Do you think it’s possible to accomplish your biggest life goals this year? Peter Thiel thinks it might be. In his book, Zero to One, Peter shares this bit of wisdom:
Q: What do you wish you know about business 20 years back?
A: There’s no need to wait. I went to law school and Stanford, but it wasn’t till I started PayPal that I realized that you don’t have to wait to start something. If you have a 10-year plan and know how to get there, you have to ask why can’t you do this in 6 months? Sometimes it’s necessary to go through the 10-year tenure, but you should always ask the question to know whether it is a story you are telling yourself or is that your reality.
I agree with his sentiment. If you want something bad enough, and have a sense of how you can make it happen, you must ask yourself if it really needs to take a long time.
This doesn’t mean that the process will be easy, it just means that you may be capable of achieving more than you thought possible.
My personal example
In 2010 I hadn’t run more than a few miles at a stretch in years. I was actively teaching and practicing yoga, and focused on advancing my career as a Product Manager at Microsoft. I was in good shape physically, but not in ultramarathon shape.
Then, I read Born to Run.
It was a tale of superhuman athletes running tirelessly over rugged terrain in remote canyons of central Mexico. The story entranced me, as a former endurance athlete who had run a few marathons and Ironman triathlons many years earlier.
The book so motivated me, I went out for a run the same day. It was a short two-mile jog, but it floored me. I even stopped to walk at one point. My lungs were burning. My joints weren’t used to the pounding of pavement. It was June 2010.
Shortly after that, I made it my mission to visit the Copper Canyons to participate in the 50+ mile trail run (called the Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon) with the Tarahumara at some point in the future. I thought it would be a worthy “bucket list” item. Given my busy work schedule, and poor running fitness, I figured it would take 4–5 years to slowly build up to be able to finish a tough ultra marathon and organize my travel to and from the event.
As a 31-year-old, I thought it would be a nice thing to do before I turned 40! This sort of long-term planning gave me plenty of time to prepare.
A few weeks later I was at a party and ran into a girl who had completed another 50-mile race….the White River 50 mile trail run. We started talking. She didn’t consider herself a runner. Instead, she said she enjoyed hiking, and her girlfriends thought it would be a fun adventure. They signed up and finished, without running a step!
How did they finish a 50-mile race without running? “Easy,“ she said. ”We started early, before everyone else, and power hiked the entire thing! You’d be amazed at how far you can walk. You just need to keep moving forward, and eat a lot!”
This blew my mind. Then it occurred to me, maybe my I was over thinking and over planning my goal. What if I did it the following year instead of waiting?
That evening I did research. I found out the dates for the event. I discovered the secret method of applying and qualifying. I connected with a forum of other runners (including Barefoot Ted) looking to head down to the Copper Canyons. Then, I took the leap and applied.
Fast forward 9 months later, and I stood at the starting line of the Caballo Blanco Copper Canyon Ultramarathon. 12 hours later, I finished it. I went from being winded after a few miles in June, to surviving 50+ tough miles in the hot and steep canyons the next March.
It was a bucket list item. It was the experience of a lifetime. It didn’t, however, take a lifetime, or even many years to accomplish. Instead, it took less time than I thought possible. When I reflect back on my experience with the running race or other big goals that I have achieved, it seems like the lion’s share of progress happens very quickly.
What is it that accelerates progress? On the flip side, what gets in the way of achieving big life goals in a year (or two) instead of a lifetime Here are three major factors, within your control, that can maximize your potential this year.
1) Set a clear and worthy goal
Without a vision, people perish. If not literally, at least metaphorically.
I recently had a coaching client tell me that he didn’t need goals, he relies on systems and habits instead. I then asked him if he was satisfied with how his career was going. He wasn’t. I then asked him what he would like to do when it came to his work. He laid out a set of criteria describing the type of work and type of company he would like to work at. He then described his ideal job and his salary range.
It turns out; he did have a goal! It just wasn’t clearly articulated. Once he picked a direction to move in, he was far more motivated to take action. Then, all his systems and habits had a purpose. Even more, he realized that some of his systems and practices were hurting him instead of helping!
Systems and habits are crucial, but they must support your achievement of a higher purpose or goal. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Goals are easy to select for athletic endeavors. For other parts of life (e.g. career, relationships) it can be trickier but not impossible. The key isn’t to get hung up on the one absolute dream goal. Instead, pick something directionally correct and exciting to you, and start moving towards it. You can always adjust course later!
2) Aggressively seek support and advice
After signing up for the 50-mile race, I also entered in an Ironman Triathlon, slated 4 months after the running race. I knew that to complete the Ironman, in the midst of all the other demands on my life, I needed the best possible plan and guidance. I hired a coach.
Hiring a coach was the best decision I could have made. Ben (my coach) helped me optimize my training time, guided me through several injuries and gave me tips on mental training that helped me complete grueling training and also the Ironman itself. Moreover, joining a team of other endurance athletes for training sessions gave me a positive peer pressure support group that helped me push through long hours of training when a nice warm bed was calling my name.
If you have a worthy goal and want to accomplish it quickly, find people to support you. Peers, mentors, and hired coaches are invaluable.
No matter what you do, don’t try to go it alone!
3) Ruthlessly focus on what is most important
We all have 24 hours in a day. How will you spend your time?
You can spend your hours commuting, watching TV, chit chatting, snap chatting, getting to inbox zero, tidying up or even worse, complaining about how little time you have! Or, you can focus your energy on achieving something you can be proud of.
Sometimes, focusing means saying no to things that aren’t vital. Having a worthy goal that you are saying “YES” to makes it easier to say “NO” to trivial things.
Over the course of a year, by investing less than an hour of quality time per day, you can: write a novel, reshape your body, build a profitable business, create outstanding relationships, streamline your investments and budget, fix up a home, and more.
A lot is possible by applying consistent and deliberate focus to something you care about.
Thinking small is important, but so is thinking big.
If there is something that you have been dreaming about for a while. Something that makes your heart sing just by thinking about it. Ask yourself, what would it be like to accomplish it this year?
Then, run through the three challenges mentioned in this post, and see what you can do to overcome them. First, create a worthy goal around your dream. Next, enlist support in the form of a group of like-minded friends, mentors and/or hire a coach. Lastly, eliminate non-essential activities from your plate so you can focus on the important stuff.
If you are committed to achieving a big “life goal” this year, I would love to hear what it is. Leave a comment and let me know!