How to keep focused on your goal… Especially on the tough days

Matt Rolfe is a high-altitude mountaineer. More than that, he is an expedition leader, leading expeditions to the highest peaks in the world, an incredibly dangerous pastime.

He tells the story of when he was leading an expedition in the Himalayas. Over a beer or two in a hotel in Katmandu, he made an agreement with the team. He went through the team goals with the climbers, and he negotiated the boundaries they were going to work within to achieve the goals.

As part of this exercise, he asked them all individually who, on this planet, they were each prepared to die for. The answers were mostly: ‘I would die for the kids… and yeah maybe the wife.’ Later, in this same expedition, he was leading a support group of three climbers down from the final campsite, which they had prepared for the summit party.

One of the climbers was very tired and was suffering the effects of altitude. Matt was watching him closely. During the later stages of the descent to the lower camp, they arrived at a rope bridge they had constructed earlier across a bergschrund (a crevasse which runs out further down the slope).

Matt sent the exhausted climber across first, but he slipped from the rope and fell into the bergschrund. To get to him, they had to traverse the rope bridge and make their way down the mountain to the opening in the crevasse.

When they arrived, the climber was unconscious and when they turned him over, they saw his femur sticking out through his climbing suit. The two remaining climbers immediately looked at Matt and said simultaneously: ‘We are not going to leave him here!’ Matt’s response was, ‘Remember our agreement!’


‘Remember that I asked you all who on this planet you would die for. None of you said this guy (pointing to the unconscious climber). Now get your gear on and get down the mountain.’

In leaving that climber to die on the mountain, three others survived. The vibes from the other two climbers towards Matt was cold, to say the least, for the rest of the expedition, until the party were being greeted at the airport by their families and young kids.

Both climbers then acknowledged to Matt, that they were only able to hug their family again because of the decision made by him on that mountainside. Matt relates that the decision was actually an easy one to make, because of the agreement already made with his team, prior to embarking on the climb.

You may not be planning on doing a high-altitude climb and people’s lives may not be at stake, but at the commencement of starting on a journey to achieve a goal, Matt’s strategy is a without question, a strong one.

  1. Set boundaries and agreements up front even if it is just with yourself.
  2. Under extreme pressure, remember what you agreed to.
  3. For the tough days ahead, have a support person from day one who will hold you accountable.

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