Max Thorpe: Lessons in goal setting

Max Thorpe Atlantic rowing

I wasn’t even a rower when I decided I wanted to cross the Atlantic in a two-man vessel. In fact,my knowledge of boats didn’t extend much further than the Isle of Wight ferry at the point I first heard about the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Four years later, however, I have one failed attempt under my belt and a second try underway.

I believe that setting yourself a challenge is the best way to discover what you can really achieve. How can you know what you’re capable of without pushing your mind and/or body? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare though, and setting goals is one of the most important aspects of reaching one’s full potential.

Setting goals – and sticking to them – is no easy task, and so I’ve written this blog to try and capture what worked and what didn’t work when I was preparing for a 40-day row. I’ve found there are three good habits for goal setting, but I’m sure there are many more. Let me know your personal favourite tactics in the comments below.

What goals did you set and why?

When you’re rowing across the Atlantic, you can’t simply get out the boat for a break. You need to be at peak physical performance before you start. This meant the training was pretty gruelling, and I had to maintain motivation in the face of that.

Our mantra was “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”. It was about getting into a routine of pushing and testing yourself to your limits most days.

The physical goal I set myself was to see consistent improvement – I didn’t want to set numerical milestones that might be demoralising to miss, especially as this was a new experience where I didn’t know what progress to expect. For me, the key thing was that I was trending in right direction each day and that I could look back and see real growth. This helped remind me that the value of the challenge came from the progress I was making, not just the moment of crossing the finish line.

One thing I learnt during this training period was that you should enjoy meeting your goals. If you’re going to set aside time each day to achieve a goal, whether it’s professional or something personal like learning a language, make sure that hour is the best hour of your day.

What happened once you were on the water?

Physically, I think we set the right goals and reached a really high level of fitness. However, looking back at our preparation for that first near-fatal attempt, it’s clear we didn’t put enough thought into the mental challenge we were facing.

Once I was out on the water, the overwhelming sense of what would be needed to complete the challenge started getting to me. I was looking at these huge waves and just thinking: “I’m not going to see land again for 40 days at least.”

That’s where breaking down a monumental task into parts truly comes into its own. You need to give yourself smaller, more achievable targets to keep morale up on a challenging journey. All challenges are as much psychological as they are physical, and so it’s important to prepare for that. Chase your north star but be mentally prepared for the fact that it might take longer to get there than expected.

Good habits for goal setting

Don’t try and do one giant leap to reach end goal. When setting goals, take incremental steps that build a clear path to the overarching goal.

Take the time to look back and appreciate how far you’ve come. Looking back at past goals can be a great way to get some perspective on your current struggles. You might be struggling to run 10k today, but that still seems impressive if you see that a year ago your goal was to run 1k!

Connect goals to your sense of personal meaning. Goals should be built upon a foundation of raw desire – what is it that you want to achieve? Why do you want it so badly? If you can answer that question, you can see the effort as an investment rather than a chore.


You can read more from Max here.

Follow Max’s progress here! He and Dave Spelman make up Team Resilient X.