Goals: To have or not to have? That is the question


Even though I was careful not to enter another event on my endorphin high after completing my first 10km swim, I’ve gone ahead and signed up for a 14km swim down the Thames next year! I’m excited by the idea of training and getting stronger so I finish the next race more comfortably than I did my first one. Is this 14km swim a goal? Or is it my next challenge? And what effect does semantics have on it all?!

The world can be fixated on us being bigger and better and aiming for more and so I have a bit of a tumultuous relationship with goals. I don’t want people (myself included!) to strive for more for the sake of striving. I don’t want to be in a culture where more is better, because often less is exactly what we need.

Yet I know for myself that having big ballsy goals excites me.

It motivates me, scares me a little but really focuses my attention on what is important to me.

I am always aware when setting myself challenges that it is something I really want. Too often I think a goal can become a noose around one’s neck rather than an inspiration to try something new or push your idea of what is possible.

The upside of goals

I find that goals keep me focused and help me prioritise my time. There were times when I was training for my 10km swim and I had to get up at 6:30am and go to a lake in the pissing rain to swim for 3 hours. It wouldn’t have been something I would have chosen to do without that goal in mind but I loved it. I loved watching the sun change angle over the still lake as I looped around again and again. I enjoyed the rhythm of my body moving in the water. The sense of accomplishment and the taste of the bacon butty at the end was amazing! Yet I know that without that bigger goal to focus on the comfort of my bed would have been much greater than my wish to get in the car and drive to the lake.

I also find that with goals I dig deeper and make it happen when I otherwise might have given up. I find out truly what I am capable of because I keep trying more. There was a time when in Canada my goggles broke halfway through a training session. When I would otherwise have gone “oh well that must be a sign I’ve done enough for today” I went and borrowed another pair from the front desk and kept swimming for another 2km.

While I was travelling earlier this year my swimming was a priority and so I got to experience pools all around the world. It gave me an insight into culture and communities I wouldn’t otherwise had the fortune to see. The 30C water in Tokyo was a little oppressive and the fact you had to vacate the pool for 5 minutes every hour was very perplexing but I only got to experience that because I chose to swim. And I chose to swim because I knew I needed to keep swimming no matter where in the world I was. I’ve experienced so many amazing pools and lakes in London because of it too. It’s allowed me to experience more beautiful parts of this city that I never knew existed.
Goals can open you to even more experiences.

And the downside

When you are busy keeping your “eye on the prize” you can miss other amazing opportunities that come along. Swimming became such a big part of my weekly routine that I am sure I missed opportunities to do other things during that time. Other ways to move my body. Other ways to engage with people.

There is also the very real danger with goals that the outcome is not actually one you are after or care about. It may be someone else’s ideal and you aim for it because you think you “should”. Or perhaps the external validation keeps you going when really deep down you just don’t really care or it doesn’t excite you.

With all this in mind, I still enjoy having physical challenges to work towards. My goals are few and far between but they are still there. Yet I am always aware of whether it is something I really want and I’m really happy to commit to, knowing that I may be sacrificing other opportunities along the way.

At the moment I am more than happy to do that and get strong and ready for my 14km swim next year. Wish me luck!

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