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Author's profile photo Jason Cao

Coach’s Corner – Achieving Your Aspirational Goals

It is said that moving a mountain is accomplished by one handful of soil at a time.

Many of my coaching clients set boldacious and aspirational goals for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. The challenge occurs when they consider the gap between where they are now to where they want to get to. That gap consumes their thoughts, and becomes their sole focus. When the difference is large, many give up on the aspiration, and conclude they are unachievable even before they begin.

Moving mountains is only an analogy, of course. However, the message is clear – by breaking down a seemingly insurmountable goal into smaller, manageable pieces we can achieve incredible things. Let’s review a few other useful tactics to help us achieve our aim, large or small.

I have set some bold goals myself – including summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania.  As the highest mountain in Africa (5,895 metres above sea level), this is no easy task. Rather than get intimidated by how far I am from climbing Kilimanjaro (geographically, psychologically and physically), I focus instead on doing something small and easy to start.

My first ‘handful of soil’ is to Google “Mount Kilimanjaro.” That was easy, and easy is the key, because the first few actions should be achievable quickly to give us a sense of achievement. I read all about the flora and fauna, and how it’s a dormant volcano. That got me even more excited. Now I want to watch some YouTube videos of people climbing the mountain, and then maybe I will get myself a new pair of hiking shoes…. Similar to the wisdom shared at the beginning of this post, my conclusion is “to summit a mountain, we need to take one step at a time.”

Once we get started, maintaining momentum and continuing the journey is important. Here’s where others can help. Whether it is someone to provide a little peer pressure, to keep you accountable, to give you encouragement, or to share their knowledge so you can reduce or avoid setbacks, consider collaborating with someone in your network. This could be a family member, a coach or someone in your professional network. You don’t have to be on this journey alone.

When you’re taking one step after another towards your goal, watch out for saboteurs. One of the biggest influences holding us back from achieving our aspirations is ourselves. Let’s focus on procrastination, because this seemingly trivial saboteurs is also the most insidious. Procrastinating gives us the illusion we’re still on course – that our progress is only delayed momentarily while we focus on more urgent matters. In fact, this type of thinking affects our behaviours and mood (see my previous post on how your thoughts affect your behaviours and emotions), and results in our goals becoming less important and less urgent. Our thoughts sabotage our efforts and motivation.

There will be times when we need to re-assess our big goals, and ask for ourselves whether each is an aspirational goal or a “bucket list” item. The main difference is SMART (i.e. whether the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based). Your aspirational goals are bounded by SMART, such as “to over-achieve your sales-target by 10% this quarter, compared to same time last year.” A bucket list item (coming from things you’d love to do before you ‘kick the bucket’ or die) is not necessarily bound by SMART – they are wish list items, without a ‘dead’-line (pun intended). Also, no one’s going to keep you accountable to achieving your bucket list items.

When I consider these simple differences, I’ve had to acknowledge that Mount Kilimanjaro is more a bucket list item and something I would love to accomplish in my lifetime, than something I want to do by a certain time. When I got real with my goal, I was able to adjust and set a SMART goal that I had a chance of achieving: “Climb Mount Mauna Kea (4,207 m above sea level) in Hawaii in 2019.” Get SMART to get it done!


Let’s end with a question I hope you all can answer: What’s on your bucket list?


Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.


Top Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash

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      Author's profile photo Lee Barnard
      Lee Barnard

      Thanks for the inspirational story and the fantastic photos!

      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Lee for reading the post! 🙂

      Author's profile photo Svea Becker
      Svea Becker

      Thanks for this post, Jason and congrats on your achievement of climbing Mount Mauna Kea. Actually, visiting Hawaii is something on my bucket list. 😉

      But I agree, this is not comparable to things you want to achieve in life, it's 'just' about something you want to see, do, visit before you depart your life. Thanks for pointing this out and reminding!

      And in regards to other thing on my bucket list ... visiting New York during Christmas. It was in 2018 and it was so wonderful 🙂


      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Wow, nice picture Svea! You did it! That must have been magical to spend Christmas in Manhattan! 🙂

      Did you know that many times the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is donated from Canada? If I remember the story correctly, it is to give thanks to NYC firefighters for helping fight a big fire in a Canadian city long time ago (sorry, I don't have very much details).

      Author's profile photo Julieth Cifuentes
      Julieth Cifuentes

      Thanks for sharing this important perspective Jason! I really like the SMART method when making the differentiation between the bucket list or an aspirational goal. And I also love to connect with the purpose and the impacts of accomplishing this goals. This gives me further clarity on what is essential or not.

      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Julieth Cifuentes , thanks for reading the post!

      I'm so glad the differentiation between aspirational goals and bucket list items helped. I often struggle with goal-setting, as I like to over-achieve.  It's difficult to set boundaries for myself, but set boundaries I must. 😉

      Author's profile photo Sean D'Silva
      Sean D'Silva

      A very inspiring post Jason. What I liked was the focus on breaking down your goal into small achievable ones, aka moving a handful of soil at a time! And then to have the dedication and discipline to stay consistent and keep going.

      And nice pictures btw, congratulations to you on surpassing the Mount Mauna Kea challenge 🙂

      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Sean D'Silva for your comments! "Dedication and Discipline" are very accurate words for describing what is necessary to achieve our goals. Dedication gives us the focus, while discipline maintains the momentum to keep us on the forward path.

      The Mauna Kea summit was especially tricky as I only trained at sea-level in Vancouver, and when the air got thin near the peak of Mauna Kea, I started getting headaches and had to take one slow step at a time. 😀

      Author's profile photo Minerva Chavez
      Minerva Chavez


      Thank you for sharing your journey, your photos and reflections. Really inspiring...

      The question  about:  What's on my bucket list?  Wow... made me reflect  deep about it.

      Connecting my bucket list versus what really make my heart beats.

      Purpose, motivation, start small and it's never the wrong time when you are able to dream on it.

      Keep posting Jason.



      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for reading the post Minerva Chavez ! Thanks also for sharing your comments! 🙂

      I love bucket list items, because there's something so personal about them that reveals interesting longings we have. Although bucket list goals don't have any specific timelines associated with them, I think we need to talk about them more because these are the truly meaningful activities we should be engaging in to live a fulfilled life.