Business in Climbing

SMART targets, process goals and sunk costs

May 3, 2020 5:34:00 PM / by Naomi Hatto

For those who don’t know Oliver - he is the main instigator behind Three Wise Monkeys Climbing up here in Fort William and I, amongst other things am married to him; this tends to lead to me hearing (often in long car journeys between naps) quite a few business and entrepreneurial audio books. Some I find interesting, others are drier…


I came across the idea of SMART targets both through one of these businessy audio books and from John Kettle, from whom I’ve had a few coaching sessions. So what is a SMART target and why do I keep capitalising it? SMART is an acronym standing for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based (full disclosure - attainable may be used for the A and reasonable may be used for the R depending on what flavour of SMART) and is a way of trying to evaluate your goals, or targets, to determine whether or not they are sensible for you and what’s going on in your life at the time.
SMART can be a handy little checklist when you’re choosing a project. I think it’s a checklist that is slowly making its way into general life - I’ve used it in the past for trying to direct my climbing and projecting to determine what I should do next. 


So an example of a SMART target that I had a couple of years ago is:


‘I want to successfully redpoint Uncertain Emotions at Tunnel Wall in Glen Coe by the end of the summer climbing season, and by red-point I decided that I would be happy to have pre-placed my quickdraws and the first quickdraw is relatively high with a landing that isn’t great if you slip so I could have my rope clipped into the first quickdraw before leaving the ground (thank goodness for clipsticks..!)’


So this fits SMART - the goal is specific, I can tell whether or not I’ve achieved it, I think it’s possible because I’d already had a go on the route the previous season and I have an end date (or month) in mind.


So that’s all well and good for a big project - but what about each session you spend on your project, or training for your project? And what happens when life gives you lemons, or global pandemics?

This is where SMART targets start to feel a little dumb… 


Enter process goals: a process goal, kind of like the name suggests is a goal that is process oriented rather than outcome oriented (which is what a SMART target is). So a process goal could go something like:

‘During this session working on Uncertain Emotions I am going to start figuring out the sequence between quickdraw 4 and 5, tell my belayer and start visualising it before the following session to help me remember what I did’.


So you can use smaller process goals to give you small wins whilst working on that one big win. So it could be a simple as: ‘During lockdown I’m going to work on my press-ups because at the moment I can only do half a press-up from my knees because if, as a climber, I can do more than that I’ll be more resilient to injury when we get back to climbing’

The real benefits of a process goal over a SMART target, are that you are in control of a process goal. Whatever life throws at you, you will be able to ‘work on your press ups’, whereas you may struggle to nail your ‘10 press ups on Tuesday’ target. 


The other question: what if life gives you lemons? As much as I’d like to be able to be in complete control of everything that happens in my life it’s not actually possible. You might fall off a skateboard and injure yourself, or the summer might be too hot for projecting because everything just gets really greasy, or there might be a global pandemic… It’s not always possible to make lemonade and just carry on as if everything is better again.


Sometimes things just really suck and you have to allow yourself some time to get over the disappointment of realising that it’s just not possible to reach your SMART target this year. I’ve had a bit of an issue with feeling like ‘if I don’t do it now I’ll never have time/be fit enough/be capable etc etc of hitting my SMART target’. Turns out that this isn’t actually always true - life doesn’t end when you’re 30 or get a puppy you just have to remember to redefine your goals. Just because 5, nearly 6 years ago you made a long-term SMART target to do something massive doesn’t mean that after 3 or 4 years have passed you still have the same priorities or time commitments. 


Often, revisiting your old SMART targets and reviewing them in light of everything you’ve learnt since you made them is the best thing you can do from a growth perspective. Acknowledging that your ambitions have shifted, your priorities have changed, or your circumstances are different is key for keeping SMART targets, well, smart.

Another business principle that can be applied here is a ‘sunk cost’. These are things that we have done to get us where we are today. Often we feel like because we have invested time or effort in a process we have to keep going, but we don’t owe our past selves anything. Just because 9 months ago you wanted to climb 9A, doesn’t mean you owe it to your former self to do that. (the first year of Oliver's degree was a sunk cost - if he owed it to himself to finish UNI because of that, we wouldn’t have a wall. He reckons he’ll get a degree one day. I don’t.). 


Redefining what you’re aiming towards is actually, whilst often tricky, usually the best thing to do for your overall happiness. Without the initial time of aiming towards your goal you wouldn’t be where you are today.


So a quick recap: 

  • SMART targets have their uses and are a good checklist for not making a longer term goal too big or small.
  • Long term goals, in general, need to be flexible because life doesn’t always do what you thought it would a few years, or even months ago. 
  • Whilst aiming towards your big goal you can use process goals to give you small, continuous wins to help keep you feeling like you’re making progress in the right direction. A goal that is too big is a little like always being extrinsically motivated to do something and eventually you lose interest and give up. Not sure what extrinsic motivation is? Have a read of our blog about motivation here.
  • Times have changed and you’ve moved on? Remember to review your SMART targets and see if they still sit well with you - and if not, ignore your sunk costs. 

Tags: COVID-19

Naomi Hatto

Written by Naomi Hatto