Tacking: A Strategy for Personal Success

To achieve personal success, you should first know what you want. You should first know your destination. Then, after knowing your destination, you should figure out how to get there.
I recently read a great strategy about “how to get there” in the book The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur by Mike Michalowicz. While the strategy is aimed at companies, I believe that it’s just as applicable to individuals. The strategy is called “tacking” which comes from the sailing world:

He (the sailor) knows that he will not follow a straight line; the changing winds alone will not allow for that. Instead, he will travel in a zigzag-like pattern.
By tacking, the sailor travels a short distance, maximizing the winds and avoiding hazards. He then analyzes where he is in relationship to his destination, adjusts the sails, redirects the boat and continues the zag part of his travels. After another short distance he again evaluate his relationship to the destination and adjusts.

These routine adjustments will eventually bring the sailor to his destination.
Isn’t that similar to achieving personal success? You know where you want to go, but the wind always changes along the way. No matter how good your plan is, unexpected things always happen. You need to respond to them and adjust your actions accordingly or you may never reach your destination.
For me, this is a great idea that I have started applying. From my past experiences, I know that things always change and a tactic might not work for long. Holding to it in the name of habit or discipline will only take me further away from my destination.
So now I decide to use the tacking strategy on a monthly basis. Here is what I do:

  1. I look at my life purpose and its one-liner.
  2. I set a goal of the year related to my life purpose.
  3. Based on the goal of the year, I set some specific objectives for the month. I set the objectives based on what I think are the best tactics to achieve my goal.
  4. I work hard the entire month to achieve my objectives for the month.
  5. Near the end of the month, I evaluate how things are going. Did I choose the right objectives? Do the objectives take me closer to my goal? Do I find better tactics to apply?
  6. Based on the evaluation, I set new objectives for the following month. These objectives could be the same or different from the previous ones.

That’s how I apply the tacking strategy. I do my best to travel a short distance (one month in this case) before evaluating my position and adjusting my actions. In my opinion, tacking is a very good strategy for personal success. It allows you to adapt to changing situation.
One question you might have is: why monthly? One month is the best duration for me. It’s long enough to apply a tactic but still gives me twelve opportunities a year to adjust my actions. Of course, your situation may be different, so find the duration that works for you.
Photo by wili_hybrid


  1. Donald, great post. It’s a great metaphor for how to achieve a big goal. Most people just say tackle it in small chunks, but the ‘zig zag’ metaphor really works. This way if someone is off course they don’t need to feel bad, just change directions.

  2. Interesting post. I appreciate people that share their strategies and how they reach their goals.
    The metaphor ties in very nicely.

  3. Actually, the metaphor goes beyond sailing — cars are not traveling in straight lines, nor are airplanes. They may appear to be going straight from afar, but you know that the driver/pilot are constantly adjusting and shifting directions, if subtly.

  4. Oh, there are a lot of things you could learn from sailing.
    Navigation is a big part of it (know where you are, aim at your destination, watch out for the risks like storms or rocks).

  5. Tacking is usually done when the wind is against your sail, e.g., when you are sailing INTO the wind and fighting resistance. When the wind is IN your sail, i.e., behind you and pushing you, there is little need for tacking.

  6. @SnickerHaHa: And very interesting here is also maybe that the best boost for your boat is not the wind coming from behind but from diagonal front.
    This could also mean: If there is nothing in front of you and everything and everyone is pushing you then you will not get really into speed achieving your goal…

  7. Nate,

    This way if someone is off course they don’t need to feel bad, just change directions.

    That’s perhaps one of the most important things we can take from the metaphor. There’s nothing wrong with going off course; it’s just part of the process.
    Yes, it’s a great metaphor from The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. I love it.
    That’s right, it goes beyond sailing. Just perhaps most people don’t realize it. I usually think that I go straight when driving 🙂
    Sounds like I will learn a lot from navigation. From your description, it contains a bunch of principles that apply to personal growth.
    Snicker and Martin,
    Those are interesting lessons from sailing.

  8. Wow… Thats a cool metaphor… Constant and Continuous Improvement is essential for our successes… As Success is a progressive journey in realizing our worthy goals….

  9. It is easy to know when you are off-course. Whenever you feel negative emotions, this is the first indicator that you are heading away from your life’s purpose.
    Whenver you feel great, it means you are heading to the right direction.

    • i am completlly gree with what u saad since i experienced that my self,its beoutifull way to describe it like this.

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  11. I have to purchase the book. Always looking to improve my life. Thanks for the article.

  12. Thanks Donald, you gave me a wonderful formula for life. Sometimes if I used up my strategies, I just copy someones’ success and put it on my own context. Changes is man’s constant companion, I use to make a good relationship with life’s changes. Tacking, adapting, discipline, patience, wisdom and steadfastness. I am an entrepreneur who has many failures in businesses but I never quit. I believe two heads are better, more safer and productive while tacking, or it needs a partner or a mentor. I know I am tough to make the tacking alone but in the long run, i have proved many times I can’t do it all by myself. Life is changing to rapidly and it is becoming difficult as days go by. I am favored to have a dynamic business coach and mentor from kamja. My life has been optimized for greater success.

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  14. […] Latumahina presents Tacking: A Strategy for Personal Success posted at Life […]

  15. I agree. Life is a series of small victories leading to a larger success.

  16. Great post.
    You touched on something many people forget when they set out on achieving their goals– that things will push them off-course from time-to-time, no matter how well they plan and plot their journey.
    Ultimately it is the people who can adapt to these changes in course who achieve their goals. All too often I see people abandon their plans the moment things get a little difficult.
    Alex Work

  17. […] it out. Read it. How is your business tacking? Are you still on your way to reaching the objectives you identified in the […]

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