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Insights: The magic of Milestones
June 24, 2008

The Magic of Milestones

I’m definitely a warm weather person but I have to admit there’s something special about winter weekends in Cape Town.

Our Mediterranean climate delivers all the ‘bad’ weather together over a period of three months or so, which I always think is pretty manageable. No sooner have you just acclimatized to the ferocious north west gales, the driving rain and the chilly evenings – then along comes the winter solstice to flag that you’re past the ‘worst’ of it and the days are to start getting longer again.

On Saturday the winter solstice dished up a typical wet, windy and chilly Cape winter’s day – just perfect for lashings of soup and crusty bread, a roaring fire and a good movie.

We chose to watch ‘Touching the Void’, a DVD that we had purchased a couple of years ago while living in England, but, rather surprisingly, never got round to playing.

Perhaps you’ve seen this movie already?

If not, I would highly recommend it. It’s what I would call a ‘docu-drama’; part movie drama, part documentary. The formula works incredibly well. It manages to keep you totally immersed in the gripping story as it unfolds, while you remain painfully aware of the fact that you’re watching a true story being re-enacted.

I’m not going to share too much detail of the story with you, in case you decide to rush out to your DVD rental store and hire it! But, in order to do this week’s subject justice, I need to provide a little context…:

Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, two ambitious young mountaineers, set out to climb the never-before scaled Siula Grande, a treacherous peak in a very remote area of the Peruvian Andes. They are successful but on the way down a terrible accident turns their brilliant accomplishment into a nightmarish fight for survival, particularly for Joe, who finds himself alone on the face, suffering from a badly broken leg.

To cut a long story short, Joe miraculously drags himself back down off the upper reaches of the mountain, to base camp, overcoming seemingly impossible odds including a lack of any food or water, terrible conditions, darkness, huge crevasses, unstable ice and kilometers of glacial debris and sharp rocks.

How on Earth did he achieve this apparently superhuman feat?

In simple terms, he employed a technique that we use to great effect in life coaching…

…I call it the magic of milestones!

Just after the accident, Joe found himself in a situation that most mere mortals would have found completely overwhelming and for whom a quick death would probably seem like a heaven sent mercy.

But Joe chose not to dwell on the near impossible scale of the challenge he faced to reach his goal. Instead, he set his sights on achieving a still very tough, but potentially manageable task, which, though tiny in relation to his overall goal, was undoubtedly a move in the right direction.

On overcoming this first hurdle, he rewarded himself with the luxury of a few minutes to fight off the exhaustion that his effort had induced. Then he quickly set another, equally challenging test, before his mind could become consumed by the hopelessness of his situation.

I watched Joe’s efforts, enthralled by the amazing tenacity of the man but equally captivated by the process by which he systematically set and achieved milestone after milestone, all the while growing in mental confidence while simultaneously being drained of his physical power.

Frankly, I loved this movie. It was the best example I have come across of how setting – and then tackling – small, challenging yet achievable milestones, can result in the attainment of a truly mind boggling goal.

Now I’m no Comrades runner, but I know of a few friends who have taken part in the world’s toughest ultra marathon and they all say the same thing. Keep your mind locked on the vision of crossing the finishing line, but be careful not to dwell on the scale of the challenge you have taken on. Focus on getting up the next hill, passing the guy in front with the blue vest or getting to the next distance marker in a good time.

And what applies to conquering the Siula Grande or the Comrades marathon applies equally to building a house, giving up smoking, saving up for a holiday, passing an exam, losing 5kg, walking to the shops, hanging a picture on the wall or meeting an old friend who you haven’t seen for ages.

No matter how big or small the goal might seem (and scale is a relative thing - we’re all different, with different abilities, different situations, different needs, different means) the milestone approach works in every case.

Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying:

“How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time, of course.”

It’s rather crude and somewhat comical but it does get the message over very effectively, doesn’t it?

I invite you to think of a goal - something you really badly want to achieve - but just haven’t got round to tackling yet. Don’t worry about how massive or how miniscule the relevance of that goal may seem to others. That’s not important. What is important is how relevant it is to you.

You have to be really clear on what it is you want to achieve. Be specific, write down the exact detail. What will constitute success for you? How will you measure it? By when do you want to have achieved the goal? What does it really mean to you?

Now, when your goal is crystal clear in your mind, imagine yourself in the future having achieved it. Think about how it will feel, what it will be like, who will be around to celebrate with you?

While you are still feeling good from the imagined feeling of having ‘achieved’ your goal, turn your mind to what you can do, now, as a first step towards making that imagination reality. Don’t worry about how minor that first step may seem as long as it constitutes a step towards achieving your goal.

Now, take the required action!

Perhaps that might be as simple as making a ‘phone call or opening a savings account. It doesn’t matter – just do it!

And when you’ve done it, pat yourself on the back and focus on what the next step will be. As you think up and then tackle each small milestone en route to your goal, you will gain in confidence and energy. As this happens you will be ready and excited to tackle more challenging milestones and this, in turn, will feed your confidence and energy levels even further.

Before you know it, you’ll find yourself in the place formerly reserved for your imagination – having achieved your goal – and you’ll soon be starting to visualize the next accomplishment!

At New Insights, we’re in the business of helping people to realize their goals and dreams. We know that everyone has some vision of who they want to be, what they want to do and the things they would like to have - but few ever achieve their vision, either because that vision lacks clarity or because they lack the ability to focus on identifying and tackling the small steps required to get there.

The New Insights life coach training programme is not only for people who are passionate about helping others realize their full potential. It is also for people who desire self-development; people who want to learn for themselves the secrets of living a life of personal freedom, confidence and growth.

I invite you to visit our website or contact me personally if you’d like to discuss this great opportunity further.

With warm regards


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