“You’re your own worst enemy”
It’s a phrase I’ve heard about my own life more than once. I’m reasonably sure no one else has said it (at least not to my face) but believe me, it’s a record that plays on a loop in my own head. I’ve had to battle those thoughts (a lot) to reach the goals I’ve set for myself and my business and on a good day I think I’m winning.
Can you relate? (Or is it really just me?)
Along the way I’ve realized – and observed – a few things about achieving big goals. These are the top four.
1. Give Yourself Permission to Think Differently
If your goal is to live at the intersection of wild success and profound fulfillment, then you’ll not only need to act differently but to think differently. The more I study successful advisors, the more I realize that the challenge of hard work isn’t what holds people back. Too often we stumble on the first step—giving ourselves permission to envision a different future and coming to grips with the possibility of something greater for ourselves. There are so many reasons we stop ourselves from being open to possibility, but three seem to dominate.
- Reaching for a bigger life opens up the possibility of failure. If we don’t articulate the dream, we never fail. If we don’t seek something more, we’re forced to be satisfied with what we have.
- It feels “selfish.” Many of us are trapped by a misguided sense of responsibility, one that keeps us moving in the same direction. It’s like being on a treadmill without being able to find the off switch.
- It requires extraordinary vision. Often, the thing that holds us back is not an unwillingness to work hard, but a distinct lack of imagination about what is possible.
Perhaps there’s a less dramatic reason that we don’t push forward and it’s simply that life isn’t that bad.
Jim Collins authored one of my favorite books, Good to Great. In my mind, the first line of that book captures everything that keeps us stuck. “Good,” Collins says, “is the enemy of great.” What he doesn’t explicitly say is that good isn’t that great. When we settle for what we have simply because we have it, life can feel flat.
2. Get gritty
The concept of grit has gained significant popularity over the last few years. According to Caroline Adams Miller, a positive psychology expert, coach, educator and author of Getting Grit, grit is an extraordinary quality, despite the overuse of the term.
The concept of grit, in an academic setting, was first defined by Angela Duckworth, who in 2013 won a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant Award for her work. She defined it as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals.”
One of the things that Duckworth studied is what separates extraordinarily high achievers from people who are very talented and who, despite that talent, don’t seem to be finishing at the top of the pack. They determined that the secret sauce was grit.
Among other things, grit predicts who will drop out of West Point and who will win the National Spelling Bee. The word ‘grit’ doesn’t always belie how important and poignant the concept is in our lives.
We’re talking here in a business context, but grit is everywhere.
- It’s the single mother who gets up two hours early to study to complete a degree, the father who works three jobs because he wants something better for his family.
- It’s opening yourself up to challenges that seem almost impossible and starting over as many times as it takes because you know the fight is worth the prize.
- It’s what gets you through the toughest times in your life, be that a divorce, a death or what you consider to be an epic failure.
I asked Miller if grit can be learned. She was definitive that yes, it could. She suggests three strategies to help you up the ‘grit’ factor in your life and these will be critical in your pursuit of Absolute Engagement:
- Stress reduction. Miller says that many of the high achievers she coaches are intentional about integrating things like meditation and exercise into their lives.
- Your network. Miller says that gritty people hang out with gritty people. At West Point, she says, their way of dealing with people with low grit scores is to room them with people with higher grit scores. She points out that that is social contagion theory in action and it’s brilliant.
- Optimism. You can also learn to be more hopeful and optimistic. Many of the uber-successful use coaches to help them nurture this quality. Ultimately grit is about learning the traits of optimism and also hope, and this is a new muscle for many.
3. Nurture a Growth Mindset
As you move along the path toward your vision you’ll also need to nurture what researcher Carol Dweck refers to as a “growth mindset.”
Dweck is one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject of motivation and is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. A growth mindset refers to the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems.
To achieve a great future we need to believe that we can learn and change and do things differently. And what might sound slightly obvious is most certainly not, as Dweck’s research uncovers.
The key to successful transformation, she found, is about whether you look at ability as something inherent or something that can be developed. Is it a bone or a muscle? In the case of the former, ability is fixed and is something to be “demonstrated.” In the latter, ability is “developed” and this is what she refers to as a “growth mindset.”
Why is this so important? It’s important because in order to take action on a vision that you may have had to pull from the recesses of your brain and heart and dust off, you’ll need to develop new skills.
You’ll start, you’ll fail and you’ll push forward, but only if you believe that you not only deserve something more, but that you can learn how to improve.
To pursue a bigger vision is to take risks and to believe that you can learn to do things differently. Dweck points to a simple technique she saw used on school report cards. Rather than a failing grade, the report card said “not yet.” The children were under no illusions that they hadn’t done the work necessary to pass, but the message was clear that they just needed to keep trying rather than accepting the failure as an indictment on their future.
When it feels tough, we may need to tell ourselves the same thing.
4. Clear the Decks
Perhaps the most important starting point of every great vision is clearing the decks – removing the obstacles that we put in our way.
Personally, I believe that change is only possible if you:
- stop allowing the past to create your direction in future
- start with a clean slate
- open your mind to possibility
- recognize the need for alignment between what’s important in your life and how you run your business
- accept the possibility that if you focus time and attention on the things for which you have the most passion, you’ll significantly increase your chances of success
Getting started may be as simple as asking yourself if any of these barriers are real for you and addressing your own behavior.
We all need to hold a mirror up to ourselves from time to time.