"Men are anxious to improve their circumstances but unwilling to improve themselves; therefore they remain bound." - James Allen
Setting goals and objectives is a critical part to achieving - without it, we will never know we have arrived at where we were trying to go. But without an internal drive to get to where we are going, all the direction and planned destinations in the world will mean precisely nothing.
The desire to improve our lives by achieving actually starts from within. It can come as a blinding flash of anger in which we decide we will no longer take our life as it is anymore. It can com as the gentle nagging reminder that tells us we need to be about the process of making our lives better. But in any form, it is that inner desire that ultimately pushes us into action?
Why does it matter? Because without such a drive - without the desire to improve ourselves - our efforts will go no where. Sure, we may start out on the task. We may even make some progress towards our goal but we will eventually find that we have lost our ability to go forward - because we have no drive to go forward.
How do we combat this? How do we set ourselves up to succeed?
1) Understand why you are doing what you are doing: What are your goals or objectives intended to do? What are they intended to change? What are they intended to improve? Be very clear about what the purpose is - and what the results are intended to be.
2) Acknowledge that the achievement process is as much about changing as it is about achieving: The process of achievement is not only about achieving a goal or objective. It is as much about the process of changing to meet that goal or objective. For example: I may want to lose weight so I eat better and exercise. If I do not change my life to reflect this change in diet and effort I will regain all the weight as soon as I stop. To be effective I need to change my lifestyle, not just my efforts.
Utlimately achieving dangerously is not just about achieving. It is about what we become as a result of that achievement that truly makes the difference - good or bad - in our lives.
My latest book, The Art of Raising Stones: A Fable on (Re)Designing a Life
is now available. As with my other books in the Tales of Wa series, Build a Bridge
and The Tengu's Cart
, it is a fable set in a Japanese setting about life - specifically, about the process of redesigning a life if you are unsatisfied with the life that you currently have know. Using the metaphor of a Japanese garden, it follows the redesign of the landscape - and how remaking a landscape and remaking a life are remarkable similar. It is now available in soft cover and as an e-book from amazon.com.
One of the underlying rules about achieving in any thing is that there are a certain number of things - call them steps, objectives, or whatever else you would like - that need to be accomplished to reach the end. Skip one of the really critical ones and you will find yourself with a failed task.
But what happens if you do things simply for the sake of doing them?
I found myself that position last week, when someone suddenly rushed up to me with something needing to be done because another activity had already started. Typically - more appropriately, correctly - step one would have happened before step two did. Now all were put in a position of having to rush something through because it needed to be there.
Needed to be there? Apparently not, because we barreled ahead. But now we have to have something there - not because it actually matters because we would have done it but for the sake of form, for the sake of someone else looking at it , not for the sake of doing it correctly.
Doing something for the sake of doing something borders on the edge of ridiculous. It either represents a poorly planned process where the critical and non-critical has not been separated or a situation where doing the important things has not been established in a step wise manner but rather is being thrown together for the sake of speed. Neither represents an ideal situation or one where success is likely to happen. Form for the sake of form is inane, an organizational form of insanity that too often burns energy and resources while accomplishing nothing.
How to combat this? Two items. Planning is key, of course. One should have an order to accomplish things in - and stick to that order. The idea that one can leap forward across a critical step and there be no impact is a bit foolish. You put the ladder in place before you step, not after you try to climb.
The second item is to identify the critical from the non-critical. Any project has steps which are critical and ones that are nice to have. Identifying which are which is crucial to ensuring that a project reaches completion. Skipping over something important can lead to larger issues later - just as expending effort and time on things that do not matter can make cause you to lose precious time and resources.
A thing should never be done merely for the purpose of keeping form. It should have a purpose - and move the project forward.
It was the coldest winter within the memory of the oldest living inhabitant. The roads were blocked by snowdrifts so deep that people could not struggle through them. A farmer found himself completely isolated with the drifts piled up to the eaves of his house. When his provisions ran out he was forced to slaughter one of his own sheep for food. Still the bitter weather continued. When all his sheep had been consumed he was forced to eat up his goats. And at last - for there was still no break in that terrible winter - the farmer had to sacrifice his valuable plow oxen to keep his family from starving.
When the dogs observed that the cattle had gone the same way as the sheep and goats they said to one another: "Let us be off, no matter how deep the snow. For if our master had no pity on the working oxen, how is it likely that he will spare us?"
Application: When our neighbor's house is on fire, it is time to look to our own.
- Aesop's Fables, Grosset and Dunlap Publishers.
At a great gathering of all the beasts the monkey got up to entertain his friends by doing a dance. So nimble were his feet and so amusing his gestures that all the animals roared with laughter. Even the lion, the king of beasts, forgot his royal dignity and rolled on the ground with glee.
Only the camel seemed bored by the monkey's performance. "I don't see anything so funny in that exhibition," she sniffed. "As a matter of fact, it seems very crude and amateurish to me."
"All right, then," cried all the animals, "suppose you show us what you can do!"
Realizing what she had let herself in for, the camel shambled into the circle, and in no time at all had made herself utterly ridiculous by her awkward and stumbling performance. All the beasts booed her and set upon her with clubs and claws and drover her out into the desert.
Application: Stretch your arm no further than your sleeve will reach.
- Aesop's Fables, Grosset and Dunlap Publishers
Occasionally, said Sir Winston Churchill, one should look back at results to determine if the strategy is effective. It would seem to be the sort of thing that we would want to do in the quest of achieving yet we seldom think to. Why is this?
Part of it is simply the fact of being busy. In the midst of moving forward to more achievements the thought of taking time out and seeing where we are sometimes seems...well, a waste of time. We are so busy doing we forget to look and seeing not only what we are doing, but how we are doing.
Another part - a little more concerning - is simply that we are afraid of the data we will find. There are probably very few who accomplish everything on their list. If they are anything like me, they will find that they have succeeded very well in some areas, averagely in other areas, and very poorly in yet other areas. If we truly stop and look at where we are, we would almost be compelled to pay attention to those things that we did poorly in. Often this is not where the achieving like to spend their time: they reflect on their successes, not their failures.
But achievement, to be truly effective, has to be holistic. Those who achieve in a few areas but fail to achieve overall achieve stunted or lopsided growth: having made great career strides, they have families that fall apart; having great personal athletic ability, they have no ability to manage money and an addiction. Achievement without balance becomes something which can hinder, instead of help.
Have you reviewed your achievements in this year? As an exercise, take the five where you have little or no progress. What are they? Why have you failed to move forward? Can you see that without advancements in these areas as well the entire structure of your achievement may be at risk.
Even as achieving is a marathon not a race, so achieving is also a full course meal instead of one course snack. Let ensure that
In oolden times people lighted their homes with lamps in which the pith of rushes served as wicks. There was particular rushlight which had soaked up considerable grease and was feeling more than a little boastful.
One evening it announced before a large company that it could outshine the sun, the moon, and the stars. At that very moment a puff of wind came and blew it out. The servant who relighted it said: "Shine on, friend rushlight, and hold your tongue, there is no wind strong enough to blow out the lights of heaven."
Application: Know thy place and keep it.
Aesop's Fables, Grosset and Dunlap publishers
A poor widow living alone in the country kept a faithful hen. Each morning the hen laid a big, brown egg for the woman's breakfast.
One day the widow thought to herself: "Now if I was to double my hen's allowance of barley, she would lay me two eggs a day instead of one." So she started feeding her biddy a double measure of grain, and soon the hen began to grow fat and sleek and lazy. It wasn't long before she stopped laying altogether.
Appliecation: Figures don't lie, but they won't make a hen lay.
- Aesop's Fables, Grosset and Dunlap Pulbishers
One of the great things that can get lost in our quest to achieve and meet higher expectations is that it often seems like we are seldom making progress. We have these awesome goals that we hope will move us forward; perhaps we have even printed out pictures or have a vision in our mind of what our completed goal will look and feel and seem like. We keep this floating vision in our mind as a beacon.
But then we are thrust into the cold hard world of daily living. Our goals can often get snuffed out by the grind of daily living, where the common tasks and the interactions of life can wear away our enthusiasm and energy. We find ourselves enervated, lacking any sense that we are making progress.
What we need are minor progress points, small things that remind us we are moving forward.
Highland Games are a great example of this. A typical Game will have at least at least 6 and as many as 9 events to compete in. With each event comes an individual personal best. With each event comes three individual tries to meet or beat this personal best.
The great part is that given the total number of events, it is relatively likely that at least one of the will result in a personal best such that even in the worst of games. I had such a thing happen only last week: in the midst of what was would I would call at best an average performance, I eked out two personal bests. They may have each been by mere inches ( in one case 2.5 inches), but they did constitute a new record.
My confidence soared accordingly.
The thing that we must learn to do if we are to continue to meet and beat our objectives is to find those points of minor progress in the midst of our existence - which sometimes may feel average - and leverage them to continue to fuel our confidence and drive.
Success awaits us - even if it is only 2 inches at a time.
One day a hound, out hunting by himself, flushed a hare from a thicket and gave chase. The frightened hard gave the dog a long run and escaped. As the disappointed hound turned back home, a passing goatherd said jeeringly “You are a fine hunter! Aren’t you ashamed to let a little hare one-tenth your size give you the best of it?”
“You forget” replied the hound, “that I was only running for my supper,
but the hare was running for his life!”
Application: Necessity is our strongest weapon.
Aesop, Aesop Fables’, Grosset and Dunlap