My Hobby Transformed Everything I Know About Setting Goals

This goal of mine. It was pointless. Not arguably pointless, actually pointless. Undisputedly pointless. Nothing would change if I achieved it. My financial situation would remain the same. My career: the same. My relationship with loved ones: the same. Everything: the same.

The only thing that would change: me. And no-one really gives a damn about that, do they?

This is a story about rock climbing.

Rock climbing: I’ve been into it for around five years now. It started out as a curiosity, then it became a hobby. Very quickly it became an obsession; an obsession that’s had a powerful transformative impact on my life.

This is not hyperbole.

When I started climbing I was overweight, bored and perennially grumpy. Climbing helped change all that. I lost weight, changed my diet — I became a better person. Climbing gave me something important: a meaningful distraction from every day life.

Bad day at work: climbing.

Argument with wife: climbing.

Existential crises: climbing.

Part of the appeal: the brute exertion, the endorphin release that comes from intense exercise. But of most benefit? Time spent connected to the present moment. Climbing demands your complete focus: it’s physical but cerebral. Where is my foot? How should my body be positioned? Where should my hips be? What movement should I be making next? Climbing is forced meditation and I’ve been reaping the benefits of that for the past five years.

Back to that goal I mentioned.

Not long after I started climbing, a friend of mine told me about a route — ‘Seventh Day Ascentist’, a climb buried in a reserve in Baulkham Hills in NSW, ten minutes from my house.

A clever play on words — it was brought up as a joke. I consider myself agnostic, but my wife – she’s an actual practicing Seventh Day Adventist. The friends I started climbing with, they were also Seventh Day Adventists I’d met through my wife.

We had a right old laugh about the route. Seventh Day Ascentist. Good one.

“Maybe one day we’ll be able to climb it,” we said. We laughed even harder.

That was an even bigger joke. At that point in time we were novices and Seventh Day Ascentist was a climb graded at V9. In layman’s terms: really fucking hard. The idea that we might actually be able to climb a route so difficult was literally hilarious at the time.

But the climb stuck with me. Partly because of the pun, mostly because I thought it might be funny to arrive home after a Saturday spent climbing to tell my wife — who goes to church on a Saturday — that I just climbed a route called Seventh Day Ascentist.

Yeah, nah. A V9? Forget about it. I was struggling to get up V3s in the gym. An outdoor V9 seemed like fantasy.

I kept climbing. My friends stopped, but I didn’t. I made new friends at my climbing gym and quickly became obsessed with getting better, stronger, more accomplished. I trained constantly. I changed the way I ate. I read training manuals. I bored my family and friends to death. I thought about climbing constantly. My life became one long drawn out Rocky montage.

And I saw the results. I went from pushing 80kgs to around 67kgs. I slowly moved up the climbing grades. By the middle of 2015 I’d climbed a handful of V7s and a few soft V8s.

In the back of my mind I started saying to myself, “hey, maybe Seventh Day Ascentist is possible?”

“Hahaha, fuck everything about this.”

I gave Seventh Day Ascentist a quick try in August 2015 and it was a big fat fail. Hilariously, Seventh Day Ascentist was about as far removed from my style as you could possibly imagine. My strengths: strong fingers, an ability to move powerfully on small holds. My weaknesses: core strength and flexibility. I suck at roof climbing. I can barely touch my toes on a good day.

And surprise surprise: Seventh Day Ascentist has a roof section that requires a strong core and some seriously dexterous hip flexors.


But regardless, at the beginning of 2016, I set a little goal for myself. In winter, during climbing season, I’d dedicate a sustained amount of time. I’d train specifically for this route and give Seventh Day Ascentist my best goddamn shot.

Looking back it’s almost silly how seriously I took it. I trained constantly. I trained my core for particular movements: front levers to give myself a decent shot at the roof section, therabands for the rotation required to twist my body and then hold tension. I was constantly doing hip flexor stretches, just so I could find it easier to complete one singular move on the wall.

I lost weight. Like even more weight. To the point where my wife started drawing the line. “Go under 65kgs and we’re getting a divorce,” she said. For a good couple of weeks I was sitting at 64kg or below. I didn’t mention this to my wife.

I fell off Seventh Day Ascentist a lot. Like a lot a lot.

I estimate I must have fallen off this route hundreds of times, and 70% of those falls were on one specific move.

It was shocking to me how many times I fell. A small part of me expected it to be easy. I was in the best climbing shape of my life, I had trained specifically for this route. I fully expected to walk up to the route on the first day, fall off a couple of times as I re-learned the moves, and then climb it with relative ease.

That didn’t happen. Not even close.

I didn’t climb Seventh Day Ascentist on the first day as planned. I didn’t send the route on the second day either. Or the third or the fourth or the fifth.

No, I climbed Seventh Day Ascentist on the seventh day. Because of course I did.

On that day I made two slight adjustments – that was all it took. I changed one foot position. I changed one open hand to a full crimp. Suddenly a move that seemed impossible was now absolutely possible.

Then, just like that, I finally climbed Seventh Day Ascentist.

It seems silly, and I’m embarrassed to type it, but at the top, after swearing and screaming for a couple of minutes, I almost started sobbing.

I finished Seventh Day Ascentist on what was almost certainly my last attempt at the climb that day – and possibly my last attempt for a month or two. On my successful attempt, I actually came precariously close to slipping off – a slipped foot — pure nerves really. The sheer relief was overwhelming.

And it’s almost hard to explain why. I was hardly the first to climb Seventh Day Ascentist. Most likely, hundreds have climbed this route. There was nothing special about my ascent. When I posted the above video on Facebook, my Dad’s comment: “it’s hardly the north face of the Eiger.”

That about summed it up really.

But it was my own stupid, personal investment — that’s what mattered. I what I believed was an impossible goal and actually achieved it.

I’d gone through a terrible week at work the day I finally climbed Seventh Day Ascentist. I remember the walk home. I remember this overwhelming feeling: I could achieve anything I set my mind to (within reason). A second, perhaps more important realisation: work didn’t define me as a person.

A meaningless achievement.

It didn’t matter, but in the grand scheme, what does matter? After months and months of struggle I’d made this pointless goal a reality. That felt powerful. It’s a feeling I’ve tried to apply to all aspects of my life. If I could drag my shitty 35-year-old body up that slab of rock, what else could I achieve?

I walked home. A good 30 minute walk. As I strode up the hill back home, my wife drove past, waving excitedly. She was on her way to church. It was Saturday. According to Adventists, Saturday is the day of rest. According to Adventists, Saturday is the seventh day.

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