Transcript: Bonita Norris – How I Set Goals (Max#33)


Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential. Brought to you in association with the award winning recruitment group Jenrick.

Welcome back to Episode 33 of the Maximise Potential podcast. We are extremely fortunate to welcome back Everest Record Holder Bonita Norris. As many of you are aware on May 17th 2010 Bonita Norris became the youngest ever British woman to climb Everest at the age of just 22. On Episode 18 of the podcast Bonita gave us an incredible insight into her epic journey and today Bonita is coming back to focus on the motivational methods, mental approaches and goal setting techniques that she used to get her there so please enjoy.


Bonita you’re on the podcast again.

Bonita: Kevin good to be back.

Kevin: Firstly I would like to feed back to you just regarding the positive impact that your first recording did. I mean the amount of people that have come back to me and said how it has helped them really break down goals particularly. That was an area that you really focussed on. I mean let’s face it as you rightly said on the podcast it doesn’t get much bigger than Everest and yet you really broke it down into such little chunks it was that that people came back with and also the self belief. They couldn’t believe how late in the process that the sponsorship came into play and yet you just followed everything to the letter right the way through, that inner belief that it was going to happen. You know in your mind there was never any doubt was there.

Bonita: I think I have always been told by my parents and what not that if you work hard enough for something then it will come good in the end and you have just got to have faith. And actually most successes happen in the eleventh hour and to never give up. And actually the more the situation came to head the more determined I became I think. My determination by then was really just to prove that these impossible challenges were actually possible and there was no way you know in the dying hours of trying to find £50,000 to go and climb Everest that I was going to give up after you know a year of training and trying to find that money. It made me more determined than ever and it was in the eleventh hour that I got it. So hopefully that has proved exactly what I set out to prove.

Kevin: I think it has and really I think that confirms the nature of what we are going to talk about today because we are not necessarily going to talk about any specific events and challenges and I know that there are zillions more on the horizon for you. But we are going to focus in on what drives you internally and we are going to focus on how good you are at setting goals for yourself and how you go about setting goals for yourself and you really work through that because the more I have had the pleasure of learning about you the more I have realised that you are so meticulous at doing this and yet this is an area that most people don’t do and yet a lot of people want to do. And I think it is going to really help people understand. I think you would even say it is a relatively simple process that you go through but it seems to make a difference doesn’t it.

Bonita: A huge.

Kevin: So shall we go right back to when you were planning for Everest because I think that was when you first started setting goals and it would be lovely to explain how you went about setting goals on an event that has happened and maybe then discussing how it is going to impact how you move forward in your life to attack new goals and new challenges.

Bonita: Okay with regards to Everest it is quite an easy obvious end point you know reach the summit get back down alive. So it is quite a straightforward goal to have, it is really visual you can see straight away that is exactly where you are going and I think some of the time actually working out what your goals are is half the issue. And before I decided to do Everest it was a real problem for me I can remember thinking, I was at Uni and thinking I wanted a challenge, I wanted to do something, I wanted to test myself, learn about myself, push myself but I didn’t know what it was going to be. I mean I have got this sheet here in front of me that I wrote down a big list that I have printed off.

Kevin: Just talk about that for a second because you know when we were just prepping before we started recording just let everybody know what happened here.

Bonita: Before I decided to climb Everest I actually sat down one evening and wrote down a big long list of all of my goals for the next ten years of my life. I think I was about 19 when I wrote it and it went up to 28 and all sorts of things, it is funny reading back you know like certain marathons I wanted to run and certain work experience placements I wanted to do and just silly things but it ended with me writing the last thing I wanted to do was climb Everest.

Kevin: And you wrote this as a teenager.

Bonita: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kevin: Before you had even, we are talking before you had been to the talks that really inspired you, before you had interviewed Rob which really got you going on all of this. What were you thinking at the time? Why did you do this?

Bonita: I think for me being able to see things on paper makes a huge difference to actually being able to work towards them. So if I have a plan I have to write it down, I am an obsessive list maker. I have to write to do lists because as soon as it is out of my brain and it’s on the paper it is actually something visual that I can look for. So I am always kind of compelled to write down things.

Kevin: Okay keeping talking more about that.

Bonita: Well it’s a sense of as soon as you have a goal as I said at the beginning it is really difficult to actually work out sometimes what the end point is, what you actually want to achieve. But as soon as you start writing things down you find that you write down the things that you want and you don’t think about, you don’t write down the things you don’t want to do. And I have always been like that in the sense that I have managed to, it clears your mind and you write things down, you put things on paper and then you can deconstruct them which is really difficult to do inside your head. Well it is for me anyway I am not the best thinker so I have to align my thoughts, I have to put them onto paper and I think by writing this list when I was a teenager of just like the most bizarre things to do throughout my twenties I was setting myself targets knowing that probably I wasn’t going to achieve them all but even if I achieve 10% of these things it would still be really cool things to do. So that was one of the reasons why I wanted to do it but secondly just because I was going through early stages of University not knowing where I wanted to end up when I left, not having any clear direction but actually writing down these goals gave me some kind of direction and some kind of structure to my future. And I like having that structure, I like knowing what I am aiming for and from there I can work backwards and break it down into these small steps and then start working towards it again. And it is a really simple process in that sense of just writing down what you want, deconstructing it and then beginning to work towards it. And it has always just been kind of what I have done without really thinking about it.

Kevin: Yeah well that was the interesting thing when we chatted because I asked you well what prompted you to do it and you were like haven’t got a clue, I haven’t really thought about that it is just what I do. But did it help just to declutter your mind, did it help almost crystallise what you wanted to stand for as a person, I mean?

Bonita: Yes it does, 100% I think your goals really do define who you are. And I think the reason we live and we continue to strive to do things and get out of bed and earn money is because we want to achieve certain things in our lives whether that having children, a certain amount of money, certain holiday, you want to run a marathon. We always set ourselves goals; it is what keeps your heart beating I think. And for me that was always something, I always wanted to have a goal and when you are young they are quite simple, it was like run the Reading Half Marathon when I was 17 or something. But as you sort of get older you want to make them more and more complex and the list that I wrote wasn’t just about climbing mountains or doing physical challenges they were also like I want to get a Masters, which now looking back on this I realise I haven’t done yet so I am kind of feeling that I haven’t achieved all that I have set out to do.

Kevin: Because you haven’t actually looked at this list now for a few years have you.

Bonita: No I have not looked at this list since it was written in 2008 a long time ago but as I said when I wrote it down I genuinely can remember thinking even if I do just a few things on this list I will be so happy. And you are right it declutters your mind, when you see these goals you do see the kind of person that you will end up being if you were to achieve them.

Kevin: Okay that’s interesting talk a bit about that you’ve straight away said that you can see the sort of person that you are going to end up being if you achieve them. What do you mean by that?

Bonita: Well I think like your thoughts become your actions and your actions become you know the reasons why you make the decisions that you make and then the decisions that you make cause your destiny basically. So I think you become who you want to be and those things, and you know who you are starts right in your mind and I feel like that by writing these things down my thoughts and stuff like that I can actually see where I am going because sometimes you don’t really get where you are going and what actually inspires me and I end up looking at this list and like wow if I do all these things that would be really cool. But that is in the back of mind I would kind of.

Kevin: Gets a spark.

Bonita: Yeah gets me going so that is why I did it I guess.

Kevin: I want to ask you another question about this list. You didn’t just write down this list and keep it to yourself did you?

Bonita: I emailed it to my mum and I have actually written here you know ‘I have had a long hard think tonight and I have come up with my plan this is an idealist money doesn’t matter plan but it is good to have a plan right’ That is what I wrote and then I sent her this list of what I wanted to do in my twenties.

Kevin: Why did you not keep the list to yourself, why did you choose to email it to your mother?

Bonita: Because I think once you have shared these ideas. Once you have put them out in the open they become something and you have set the mark then, you know you have set the gauntlet down. If people know about it you have almost set the challenge because you don’t want to let yourself down or let them people down. You don’t want to be seen as someone who’s not gone and done what you said you were going to do. And I am very much a person that if I commit to something and people know that I have committed that’s it from that point I will do whatever I can to make sure that I achieve that goal. And I felt that by sending it out there it would become more real and it is silly but you know once people know about your dreams and goals then they know what kind of person you want to be and will look at you in that way and won’t be completely surprised when you turn around and say you want to go up Everest.

Kevin: Keep going with that I am liking where this is going go on.

Bonita: So you know well it is as simple as that really once it is out there you have put it down on paper and not only is it visualised in front of you people know about it and there is an expectation from that point that you will go through with what you say you are going to do. And

Kevin: Is it like a contract, do you view it as a contract?

Bonita: I think you do view it as a contract with yourself yeah, I like the pressure of it is a risk because you have set yourself up to fail and I like that putting things out there and making outlandish statements and saying I am going to do this. And then people going no you can’t and then I am going watch me. So I think possibly that is one of the reasons but as I have sort of gone on to more I realise how difficult these things actually are. I do keep a lot of things to myself now just in case they don’t come off.

Kevin: Now something that you have mentioned probably about four times if I am counting correctly in this very short interview so far is the term ‘to visualise’. First of all you said about with Everest the fact that you could visualise that. You have said then with regards to the list that you are creating that it helps you visualise your goals. What do you mean by that?

Bonita: I guess that I obviously like to see in my mind or I like to see in front of me how I am going to do things and I like to be able to see that in a logical sense. I like to have it in front of me what do I have to do when and how am I going to do this. That is just how I learn I guess.

Kevin: And what are you seeing?

Bonita: I’m just seeing like goal posts. When I am seeing something like Everest I am not seeing the mountain I am seeing how it is broken down. I am looking at my timeframe, how much time have I got, what have I got to do in that time, what have I got to have achieved to be ready to climb that mountain, how much money do I need. My obsessive kind of deconstructing of goals is that sort of scene in my head. But also I mean what really kept me going throughout Everest and I have never admitted this but I used to have like certain songs and certain music which I would put on which would be like my Everest music and help me visualise and get back to how I like felt at the beginning. Because when you first come up with an idea or a goal it is so exciting and it is so easy to get motivated by and then a year down the line you really forget how that feeling was.

Kevin: Yeah because you are in the middle of all this horrible slog.

Bonita: And it is not the rose tinted ideal that you thought it was but I would have certain songs and certain music in my mind, I would be playing kind of like this documentary style thing of like what it would be like to climb, what it would be like to see my family at Heathrow, what I would do at the summit, like what it would feel like to live at base camp all in my head.

Kevin: So are you actually viewing this as a movie in the future, you can actually see yourself in that situation, you can see yourself greeting people, you can see yourself crying.

Bonita: Yeah I had it all done, I had my whole documentary in my head of the whole expedition and when I thought about that or I heard that music it would just be like, the fire would just be reignited that little bit more. You know the embers would sort of relit and it would help me go on. And it was so important for me to do that because nothing else worked. It was all about visualising it and imagining it and that would just give me enough to get back on the phone again and start asking for money or go on and do my training which was getting mundane and it just got me through I think really.

Kevin: So I am assuming then that would, those moments would particularly kick into play when you were facing adversity, facing those points where in your head you were beginning to hit the negative.

Bonita: Yeah I think there was never like points of its all gone wrong suddenly it was just a general, the general slog of day in day out and it beats you down slowly especially when time is ticking I have got to find £50,000. I have got no leads because the sponsorship all happened very fast but you know in the back of my mind when I would take some time to just think this is what, this is how it’s going to be in my head it was just too tempting it was too insensilising I couldn’t let the dream die because in my mind still it was just so incredible. And actually sometimes I confused my memories with my real memories and my false memories because they were so vivid these visualisations that I actually sometimes look back and I have to think did that actually happen or was that just what I imagined beforehand.

Kevin: See that is I mean you just said the word incredible and yet you were speaking about something that was actually in your mind so it wasn’t actually just seeing an image it was almost like you were experiencing it emotionally as well. You managed to get the actual emotional feedback of going oh God this is what it is actually going to feel like when it happens.

Bonita: Yeah I think visualisation is such an important thing believing that you are going to summit Everest, believing that you are going to run a marathon in a certain time. If you don’t believe that you are going to do it then the chances are you won’t. It is as simple as that. That kind of self motivation of just imagining and believing that that, it did blur the boundaries of what was reality and what was not real before I went so it kind of almost felt like it was happening when it wasn’t. And I think that is just testament to a wild imagination which I am obviously to have inherited.

Kevin: Very grateful to have. Whoever said daydreaming was bad hey.

Bonita: Well exactly that but at the other end of spectrum I think I get that daydreaming stuff from my dad, but from my mum I definitely have the logical list making side of things. So that is the big dream but how are you actually going to achieve it well the action was also just as kind of I would feed off the fact that I was actually making progress even if it was very small. Just by being able to put a little tick by something was just the best feeling, it was those small victories. So it was the big dreams and visualisations but it was also putting stuff on paper that I could see and I could actually work towards that I think the combination of both was what made it successful.

Kevin: What I find quite interesting about this interview is when you think how much we spoke about your targets and where you broke down stuff, and you broke down events, the first time when we spoke and I think we covered a lot in that interview and yet here is an interesting thing that we didn’t even touch on any of this. And it just shows how much more is going on behind the scenes.

Bonita: Yeah I mean like I said until I came in here today I had completely forgotten about that list you know and I have printed it off and it is like four years old now. And as I said completely disappointed because I haven’t achieved half the things on it. But Everest I did do and I did go to the North Pole so that’s good. But it does remind me and now I am thinking yeah you know what I still want to do that so it is good that I have got it because actually seeing it here I am thinking yeah that is something I would love to do so. Take this home now.

Kevin: Can you feel yourself getting passionate about those things again?

Bonita: Definitely I mean you know these are things that don’t just go away. I mean I have got new goals now which I can add to them but I mean I said I wanted to do these all by the end of my twenties but some of these things I would just like to do in my lifetime really. You know like I would like to run the Paris Marathon I put down which sounds quite nice.

Kevin: Let me ask you now that you are becoming more aware of the techniques that you have used to help you achieve and we have got a great big event as in Everest and you can actually see all of it and you can reflect on it retrospectively and you can actually now work backwards and actually see how it all slotted together. Two questions first of all can you now think back to much earlier in your life when you probably thought you were just daydreaming and actually you can now look at that and go cricky you know what I was actually visualising other things and that now makes sense of why I achieved XYZ earlier in my life? Equally then jumping forward how conscious are you now of these techniques when you are actually planning this audacious future goals that you have got planned?

Bonita: Obviously as you say it is easier now when you are conscious of certain techniques you can like utilise them better. I think when I was younger I remember making the decision to train for my first half marathon when I was about 17. I genuinely thought that running 13 miles was just the most incredible thing like as a teenager not being able to run for 30 seconds and my teacher in school she gave an assembly and she said ‘girls how about thinking outside of your comfort zone going outside of what you are comfortable with and doing something that you didn’t think you were capable of’ And those words I remember I never forgot them, doing something that I didn’t think I was capable of, and she said to me how about you will run the half marathon and I think I am just really easily swayed. I was like okay then and that was it. So from there on I can remember instantly thinking get a training plan together, start small and one thing I do have as a talent is to take small victories. I am quite happy to start and be absolutely rubbish at something, I do not hold any kind of ideas about myself being able to go off and run 10 miles the first time I try something or.

Kevin: That is a wonderful virtue to have.

Bonita: But I think it is very important because people will just do it once and be so demoralised because they are rubbish. Obviously you are going to be rubbish at anything you haven’t done before I think because, and I don’t think I have got any natural talent towards anything apart from the fact that I am quite happy to take really small steps and just build up very slowly in my own time in my own way knowing that I will eventually get to where I need to be. So lots of people started the training and we all went running and blah, blah, blah and then only two of us in the whole year actually ended up doing the half marathon because people just got demoralised I think. Like my friends and stuff by the fact that it was actually going to be hard work and they would have to train and I didn’t mind that I just knew that if I carried on I would actually get there. But today it obviously holds more weight because it was what I want to carry on doing for the rest of my life is setting these challenges. So I have noticed those things.

Kevin: I think what’s very interesting is and what you keep coming back to time and time again is it almost doesn’t matter to you how big the end goal is as long as you can see, as you keep saying, as long as you can see that logical path and you can break it down into enough steps so that you can make these small victories. You go that’s fine I can do this, I can see that route.

Bonita: Exactly that you can achieve anything you know. It’s purely about taking one step and building on it and not wanting success over night. I think that is a huge thing. It is just being patient and not reaping the harvest every day but sowing the seeds for it you know. Like it is just so incredibly important and not giving up. I think it’s one of the, it sounds so easy to do, is just carry on. Carry on trying don’t you know, come and bounce back from failures and keep trying because you will get there. And I genuinely believe that I can do something as long as I just don’t stop. As I said before there is not much grace or skill to how I do things or what I do I just plod on until I get there if I want it bad enough. You know but equally if it is something that doesn’t motivate me it has got no hope.

Kevin: Again that is a lovely lesson I think there is too many people you know we pick jobs, careers. Too many people stay in a career that they aren’t motivated by, that they are actually not enjoying, they consider it’s a slog, its mundane it is not what they want to do. They don’t just say right okay well can I change my attitude within this or do I just need to come on find something that I really want to do.

Bonita: Yeah I think it is so important to keep motivated but it is such a personal thing that you have to maintain. You have familiarity breeds content isn’t it. So even if you are doing the most exciting job in the world you can get bored of it one day. It is up to us to stay motivated and to find new ways to, well find different ways of looking at our lives and being motivated by them and setting ourselves goals. I think that is just the most important thing. Set targets, meet them because that is a great feeling obviously and then see how far you can push it because I think inevitably we always surprise ourselves.

Kevin: Definitely and I am going to ask you to actually throw a goal out here on this podcast. I mean we have covered some wonderful advice on how people can break down, how people can visualise everything else. So let’s now throw this into the future tell us what you can visualise now for Bonita Norris.

Bonita: Well it’s been a goal for a while ever since climbing Everest there is this beautiful mountain next door called Lhotse which is the fourth highest in the world, looks horrendously difficult near the summit, lots of rock and ice. And I would really like that to be my next big challenge. It does sound similar oh it is right next door to Everest is it not just the same you know. It is the same in many ways but it is also completely different in the sense that it is going to be technically in a mountaineering sense a lot more difficult to climb. All I want to do with my mountaineering career is just build on what I have already got ever so slightly each time. So this is kind of the next step and then after that I would love to go and climb more of the 14 8000m peaks. I have done two and this will be my third. I would love to go around and climb these as and when I am ready. You know I know I am not ready to climb some of them yet but by going climbing inevitably I will get there eventually. So that is putting it out that the next big goal. As I said it is all about taking small steps so this is up to Camp 3 within my comfort zone I have done it before and then Camp 4 to the summit a whole new world. You know steep rock and ice, fourth highest mountain on the planet wearing oxygen, big space suits on and what not but not just going up Everest snow slopes but going up steep Lhotse rock and ice. And that is completely different it is just a matter of building on what I have learnt already in my experiences and just advancing slowly. I am not going to go and try K2 just because I have climbed Everest it is going to take years before I am ready to attempt a mountain like that.

Kevin: The interesting thing with how you just described that though and this will come across on the audio for the people who have just heard it is how accurately you have just described it. You have just described what you were wearing the type of rock face you are going to be climbing.

Bonita: Right I don’t notice it.

Kevin: You were visualising it naturally. Your eyes sort of just went off and you were just describing exactly how it all looked.

Bonita: I think for a lot of athletes and I don’t class myself as an athlete but visualisation is the most important thing for success I think. I mean seeing yourself there.

Kevin: Absolutely I mean when I spoke with Dean Macey he said it was all about visualisation. He used to spend, and he openly said particularly in the periods where he was trying to recover from injury and go through rehab he would spend more time meditating, spending time in fields alone thinking and visualising about how he was going to win his gold medals, how he was going to compete, how he was going to feel strong again.

Bonita: Yeah because then when you go for it, it is actually almost like autopilot you know. And I mean there was really nothing on Everest that really surprised me because I felt so ready for it. As I said my memories of reality and my thoughts are actually almost blurred as a result. So yeah visualisation and as we were talking before the podcast for now my rock climbing is what I am trying to push and visualising every move on a rock climb you know how it is going to feel to touch that hold and imagining that you get your footing just right and things like that. So actually when you do the rock climb itself and all the pressures on to perform in those 15 – 20 seconds that you are on that short wall you have got to get everything right. And if you have visualised it in your mind that everything is going to go perfectly then you tend to just follow that through. But if you are thinking beforehand oh God I might get that foothold wrong or what if I don’t get my hand right you probably are not going to because those thoughts are going to be in your mind. So it is a huge part of performance and success I think is visualisation for me anyway. I know that as you say other people are very different.

Kevin: This podcast is all about for you, you know we are not here to preach as to the right or wrong ways of doing things it is all about profiling people in our opinion who are wonderful examples of achievers in their various fields and it’s about understanding what makes you tick. That is what is so important.

Lets finish off we’ve done roughly half an hour superb interview thoroughly enjoyed it. What are we going to leave people with this time for someone who has never set a goal for themselves.

Bonita: Yeah I think challenge yourself to just sit there with pen and paper and ask yourself what kind of person you want to be in two or five years time. That really is, you have to really look at your life and think what’s possible and what you are capable off and also what your dreams are and I suppose I did sit down and do that and actually it almost felt a bit cheeky and a bit naughty about writing down something as audacious as Everest on my to do list you know how ridiculous is that if you have never climbed a mountain. But just by putting it down really sowed the seed for making my destiny what I wanted it to be and I think the simple act of writing down what you want to happen in your future is a huge step forward in actually being the future that you want it to be. And so that for me will always be something I’ll do, I’ll always write down my goals and deconstruct them and then work towards them. It is the only way I know so that is it.

Kevin: Bonita Norris British record holder for climbing Everest thank you very much again for your time.

Bonita: Thank you Kevin.


Kevin: Bonita Norris thank you once again for coming on the Maximise Potential Podcast and for providing us with such a wonderful insight into the motivational approaches and techniques that you apply. If you are a regular to the podcast and the website you will notice that Bonita’s approach is consistent with several of the others who have appeared on Maximise Potential all of them citing the importance of taking the time to think about your goals, committing them to paper and finally making that list public.

So here are a couple of quick updates before we finish off today. Firstly we are at the final stages of the voting for the European Podcasting Awards so please, please, please come and vote for us. It would mean a great deal.

Next piece of news is related to Fiona Campbell who gave us all a wonderful introduction to NLP on Episode 24 of the podcast. Fiona has just launched a brand new website featuring a range of excellent YouTube videos and other superb resources to help you implement NLP within your life. You can click on the show notes for details and the website is called

And finally we have an amazing piece of news to announce Andy North who we featured on Episode 31 of the podcast has successfully completed his incredible journey from Yorkshire to Gibraltar covering 2000m in just six weeks using a combination of running and cycling. Hats off to you Andy congratulations and well done for raising so much money for such worthy causes.

Thanks again for tuning in and please remember to visit our website at for more excellent videos, articles and resources to help you maximise your potential. I would also like to extend a big thanks as always to the sponsors of our podcast the Jenrick Recruitment Group who specialise in developing careers in the engineering, commercial and IT sectors. I have ensured that there are links on the show notes so if you would like to see the current job opportunities that are on offer with Jenrick or you would like to register your CV with them then please click on those links.

That is all for this time thanks very much for tuning in and here’s ‘Jules theme ‘from Xerxes to finish on please enjoy.


About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!