I have been spending a lot of time talking with my business partner, Joe Roberts, about the ‘big why’ – the purpose for being here on the planet. What is the big reason I exist? What is my driving purpose? What is yours?… AND if we can figure that out… what can you do to achieve that one big goal? What might stop you? What might keep you going?
In my life, I had a big goal growing up – to win an Olympic Gold Medal. My dad is a former Olympian, so I knew it was possible. When I was working relentlessly toward that goal of Olympic success, I noticed that the work was hard but the task was simple. The reason for the simplicity was that I had a singular goal to which every ounce of my energy was dedicated. Every morning I woke up and I knew exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it: training hard to win Olympic Gold.
Sure, physically, there was a lot of effort and pain tolerance required to train 3 times per day, 6 days per week for 11 months of the year; there were days where I didn’t feel like getting out of my warm, comfortable bed in the dead of the west coast winter, with rain pelting down in 2C temperatures at 6 in the morning; there were also periods of injury that kept me from performing at my best, and that required bouts of rehab; and there was the missing out on everything else that I might have wanted to do with my life. However, I was happy.
I think I mostly felt happy because life made sense, I was clear on my purpose, and I understood what I needed to do to fulfill on my purpose.
My story didn’t end how I originally planned it to – twice, I had the opportunity to make the Olympic team, a shot to represent our country to be the best in the world, twice I made the commitment to do whatever it takes – but twice I didn’t make it because of injury. Nonetheless, I can say that the experience created a deeper WHY for me. Missing out, failing to achieve the goal, was one of those life experience that you would not volunteer for, but one from which I could create my greatest asset, my greatest contribution back to the world. The experience has helped me be more empathic as a psychologist, created humility in my approach to life, and really prepared me for bigger and deeper work that may not have come my way if I had a gold medal around my neck. I pursued a big goal with 100% commitment, and failed to achieve that goal, but that commitment to the pursuit of a simple, yet enormously challenging goal, has given me a gift of insight, and I believe has prepared me to help others do bigger and better things in their lives.
Nonetheless, since giving up the pursuit of elite sport, I have felt that, in many ways, life has been a lot tougher, particularly around this whole concept of life purpose and the pursuit of big goals.
Competitive sport generally has a clear objective – win the game, run the fastest time, score the most points – and with modern coaching and sport science, it is generally pretty clear about how you go about achieving the objective, albeit not easy.
Almost every other pursuit I have known, outside of competitive sport, is a lot more complex, often with multiple objectives, more intervening variables that are not in my control, and often lacking less clarity about how I might go about accomplishing it. For example, when I think about achieving success in my business – the measure of success is subjective (is it a certain $$ amount? is it a certain position achieved in my area of expertise? is it the difference I have made to clients or customers? all of the above? or something else?) compared to the mostly objective measure of success in competitive sport.
What I have noticed about going after any goal in life is that there are 2 primary motivators – pain and purpose.
Pain is an effective, immediate motivator – when you are under pressure to pay your rent, to support a family, to keep your job, to fight an illness, get better from injury, etc. you will work hard because the effort is necessary to avoid more significant pain. The problem is that pain is not a good long term driver for behaviour for 2 reasons: (1) if pain is high and continues for any length of time past 3-4 months, the likelihood for burnout and exhaustion increases dramatically, which creates even more pain with an increased likelihood for failure (2) if pain decreases because you have hit a comfort zone, it is easy to lose motivation and just go on cruise control.
Purpose becomes the most relevant motivator once the pain has been taken care of. Pursuing big goals takes a relentlessly repetitive connection to purpose. By their very nature, big goals are not necessary, and although some of the most difficult things to achieve, requiring the most effort, big goals are typically not driven by pain. Pain most often finds relief in the achievement of smaller goals.
Question is – How hard are you willing to work to achieve your biggest goal?
Even more specifically – How hard are you willing to work on YOU, so that you have gotten out of your own way to achieve your one BIG goal?
AIR is Essential
What I have learned is that there are 3 constant areas to stay on top of when reaching for a state of high performance, when trying to achieve your big goals.
1. Inspired purpose
2. Action accountability
3. Removal of roadblocks
You gotta find a way to tap into purpose, into your ‘big why’. Simon Sinek has driven this home for organizations (check out his TED talk if you haven’t already). However, you can’t just stop at purpose, you have to get in action to fulfill on that purpose. Purpose without actions just becomes daydreaming. AND… somewhere along the way you have to acknowledge your ‘human beingness’ – work hard to resolve the inevitable personal and situational roadblocks that will pop up along the way. Living in denial of roadblocks is a formula for breakdown.
I have come up with a simple little formula that puts this all together, whether you are pursuing them yourself, working as a team, or leading others to achieve them. I have re-arranged the letters to get to a nicer acronym… it’s about the AIR we breathe… hope it helps!
A + I – R = P
A = accountability, action
I = inspiration, purpose
R = roadblocks, personal and situational
P = performance, realized potential, success
Maximize A & I at all times, minimize R and you will achieve your biggest goals
A Big Goal
Right now Joe and I are working on an exciting project; the objective of which is to raise awareness and money and to engage people to take action to help a worthy cause – positively changing the lives of the homeless youth of Canada. It is a big goal and we have some big ideas on how we are going to go about achieving that goal. Stay tuned – and let us know about your big goals!
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. – Wayne Gretzky
All the best,
Dr Sean R