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What A Quadriplegic Can Teach Us All About Getting Sh*t Done

12 min read

“It was like any other day.

It was late one night that I went out on my motorbike and I took a corner too fast, or too late, the bike hit the gutter, I went up on the nature strip and there was a big hole. Front wheel hit that, I went over the handlebars, and head first into a tree where I shattered the fifth vertebrae in my neck.

I didn’t understand what had happened to me. I consciously knew I had a very serious accident – I had broken my neck, that I was quadriplegic, but I didn’t know what that meant.”

In just an instant, Dave Jacka lost 94 percent of his body function, resigning him to life in a wheelchair.

Right after the accident he found himself in a hospital bed placed in head tongs. His days were spent staring at the holes in the ceiling tiles. He’d pass the time by talking to patients around him but he’d never see their faces and who they were over their months of conversations.

I can’t imagine what it would feel like to wake up with such a small fraction of everything I once knew. Just 6% of your body function. And absolutely no hope of getting it back.

So where do you go from there? All the dreams, ambitions, and vision for the life you thought you’d lead completely shattered.

With New Year’s recently upon us, many of us may currently be working on our own big, audacious goals: Do more pre-production; finally learn how to operate your dream camera; or commit to being a stronger cinematographer.

For Dave, his goal was to put himself to bed at night. On his own. As a 19-year-old man without the help of his mother.

Two years later, with only 6 percent body function, he accomplished the seemingly impossible. So how did he do it? What can a quadriplegic teach us about reaching our goals?

When Dave began, he’d spend hours trying to get himself into bed and often ended up falling out of his chair onto the floor with no way of getting back up. He had control of his biceps, but not his triceps. He had no finger function. So he couldn’t even do something seemingly basic like unbuttoning his shirt and taking off his clothes.

To overcome these obstacles he broke down the overarching goal into a series of smaller goals. And then he started attacking each one. And along the way he developed modifications that let him get one step closer to the seemingly impossible. He developed a small hook for his bed that he could clip his wheelchair into. As he tried to shift his weight out of the chair, this hook prevented his chair from sliding back – a huge obstacle that often left him on the floor.

By being specific and breaking it down Dave had, without even realizing it, the beginnings of not just a goal but rather a SMART goal.

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If you’re serious about making your goals happen then this post is for you. We’re going to share one of the strongest methods for goal setting and debut Dave Jacka’s film that is sure to get you fired up and inspired.

An old adage suggests that it isn’t just about working hard, but rather working smart. And there is a lot of research that backs up the power of being SMART with your goals.

Goals affect our performance in four ways: they help to direct our attention, they energize us, they increase persistence, and they also indirectly help to bring up task-relevant knowledge and strategies.

So goals are HUGE for a variety of reasons, but setting goals is about more than just saying you’ll do something. There is a very specific way to set goals to increase the likelihood that you’ll achieve those goals.

This technique is called S.M.A.R.T., and its known across many industries and disciplines. It’s backed by a ton of research that shows how creating S.M.A.R.T. goals leads to a much higher success rate.

Here’s how it works. A SMART goal is:

  • Specific – rather than a vague goal, such as I’ll improve my shooting, make it as specific as possible. Something like, I’d like my composition to be much more intentional and my exposure to be more consistent.
  • Measurable – try to quantify your goal. How else will you be able to tell how much you’ve achieved?
  • Attainable – make sure that your goal pushes you but is something you’re capable of achieving. Research also suggests that a more challenging goal will increase both your effort and performance.
  • Relevant – make sure your goal ties into your larger plans, dreams, or responsibilities. If your goal is to be a really capable DP, then setting goals related to editing are likely not the most effective way to get you there.
  • Time-based – make sure to have a time set for when you want to achieve your goal. What’s even better is to break it down into key milestones along the way, and then set a time for each. Some of you may be familiar with Parkinson’s law  that claims work expands to fill the time available for its completion. So the further down the road you plan to meet your goal, the longer the project will take. And again, we want to make this timeframe challenging, yet realistic.

Dave set a SMART goal and achieved what doctors found inconceivable.

Let’s put this into practice. Let’s see how setting SMART goals can directly translate to bettering ourselves as filmmakers. On Twitter I asked you to share your biggest goal for 2015. Here are a few of the replies we got.

So let’s take a look at @DSLRSolutions goal of setting aside more time to film personal projects in 2015 and see how we could make that into a SMART goal.

  • Specific – rather than “more personal projects” why don’t we decide on two personal project. We could also define the subject matter and even the type or style. So perhaps we set the goal of making two 3-5 minute doc-style personal projects, each featuring somebody in the local community who we find inspiring.
  • Measurable – for a short film project, we could set having the project edited, colored, and sound mixed as our goal.
  • Attainable – two short films over the course of the year is certainly attainable. Even with pre-production, we could anticipate a day in pre-production, a day of production, and a couple days of post. That’s just over a week of time for both films, which certainly feels attainable over the course of a year.
  • Relevant – this is where we could look at the length, style, and subject matter of the personal projects to make sure they fit into our larger goals and how we want to develop as a filmmaker. For some, that might mean creating scripted shorts or really pushing the lighting in the films—or any other aspect that you’re really looking to advance.
  • Time-based – the original tweet already suggested that he or she be done inside 2015. We could go one step further and suggest one personal project be completed by mid-year, and the other by the end of the year. We could even suggest that we want to have our first story chosen by the end of February, production completed by April, and post by the end of June. Or, we could look to block off a string of days to do the whole film from start to finish, but we’d be sure to choose the exact days and get them added to the calendar.

I’m sure you can see that as we take a goal and turn it into a SMART goal, it becomes much more tangible and MUCH more likely to be realized. This becomes apparent when comparing the two. Setting aside more time for personal projects in 2015, versus Two 3-5 minute doc-style personal projects featuring an inspiring local. One edited, colored, and mixed by the end of June and the other by the end of the year. 

During the Storytelling With Heart tour, as we shared the SMART goal technique, I talked about a personal SMART goal I’d made. Make one short film (less than 5 min) of an inspiring and international lead character. Shoot on RED with a small camera and be done by the end of the year. Meeting Dave Jacka and being able tell his story is certainly one of the most inspiring stories I’ve been able to be a part of.

Now I’ve been somewhat of a poor storytelling in already telling you that Dave figured out a way to put himself to bed.

This story is much more about what that moment meant to him, and where he went from there. Accomplishing something that no quadriplegic before him had ever done. And inspiring a boat load of people along the way.

It wasn’t just his goals – being specific and breaking it down. It was also the belief he had that he could do it.

Let’s be honest, most of us realize we are capable of much more than we are currently living. We could eat healthier, read more, and spend more time developing the skills we rely on in our business all the time. But so few of us do take those steps. In reading about the power of SMART goals, only a fraction of us will apply this method all the while knowing that it’s a surefire way to increase your success rate. Why? Well, quite simply, for most of us their is both so much uncertainty and a fear of failure. And when we believe we can’t do something, we certainly won’t make it happen.

That is what clicked inside of Dave’s head. Once he got himself into bed, he realized that he was capable of anything he set his mind to.

Belief paired with a smart goal is an unstoppable combination. Don’t believe me yet? Then listen to incredible story.

For hundreds of years it was considered physiologically impossible to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. And then, in 1954, Roger Bannister comes along.

He was practicing as a junior doctor and had very little training in running. But he had one thing that nobody before him did. He believed it was possible. He let go of the traditional limits prescribed by his sport and know it was possible to break that 4 minute barrier.

During the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki Roger has both an extreme success and failure. He broke the British world record in the 1500m while also not qualifying for a medal.

And that was the day he set not just a goal, but a SMART goal. He wanted to be the first person to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. His training intensified and two years later, at a road track in Oxford, the official announcement of his 3:59.4 time was drowned out by the roar of the crowd.

He set a specific goal. He believed he could do it. And he became the first person to break a barrier that was considered impossible for so long. But the magic of the story doesn’t end there.

His record lasted all of 46 days.

And in the following year, 37 people ran the 4 minute mile. Think about that for a second. Something that was once considered seemingly impossible is achieved by one person and then the floodgates open. Belief paired with a smart goal.

More than just belief, many of those who have achieved the greatest of things knew deep within themselves that it was possible. They saw it. It felt real. And it’s a technique called pre-visualization that has been incredibly effective in sports.

Steve Nash, potentially one of the greatest Canadian basketball players of all time, was also the all-time leader in NBA free throw shooting percentage. Over the course of his career and 3,400 attempts from the foul line, Nash made 90.4% of them. And before every shot he took several imaginary shots where he pictured the ball going in and felt the movements throughout his body.

In the words of Dave Jacka, we are only limited by what we think we can do. And more than just thinking, when we can both see and feel our goal, it becomes much closer. And if we take the time to break it down and make a SMART goal, our chances of success skyrocket.

Now if you want to get super serious about reaching your filmmaking goals, we have something really special being released next week. We’ve been working with the Story & Heart team on a totally rad EDU launch coming January 19.

It will take what the S&H team does best–collaboration & community–and pair that with Stillmotion’s long-standing passion and devotion to education. The result is something that will certainly help you reach your goals this year.

Join our mailing list below for the inside scoop and special offer exclusive to our mailing list.

An for those of you that want to take one of your goals and turn it into a SMART goal, post it here on the blog and we’ll give away 3 KNOW Field Guides to some of the most inspiring and interesting replies. 

* and just in case you thought we made all of this up (we’re good, but not that good) OR you’re looking for some light bedtime reading, these studies have been referenced thousands of times and will give you all the background into the research behind the value of setting goals.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building A Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-Year Odyssey. American Psychologist, Vol 57(9).

About Patrick Moreau

I love stories that challenge the way we see things.

20 Comments

  • What an inspiring guy! Beautiful story guys! I feel like a waste of time if compared to this guy… My goal for this year is to be one of the top filmmakers of my country!!! In that process I hope to be independent and able to do this full time and enjoy seeing my children growing :-)

    • That is an awesome goal Gione. Now it’s time to break it down and really get specific on what being a ‘top filmmaker in your country’ means and how it is measured. The more specific you can get there, there tangible it will be, and the more possible it is to actually make it happen. I’d certainly encourage you to spend some time with that goal and build it out more!

      P.

  • Kate Baldwin says:

    Powerful story. Powerful post. Thanks again Stillmotion.

  • Paul Liu says:

    Wow! Another powerful & touching story. Motivated to set SMART goals for 2015!

    My goal is to film 5 inspiring short films, telling stories about people in Singapore, who is celebrating 50th year of independence! Thanks Stillmotion :)

    • Thanks for sharing Paul. That sounds like quite the goal, and something that has a lot of meaning to you. I’d definitely suggest breaking it down even more into the different phases of production and when you want to both start and finish each film. In the early stages I think you could also look at what themes or characteristics you want to find within each story – I imagine you can go deeper than just ‘people in Singapore, which is celebrating it’s 50th year of independence’.

      Perhaps you could find people whose lives are more touched by the independence you now enjoy? Perhaps you could find people that both were in Singapore before there was independence and young people who would know nothing other than that?

      All the best with your films. I hope you’ll share them with us when you’re done.

      P.

  • Dulewski says:

    Great work guys!
    Love that story, love the simplicity of you work ! so efficient.
    Hello from France

  • kimberley says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. I will use the S.M.A.R.T goals to help rransform my life that I started last year by attending Landmark. Landmark has helped me to see what and where I need to change. I like the idea of setting smaller goals from the bigger ones. That makes the bigger ones seem more attainable. Thanks again for fulfilling your goals so we could watch this story and be inspired.

  • I was blown away by the hangar scene with him in a wheel chair by a plane, wow, what an audacious goal, I didn’t see that coming. Wonderful story, great person, well told.

    It is true that the key to achieving is believing that something is possible in the first place. Thanks for giving us a new perspective on far we can really stretch in setting a goal.

    • Thanks for taking the time to share Jerry. We certainly tried to keep the turn in the story hidden as much as possible. It’s hard because when you share Dave’s story you want to talk about him being a quadriplegic pilot, but then it kinda gives away the ending :)

      P.

  • Thomas T. says:

    Film a 10-15min doc-style personal project about my deceased father. Have it filmed, edited, colored, and mixed by the end of June.

  • Brian says:

    My goal is to teach self-awareness.

    I made a self portrait of myself and stuck it on the fridge door; my wife asked me why. “I want to become more self aware”, I said, “not self centred, but to look at each new picture and say ‘look who showed up today.'” I am not seeking anyone’s approval or to be judged for my perceived value. I know who I am!

    How many people, young and old, “do selfies” to reach out, to cry out for help, to seek approval, affirmation & confirmation and, are dismissed or not recognized for what they are? We dismiss them as something the young people do….just a fad. This too extends to video selfies.

    I want to teach the reason to do a self portrait, to tell the story that needs to be told. I want to teach the audience to both recognize and to actually react on that story.

    There’s a poster that I was sent. It reads, “The woman who does not need approval from anyone, is the most feared person on the planet”. I want to have people look at themselves in the eye and know that they not only showed up, but they too do not need anyone’s approval for who they are. I want people to know that it is ok to report any level of abuse without fear of retribution or punishment.

    Being self aware means that you become more aware of the world and your place in it and with it.

    Thanks.

  • Dwayne says:

    That was an awesome story. Just when I think you guys have done it all, you make a short piece that is really beautiful. My goals for this year it just to get better with my overall camera work and then get great with my storytelling. I think you guys should do a tutorial on showing people how to get that nice clean image in camera for all us newbies. Thank you again.

  • Michael Drager says:

    I’m calling BS on myself. I’ve used every excuse in the book of not getting projects complete. Every distraction possible. Really, it can all be boiled down to one thing — fear. Why I’m afraid is beyond me. Perfectionism. Judgement. Comparison. It’s all a lie. These moments of talking myself out of creating work are over. Thanks for the work you do. It has helped me start.

  • Trevor Mclaren says:

    thats a great piece of inspiration for anybody in our situation Dave “keep it up”
    Cheers Trev.

  • Jorge says:

    Love that story, beautiful work!

  • DeAndre says:

    By May 15th of 2017, I will be a Full Time filmmaker. I will accomplish this goal by Failing as much as possible, asking for help, and persistencing through challengs both personal and professional.

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