A few weeks ago in NYC, I led a strategy workshop for an exclusive group of CEOs and founders who are building companies designed to thrive in the Future of Work.
Every organization is tasked with issues that seem insurmountable. Often, the process to accomplishing a huge goal can be so overwhelming that we never get started. Behavior change can help make seemingly impossible goals feel smaller and more attainable.
What we want to accomplish is not going to happen in a single day. Instead, break the large goal down into the smallest steps possible, steps so small that they are almost ridiculously easy. When you succeed at accomplishing that tiny step, you will be encouraged to continue.
This is how we build new habits and behavior changes that eventually create monumental differences in our organizations and lives.
I’ve failed a lot in the last year. I have failed to:
Remain calm in the face of losing $10,000
Publish a book
Not use the word “umm” in a presentation at Stanford University
Not break a bone
the list goes on
As I’ve reviewed these and many other example it is interesting to see that there is one primary cause behind all failures: the outcome. When we are fixated on a predetermined outcome we’re likely to fail. As always, I’m going to use my current physical study (ballet) as exemplar of this concept, but this principle applies far and wide beyond the relatively narrow scope of motor learning.
First though, I’ll introduce my current nemesis, the pirouette:
Attached to an Outcome? Doomed to Fail.
In my daily ballet class there is a one student exemplifies fixation on an outcome. Every time she goes for a pirouette, she attempts a triple. There are many people in my class who can do triple pirouettes with ease, but this woman can’t. She can barely complete a double. And she is so fixated on getting a triple that she has stopped improving. You don’t need to understand the pirouettes for this process to sound familiar. We have all wanted an outcome different than our current reality so much that we tried to deny the current state of things. I see this denial among special needs parents, with athletes, and in companies who want a different reality. And I certainly recognize it in myself. It is understandable, and I’m excited to say that there are new opportunities available.
If there is one pivotal difference that I see between children who overcome their setbacks, athletes who make quick progress in fitness, or companies that tackle their challenges, it is mindset. Mindset is so rudimentary that most everyone’s reaction is “of course!” but when I coach or mentor, this is the single area where I see the greatest (and easiest!) lasting difference.
In The Art of Learning Josh Waitzkin has a chapter called “Making Smaller Circles.” These three simple words have profound implication on the learning process and on rapid skill growth.
Making smaller circles fits with my experience of learning in several different ways. First, I’ve been making a habit of examining the small steps necessary to make big changes. The smaller the steps the easier it is to create lasting change.
I also make a habit, personally and professionally, of asking questions. In my friends’ and clients’ answers I see another example of circling. Hundreds of times, while describing an obstacle, I have heard someone say “I feel like I’m just going in circles.” And in a way, they are. Last week a friend described his romantic difficulties and then complained that he was just circling around the same issues of a year ago. In fact, he was struggling with romance a year ago, too.
When I heard that comment though or when I am trying (and sometimes failing) to take small steps towards my goals, I prefer to think that we are all making smaller circles.
There’s just one secret that anyone parking in San Francisco needs to know. Read the fine print first!
I use my car to travel throughout San Francisco, a city that has twice as many cars as parking spaces. I was recently parking in the Inner Sunset – or attempting to. I circled the area six times before stopping in front of the sign that clearly read “No Stopping” with more text too small to see in the dark. It turned out that the sign was only valid until 6 PM and I parked within 30 feet of my destination. Read signs thoroughly before deciding whether to follow the directions.
But let’s also take a moment to extrapolate. So often we make things out to be difficult and then – low and behold – they are. I was taught that a workday goes from 9 AM until 5 PM (okay, maybe 8 AM until 6 PM). For many years I worked between those hours even if that work was unnecessary. Now, I make a habit of looking for the shortcuts that other people don’t see. This doesn’t mean short shrifting. Actually, I do more than I did in years past. The difference now is that before doing those many hours of arduous work I look for shortcuts that other people might have overlooked. Whether parking in San Francisco, improving my business, or improving the life of a child with autism I find shortcuts that save time and produce better outcomes. Think before you act and find the options that other people have mistakenly assumed are against the rules. What shortcuts have you discovered that other people overlook?
A question that I sometimes ask myself is what would I do if I knew that I could not fail. I don’t know that I won’t fail this time, or next time. I do know that as long as I enjoy the process each iteration is going to get better. My first book won’t be my last. And my next workshop will be even better than my last. And in the meantime, I’ll keep going!
I would love to hear from you. What are three goals that you would set for yourself if your weren’t afraid to fail? Leave a note in the comments.