When you have great desires and ambitions…when you’re intoxicated by the vastness of your desires…it can be hard to “come back down to Earth” and focus on the sea of little, comparatively mundane steps it takes to make them a reality.
Instead, we tend to think in large, definitive leaps toward our goals and can easily fall prey to our natural impatience when, instead of soaring toward milestones, we feel like we’re stuck in place. Impatience soon becomes frustration, which soon leads us to the rocks of despair that batter many people’s ships into splinters.
This catastrophe can be averted, though, with disciplined thinking and action.
When I find myself considering doing something of any importance, I spend very little time dreaming and instead first take stock of what I have available in terms of skills, knowledge, tools, materiel, and resources like time, money, and people. How well can I muster them for use? How creatively can they be employed?
I let this assessment inform and give shape to my goals and find that goals derived in such a fashion are much more realistic and attainable than those just plucked from my imagination willy nilly, leaving me to wonder how the hell I’m going to possibly make them happen.
Once I’ve worked out the goals, I dive into my favorite part: the process. What sequence of actions will it take to pull this off? How can I break this whole thing down into long series of small bites that will lead me to the prize?
This approach has several major advantages.
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The first obstacle to overcome in doing things is inertia. The longer we remain at rest, the more likely we are to remain so.
How we begin is everything here. We must, as soon as possible, stop thinking and start doing. As Thomas Hardy said, “More life may trickle out of men through thought than through a gaping wound.”
By turning the whole enchilada into a series of small, palatable bites, we make it easy to get going.
Once we’re moving, the next priority is to build momentum because, as in nature, growing anything of size takes time. A lot more than we usually think or are prepared for.
There will be unforeseen twists and turns, unanticipated storms, and inexplicable reversals of fortune. We must have enough forward motion on our side to keep going despite it all, and small successes are the perfect tool for this.
When the mountain we’re trying to reach appears impossibly far, guarded by lightning and gloom, being able to turn our gaze downward, to the next steps we must take on the road ahead, is vital.
Can we reach the mountain after all? Who knows. Can we navigate the boulder currently in our path? Absolutely. Can we manage another small success after that? And another? Very likely.
Seth Godin said that “‘creativity’ is better described as failing repeatedly until you get something right.”
Well, I think that applies to any endeavor, not just creative ones. Failures are just as instructive as successes and, in some cases, even more so. Sometimes knowing what doesn’t work is a prerequisite to ever discovering what does.
Thus, you should be striving for small failures as much as small successes. Realize that every small failure may hold the key to moving onward. Use them to calibrate and hone your thinking and actions.
“If you’re not failing a lot you’re not putting yourself in situations where you can get really lucky.”
If you truly embrace this philosophy, you can immediately gain a large advantage over others in your field.
While they’re lost in fantasy, unable to even see the path they’ll have to actually travel, you’re knee-deep in the mud, inspecting the terrain and working out how to travel it one crucial foot at a time.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
I recently took up golf again and have found it a good opportunity to apply what I’m talking about in this article.
My goal, I decided, is to break 80 by the end of the year. Based on my previous playing experience, I already knew that meant I first was going to have to deconstruct and fix my swing, which had a few serious flaws. Well, building a proper golf swing is no easy task.
You see, the golf swing is an incredibly complex movement that requires just about every muscle in your body to work in perfect coordination, first winding up and then releasing to deliver a little hunk of metal at speeds upward of 110+ MPH into the ball on an exact, elliptical path and at an exact angle of descent and rotation. Get it just right and you hit a good shot. Be off by an inch on your path or a couple of degrees in your clubface rotation and you hit a terrible one.
There’s a reason why pros make millions of dollars mainly due to their ability to repeat that one movement pattern over and over with precision: it’s just that freaking hard to learn.
The question, then, is how to best go about learning it? If you try to approach it as a whole, integrated movement, you’re quickly overwhelmed. There’s just too much that needs to happen simultaneously.
So you break it down into small, bite-sized movements first and learn them one at a time. The first small success is getting just the first piece of the takeaway, which you do over and over and over until it’s automatic. You then move to the second piece, which again you repeat God-knows-h0w-many-times until it too is automatic. Next is the downswing, which is broken into two or three pieces that you learn separately. Last is the follow-through.
Each piece you learn is a small success and it motivates you to keep going. The next series of small successes is linking those movements into a fluid motion, which again is best approached in small bites: the full takeaway as a motion, the full downswing as a motion, the full follow-through.
I’ll stop boring you with golf talk already, but my point is this is how to best approach anything you want to do.
For example, building a lean, muscular physique can be broken down into a long series of small bites involving the daily repetition of proper training and eating habits. Building a successful business can be broken down into a long series of small bites involving developing skills or products that people want, learning how to get others interested in them, and delivering them as promised.
You ingest each bite one at a time and see what happens. You learn from your small successes and failures. You use momentum to push past the rough spots. And eventually you arrive at the goal.