The Sailboat & the Kayak

This weekend I took a trip to my friend Alizee’s cottage (pronounced Ali-zé). We were all chilling around the dock, when she set out with a friend to take a trip around the lake on her sailboat, the “Fiesty Spirit”. Sometime later, I decided that I was absolutely sick of sitting around the dock doing nothing. I made it my mission to kayak my way towards the girls and surprise them with a casual “what’s up?”

While kayaking, I came to the profound realization that the experience was a great metaphor for goal setting. Let me elaborate.

I was decided. I set out to catch the sailboat. I knew what the boat looked like, but had no idea where it was or exactly how I would catch up with them. I only had the knowledge that I would have to paddle across the lake and away from the cottage.

My energy was high from the get go. “This should be easy” I thought, as I powered through the waves, releasing a ton of energy in the process. It was hard work getting my boat out into the middle of the lake. But as I paddled, I quickly realized that I the sailboat was no where in sight.

At this point, the metaphor really starts to kick in. The sailboat was my goal. It’s probably a lot like your goal when you were starting out. When you first embark on a goal, you start out with only a vague picture of what your goal actually looks like. You build up the goal in your mind, and imagine what it will be like once you realize your ambitions. You may have a strong understanding of what it is, and why you want to get there, but you’re not there yet. It’s an idea, a mission, or a vision. If this isn’t the case, then you haven’t begun the journey at all, and you’re still on the dock drinking a corona.

Like you, I had started out ambitious, but later found myself stuck in the middle of a goddamn lake with the sailboat nowhere in sight. I stopped paddling, rested and reflected on what to do next. And, as always, thoughts of anxiety and self-doubt struck, prompting me to consider taking the lazy route and heading back to shore.

Somewhere and somehow, I found it within myself to persevere. I continued to paddle into areas of the lake that my goal, the sailboat, could be potentially hiding. What’s obstructing my view of that boat? Perhaps they’re behind that island, or down that channel. Eventually, after a good 20 minutes of exporloring, I saw my goal far, far in the distance. It was a white flickering sail on the other side of the lake. “Fuck” I thought. “That’s far”

Now that my goal was in plain sight, I decided that now was the time to go. It was time to align the direction of the kayak with the sailboat and travel towards it at full steam. Here’s the lesson; once your goal is in plain sight, you have a more realistic understanding of how to get there, and the best route to take. This is your opportunity to take action.

Remember. Your goal is still aways away. This is the time for you to decide to quit or stick. Can you get there, and will you be motivated to persevere? In the words of Seth Godin, this is the dip. If you determine that your sailboat is too far away, the currents are too strong, and the boat is moving away from you too fast (and you can’t possible head back), this is your time to quit. In poker, this is knowing when to ‘fold em.’ But before you quit, reflect on how you will feel once the decision has sunk in. Will you have learned something? Will you make the same mistake again? Whether or not you think you deserve the feelings that accompany that decision, you will feel them. You will feel disappointed, failed, and incapable. You will feel like a quitter, because well, you quit! And your mind will punish you for it.

But in my case, I knew that I could get there. The winds weren’t too strong. The boat was drifting around, not speeding away. Yes, the sailboat was far, but I had a kayak! I had strength, determination, will power and a damn good vehicle to get me there. I had, what psychiatrists refer to as “self efficacy” – the conviction that I was capable. I still wanted to get there, and knew what I had to do. Surprising my friends was worth the effort, and besides, it would make for good reflection in the future. I thought “at the very least, I will get some more exercise, and grow” Here’s the lesson; always take the attitude that when pursuing difficult goals, failure is an option, but one that is a last resort. The failure of a difficult goal should always bring you closer to other goals along the way.

So with my goal in sight, I paddled hard for 15 minutes towards the sails. With my kayak aligned, I gained some distance, but I was soon disappointed with my progress. As I got closer to where I thought my the boat was when I first aligned the kayak, the boat moved and got farther away. You may have experienced something similar in pursuit of your own goals.

So what does this mean for you? Well, remember that your goals are never static. They move in response to a changing environment; the winds of change. In pursuit of where I thought my goal was (or, where it was when I first saw it in plain sight), I failed to account for the fact that my goal was actually moving. Remember, your goals will change and move, often moving farther away from you in a direction you can’t predict. So what’s the lesson? Always keep your eyes on your goal. Anticipate where your goal is moving, and intersect it. And, whenever possible, set goals that are naturally moving towards you on their own.

In fact, this is exactly what I did. I quickly realized that the boat was moving back and forth, but in a predicable direction. I could then adjust my course so that I would end up where I thought the sail boat would be, in the time it took me to get there. And as I moved in that direction, I constantly looked to see if my predictions of where the boat was going matched the reality of the situation.

So what happened? As the sail boat became clearer and bigger and my field of vision, so did my understanding of its movement. Think about a time when you pursued a goal, and during the pursuit, the goal actually got farther away! The more distant your goals are, the less predictable their movement will be. This is true for all distance objects, whether they be galaxies, sailboats, or your life’s ambitions.

The point is, remain flexible with the path that will take you towards your sailboat. By changing and adjusting my path as I got closer, I was able to use the new information to revise my rough estimates of speed, drift and pattern, and plot a more accurate course towards the boat. This meant that I could reach my goal faster, and with less energy. The same is true with any goal – the more distant it is, the more you will need to revise your route as you get closer.

As the boat became even larger in my field of vision, so did my motivation. My stamina and drive improved as I knew I would soon be at my goal. However, I noticed that by the time I was very close, about 10% of the way there my motivation plummeted. Like the tortose and the hare fable, it’s easy to get lazy when you’re close to the finish line. This happens all the time, especially as you near the completion of your goal. Your mind might feel like its finished, but you’re not. Here’s the lesson- don’t quit when you’re steps away from the finish line.

And another thing. I think the moral of that story is bogus! The hare should have won! The moral should be “if you’re the hare, don’t take a damn nap in the middle of the race,” not “slow and steady wins it.” Slow and steady looses it, if the hare is driven enough to power through the last stretch!

Both Brian Tracy and Jeffory Gitomer emphasize task execution. Recalling on their words of wisdom, I pushed though the final few meters of water, powering towards the sailboat and impressing those watching on the sidelines. The end is the most important part of the race. Finish what you started.

I got to the boat, and my mind, flooded with endorphins, gave me a pleasant feelings of self-satisfaction. These natural highs are well worth the effort, believe me. You’ve probably felt them after a great work out, or after winning in some form or another. This is your body’s way of conditioning success, and rewarding you for your actions.

When I was on the boat, Alizee told me about how they sail in a zig zag pattern. This was news to me- I had no idea, while on my journey, how or why the sailboat was moving back and forth. This ignorance underscores an important point though. Had I known before leaving the shore how the sailboat moves, I would have reached it faster. While I was able to figure out its pattern on the way, it would have saved time, and been able to take a more direct route had I understood how the boat moves.

Learn about your goal, what it will take it get there, how its moving, and how many other people are heading towards it. Plan ahead (both in terms of your vehicle to get you towards your goal, and your route), and maximize your chances of success on the outset, however you can. The more you understand about your goal, your environment and your direction, the better you can plot your course of action, and predict change over time. All the while remaining flexible and aware of your changing environment and circumstances, in relation to your goal.

In reality, your goals won’t be as easy to achieve as in this example, especially your long term goals. Furthermore, they won’t be easy to set. You might not know what they are until you’re in the middle of the lake. Just remember, without tracking where you’re going, where your goal is going, and how you’re getting there, you’ll be kayaking all day, and you won’t find your sailboat for any reason other than dumb luck.

And in the end, if you don’t ever set a goal to begin with, you’ll be on the dock with everyone else. Or worse, you’ll be stuck in the city doing paperwork.

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Posted on June 12, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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