What is your river?

This article will use the analogy of a river crossing to talk about reaching your goals. It follows on from the article about SMART goals.

Where you are is represented by you on the near bank.

Where you want to be is on the far bank.

The river represents all the problems and difficulties that lay between you and your goal.

When you arrive at the edge of a river you are faced with a number of decisions to make:

  • Do I want to cross this river? If so, how badly do I want to cross?
  • Is there an obvious route across?
  • Can I cross this river by myself or do I need some help?
  • Do I know where to go to ask for this help?
  • Is there something that I’m currently doing that I’ll have to stop to make the crossing possible?

Let’s work some real world examples through:

You are at the edge of a stream that you really want to cross.  You look at the bank you’re on and the one opposite to gauge the distance and how solid the ground is and decide you can jump it in one.  You take a bit of a run up and jump across, and all is well with the world – you got from where you were to where you want to be.

Another time you might arrive at a river that is too wide to cross over by jumping by yourself, but there is an obvious set of stepping stones laid out to take you from one bank to the other without getting your feet wet – someone has shown you the way but then it’s been up to you to do it by yourself.  Maybe you’ll choose to swim and put in all the energy yourself.

You might be at a river that you’ve crossed before and you can remember how you did it last time.  But, just as Heraclitus said “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man” so you might have to do something different to cross it this time.

If the river you arrive is really wide, fast flowing or deep you (hopefully) will instantly make the correct decision that you’re going to need some help.  Sometimes where to look for that help will be obvious but sometimes it won’t be.  

Some rivers are only passable using a bridge – someone else does all the work and puts in all the money so your life is really easy.  

Some rivers need a boat – you’ll need to pay the ferryman to get you across.  

Some rivers are only passable at certain times of the year and some river crossings might turn out to be not worth the investment that you make.

Sure, we’ve all heard of SMART goals, and these river examples have ticked some of those boxes without delving into the others:

The goal is specific – you have decided that you want to cross the river 

The goal is measurable – did you cross the river safely?

The goal is achievable – that might depend on the size of the river, the cost of getting across or the energy you need to expend to get across

The goal is relevant – the thing you gain by crossing is important to you


Is the goal is time based? Some people are in a hurry, some people have a deadline, some people are motivated by time pressure, some people realise they don’t care enough about crossing the river when they learn how much effort or money they’ll have to put into getting across.

This leaves us with a bunch of questions…

  • What is your river?
  • What is on the far bank?
  • How soon do you want to be across?
  • Do you know how to get across?
  • Have you tried to get across before?
  • What is stopping you from crossing?
  • Do you know where to go to get help?
  • What do you think it will be like on the far side of your river?

If you’re keen to talk more then reach out and get in touch!

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