Motivation is hard to maintain because we’ve pushed our goals too far into the future. It feels safe — even productive — continually “checking-in” on our long-term vision. Our fixation with the final outcome thwarts us from doing the very work needed to make it real.
It’s incredibly depressing. No wonder our motivation spikes and drops.
But as Ryan Holiday has explained, elite athletes don’t focus on the big picture, but instead on the next step. Of course, the Super Bowl is where NFL players want to be. But if that’s their primary concern, they’ll never get there. They won’t have the focus and intensity needed this week to get the win.
“Work will win when wishy washy wishing won’t!” — Angela L. Nydegger
Enough With The Theory, Let’s Get Practical
I was told just yesterday that in order to get where I want to go, I need to make a five-year plan. The problem is, humans are incredibly bad at predicting the future — especially how long something will take to accomplish. Also, our minds change about what we want. We regularly get new information that alters our course.
“Unless you are a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy” — Jason Fried & DHH, Rework
Not only are long-term plans inaccurate, they’re demotivating. Rarely do they instill the purpose needed to get out of bed. Instead, we drag ourselves out of bed. We need a new approach that inflicts urgency, excitement, and creativity into our daily living. The solution is erasing your long-term goals and instead, focusing on the next few weeks or months (max).
30 Minutes Per Week Is All You Need To Think About “The Big Picture”
Set aside 30 minutes each week (which is more than sufficient) to think about the big picture.
- Why are you doing this?
- Why is this important?
- Why should people care?
Asking why questions is incredibly important.
As Simon Sinek explains in his TED talk, why is the starting-point. But too many people get struck there, and never go far beyond the cerebral dream floating around in their head.
Conversely, Elon Musk only spends 30 minutes a week thinking about his vision for SpaceX to colonize Mars. Aside from that 30 minutes, Musk spends the rest of his time focusing on the most immediate and critical milestone.
Singularity of Purpose: The Lead Domino
When you’re trying to accomplish something big, it’s easy to get pulled in several different directions. There are hundreds of things that need to get done.
However, some things are far more impactful than others. Tim Ferriss re-popularized the idea of the 80/20 rule which explains that 20 percent of the activities we engage in produce 80 percent of what we want.
Often, one or two things done well can be the tipping-point. As Gary Keller challenges us to ask in, The One Thing: “What is the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Being able to zero-in on one metric — that if successful will act as the leading domino — is your task.
- What is your ONE metric? Your ONE goal that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?
- What one thing would get you out-of-bed-excited to pursue?
- What one thing, if you achieved, would get you super pumped?
- What would make the biggest impact?
This one thing is what you want to focus on for the next few weeks or months. That’s your new goal. Screw your five year plan. Forget the Super Bowl. One game at a time.
Set Higher Short-Term Goals
Narrowing your focus on one thing clears lots of head-space. You free yourself from the burden of constant multi-tasking.
The singularity of focus not only improves your performance, but instills confidence. When you start making progress — even little wins — your belief in your own ability enhances and you take on bigger challenges. Once you make this shift, “your brain changes,” as Seth Godin has said.
When you set out to do something, you put your conscious mind on a goose-hunt to find that thing. Psychologists call this selective attention — your brain’s filtering process of endless sensory inputs (sounds, smells, visuals, etc.). You notice what matters to you. Or as Stephen Covey put it, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are.”
Your conscious mind doesn’t filter out stuff it perceives to be “too big.” It just selectively attends toward what is meaningful to you. You will find whatever you’re looking for.
The problem is, most people are either:
- Looking for what they don’t want
- Looking for small results because that’s all they believe they are worthy of.
That’s their story. And we all selectively attend to the story we tell ourselves. But what if we changed that story?What if we “changed our brain” by living out a different story? What if, rather than playing small, we got more playful and bold in our goals?
What if, like Peter Theil, you tried to accomplish your 10 year plan in the next 6 months?
What ONE thing, if accomplished, would make your 10 year plan possible? What one relationship would radically accelerate your progress?
When your goals are short-term, not only can you go longer, but you can go bigger. You get feedback on your behavior quicker when evaluated every few weeks as opposed to every year or so. But how much more interesting would life be, if you were working on audacious stuff that you planned on achieving shortly?
How would that change your approach?
Obsess Yourself With Your ONE Thing
When you decide you want to pursue something big, you need to convince yourself that you can have that thing.
If you don’t believe you can actually have/accomplish what you set out to do, you won’t selectively attend to the opportunities, relationships, and activities that will get you there. You’ll focus on why it can’t work. You’ll be living a contradiction.
The following daily behaviors help:
- The more clearly defined your goal, the more likely you will achieve it
- Write it 15 times every day and in present tense (e.g., We have 1,000 active users)
- Take a picture of your ONE metric in written form and make it the background image of your smart phone.
- If you’re on TEAM, have the ONE thing written big somewhere where everyone can see it.
- Make your goal public to add some “positive pressure”
- Give your goal a time-line. According to Parkinson’s Law, people fill the timeallotted to them. So if you have a lot of time, you’ll waste it. If you have a short amount of time, you’ll get to it.
- During your 30 minute “big picture” planning sessions, think of creative and bold ways to move yourself forward. Who do you need to reach out to? What kind of experiments should you try this coming week? What have you not been trying? What’s working and what’s not working? What are other people in our space not doing
- Actively try new stuff every day (even stuff that scares you) that may get you closer to your goal.
- Reach out to a few key people every day.
The more you can think about it, the more likely your subconscious mind will spit something out that will lead to creative breakthrough. The more ideas you get about your ONE thing, the more attempts you can make. The more bad ideas you have, the more likely chance you’ll have a good idea. The more times you fail, the more likely chance you’ll success.
Success is a numbers game.
Long-term goals are boring and radically inaccurate at best. They should be erased and replaced with bolder short-term goals. Those short-term goals should be focused on the lead domino — the ONE thing that would yield the absolute most results.