Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A million tiny choices

I was feeling all melancholy last night, so I sat in front of my laptop for 45 minutes trying to blog.  But nothing really came out.  Which is probably good.  Alone and moody isn't the same thing as inspiration, and after a few months of posts, I'd have to change my title to Danny Downer and the Blog That Will Make You Depressed.

So instead I learned something about biomimicry, something about algorithms (TED: guilty pleasure), and then had a good chat with my wife.  This morning, after a good sleep and a play with a happy 4 1/2 year old boy, I've got a coffee and a fire in the woodstove, and I think I'm in a better headspace to blog.

Maybe you're like me, and you get a little plagued, a little haunted by the subplot of the year-end holidays, where you're supposed to take stock of your year, and submit (to yourself) a mental annual report.  I spend more time than usual staring off into space like I'm out of batteries, lost in thought about what last year looked like and what I want this year to look like, and how those two should be different from each other.

I was listening to a CD on new years goal setting, and a couple interesting anecdotes were mentioned (yes, I listen to self-improvement CDs.  Another guilty pleasure, but they've totally changed my perspective, and I'd recommend them to anyone).

Imagine that a guy comes up to you and says they have a hockey bag with a million dollars in it hidden somewhere in your town, and it's yours if you could find it.  Sounds interesting, but how many of you would start looking?  You could throw away years! For all you know, it's on your neighbours back porch, but it's so arbitrary.  Where do you start?  How do you keep track of the ground you've covered?  It's too much.

Now, imagine if the guy told you he had a map.  Kind of changes the story, doesn't it?

An airplane that flies from Toronto to Vancouver is off course 99% of the time.  But it knows its destination, and its navigation software is constantly recalibrating and adjusting its path so it's always headed the shortest distance from its current location. It's important to have a destination in mind - a clear idea of what success looks like in your books, otherwise you'll go in circles.

As I write this, my wife Caryn is 10 weeks pregnant.  Not one of those has been an easy week.  It was one of those pregnancies where the nausea tells you you're pregnant before the test does.  And it hasn't subsided.  At some points, we didn't know how we'd make it through the DAY - don't even TALK about the 8 months to follow.

But time is relentless. And one of the blessings (and curses) of time moving on is that you never have to experience the same moment twice, and it never lasts any longer than right.... now.

And suddenly, we look back, 1/4 of the way through the pregnancy, and realize that, though it seemed impossible at nearly every moment, now we have left a trail behind us.  By no means did we 'kick the first 10 weeks' butt".  Quite the contrary, in fact.  But here we are on the other side of it.  And now, instead of feeling impossible, those 10 weeks stand as testimony to the resiliency and durability of Caryn.  Instead of being a loss and a failure, or a fear, now they're a badge.  Like exercise, the muscles we tore, the pain we felt during those 10 weeks are now the strength that we carry into the NEXT... one week.  Time passes.  And if you don't DIE, it just moves on.  And if you make the best, healthiest decisions you can muster at any point, you end up with a body of work that you can look back on without shame - even if it wasn't pretty.

So, how does that relate to goal setting?  Well, I think a mistake that people make is that they see their goal as a destination and not a trip.  Since I'm in the industry, let's use a home construction metaphor.  Imagine that your end goal is like a newly built home.  You don't just push a big red button that says "ENGAGE GOAL ATTAINMENT" and bam - instant home.  No no.  There are a zillion steps to building your goal.  Some are big steps, like the momentous ground-breaking moment, or when the structure is complete and you can envision the finished project.  But mostly, it's a million hammer swings, screw turns, and broom pushes. 

As long as you envision your goal as a lofty end target, you'll never hit it.  There won't be a moment where you just quit your job and move into the corner office of that new dream career.  It's way less sexy, but the way you get there is by making a phone call, reading a book, taking a course, befriending a person who can open doors for you, or a zillion other tiny things.

Instead of setting goals or resolutions that you might hit or might miss for the new year, try seeing your goals as directions to head.  And then ask a different question: "What actions can I be doing on a daily/weekly basis that will move me in the direction of my goal?" Suddenly, your goal goes from the abstract "lose 20 pounds" to "get 90 minutes of exercise a week".  Maybe (probably) you'll lose the weight, but more importantly, you will have built healthy actions into your life that put you on a trajectory of health, energy, and a higher capacity.

And after a month, or 6 months, you can stop and check your progress for a moment.  Enjoy the view.  The view from the top of the mountain is end destination, but guess what?  You're missing the largest part of the enjoyment of the mountain hike if you don't enjoy the occasional vantage point along the way, and the exhilarating feeling of accomplishment you feel when you catch your breath and see how far you've come, even if you're only at a midpoint lookout.

In 2007, Caryn told me she was going to do a triathlon, and said I should try one too.  I laughed at her and said, "Care, you have to be able to SWIM to do a triathlon."  So, she did one, and it looked like fun.  So she taught me to swim.  And I set some goals of my own.

This past summer, I swam 1.5 kilometres, cycled 38km, and ran 10km. 

Even at the beginning of 2012, that felt impossible to me.  It was a lofty goal, bordering on a dream.  But I kept going for swims, runs, and bike rides.  And it stayed impossible.

Until one day, it wasn't.

So, what are the actions you can start doing RIGHT NOW to start getting closer to the person you want to be?  The more tiny choices and actions you make, the more momentum you gain.  The more strength and confidence you take into your future actions and choices.  And suddenly, you'll realize that there is no 'GOAL ATTAINMENT' button.  You'll just kind of show up there one day, and realize that, nail by nail, screw by screw, you built it.

Good luck.  I know you'll get there.  If you start.


  1. I love this post and totally needed to read it tonight.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Very relevant and insightful.

    Also WOW! Triathlon! I want to train and do one too. Mind if I steal your dream?