible. That’s why the planning stage is so important. Not only does it provide a clear path, but the key points along the journey mean you have the opportunity to take in the experience. To enjoy the process, the good with the bad.

Planning does four key things:

  1. Provides a raw and transparent insight in to what it will require to reach your goals
  2. Gives you the opportunity to figure out your ‘why’
  3. Provides a timeline and action plan for sustained and traceable progression
  4. Increases your decisiveness.

So remember,

  1. BHAG’s require planning. Don’t rush that phase.
  2. BHAG’s are unique and individual. A coach, a mentor, a boss can’t define it for you. You need to create the fire, they are just there to help it turn in to a blaze.
  3. Don’t confuse patience with complacency. A well-structured plan will ensure your momentum continues. Don’t let your excitement disrupt the planning.