Big Why – One Goal


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?

Goal Simplicity

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.

Goal Complexity

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.

Primary Motivators

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

Fail Going 100% – Actions before Results

Results Matter

Whether you are trying to achieve your quarterly budget or win the Stanley Cup, there is no doubt we are out there to produce results. Why work so hard if it is not to get rewarded with the thing you have been striving so hard to achieve?

I have been a competitive athlete most of my life, and I have also been running my own business now for 10 years, and I can tell you I love the thrill of the big win! I am also encouraged by the little victories along the way, whether that is achieving a new PB in climbing my local hill on the road bike, or winning a small piece of work in my consulting practice. So yes… to me… results matter.

HOWEVER… what I have learned in the pursuit of excellence is that it works better if results do not take up too much of your focus and energy either before they occur or after they have passed. Working as a performance psychology adviser in business and professional sport, I have seen that time and time again people actually get distracted by focusing too much on results, which can take them further away, rather than closer to the their biggest goals.

Roll with Results and Stay in Action

When you are trying to achieve big things in life, it is likely that, like me, you will be encouraged by the small positive results along the way, but the risk to get thrown off course increases when you get discouraged by the negative results or get complacent because of positive results along the way to achieving the long term objectives.

The problem with results is that although they may motivate us, they do not instruct us on how to achieve the objective. In sport psychology, focusing on the ‘process rather than the results’ is a mantra most teams and coaches have adopted without question for many years now. But how often do you hear that mantra, or try to practice it yourself, only to see your team crumble under the pressure of a result going against them?

Trying to Avoid Failure Doesn’t Work

Human beings naturally tense up when they think about failure, and in trying to avoid it at all costs, can lose focus on the ever-important process that is most likely to deliver the desired result. The trick is not to avoid failure, but to embrace it… go to it with open arms… as long as you are doing everything you can to succeed!

I presented a keynote presentation to the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada last Thursday, and at the end, one of the delegates engaged me in a conversation about how it is hard to take the focus off results, and put it on the process, (and even harder to accept some short term failure along the way) when the nature of business is to produce results, and there is the ever-present pressure of the shareholders demanding results, quarterly, monthly and even weekly!

Fail Going 100%

I had shared a concept with the ACEC group – one that I call “fail going 100%” – which is this thing that is all about being prepared to accept failure, as long as you have done EVERYTHING you could to succeed. The conversation was around this concept of accepting failure – a question that arose was ‘How do you accept failure when everyone around you is demanding success at all costs?’ (I believe this is where true mental toughness comes in because there is often little that is more challenging than maintaining  a position in the face of intense scrutiny to change, to back down and to bend to the will of powerful others). I believe the answer to the question is to be a thought leader around the concept of accepting failure – take a stand for what you know and believe in – have conviction in your process and deliver it with 100% integrity. The key word here is ‘conviction.’ If you know your process is world class and is highly likely to return a result over time, stick to it, be prepared to let your ego take a battering… work hard to educate those around you about what is really needed to create sustained success… and enjoy the last word when those who bailed early on your initiative see you outpace your rivals as time goes on. Is this easy to do? No. It is not. That is why we are talking about mental toughness and the practice of excellence. You have to be prepared to put success ahead of ego and pressure from others. Too many don’t, and then wonder why they only had short term success. Integrity – the action you take to deliver on your commitments – is everything.

Thus, ‘Fail going 100%’ is more about mindset than behavior. If you have truly gone 100%, with all of your knowledge, intellect, competency, and resources available to achieve a goal – and there is not more you could have done… then…simply… there IS not more that you could have done… and the result will be what it will be. You have done your bit to control what you could. In almost every situation in life, you only get to control what you do, and you almost never have total control of a result – frequently, the percentage of variance in any result is significantly beyond your control. The reality of results and your small percentage of control over the variability in them means that the only thing you can control once they have occurred is your perspective on, and response to them. AND if you are aware of these facts, in advance, you can also see that the only thing you can control in anticipation of a result before it occurs is the actions you take to increase the likelihood of the desired outcome.

Basically, failure to produce the desired result 100% of the time is inevitable in life because you don’t control all the variables that create the result; however, failure to have integrity around your actions is not inevitable – it is something you can choose. Your challenge is not to get distracted and out of integrity in the short term because you are too caught up in results, either because you are trying to avoid failure or are expecting success based on past performance.

The thing that matters most is ACTION. Find a way to stay in action and results will take care of themselves in the long run.

You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result ~ Mahatma Ghandi

All the best,

Dr Sean R

Practicing Excellence in 2011 – Openness to Learning is Critical!

It has been a while since my last post… and I have been thinking a lot since then…

I am currently facing a new challenge in my life: I picked up my family (my gorgeous wife Kate and my beautiful little 1 year old daughter, Charlotte Bella) and moved them from Melbourne, Australia – where my business as a professional speaker, consultant, trainer and mentor had just broken through to a level of income from which to create financial freedom – to Vancouver, Canada – where I am starting to build my business again from scratch. It is easy to draw confidence from the template for success that I created in Australia, knowing that I can replicate it here in Vancouver – but it is a difficult pill to swallow when I realize that I have a lot of work to do to get my business back to where it was when I left Melbourne. I am sharply reminded to reside in the humility of being a beginner again, and not to forget to keep open to learning in every new environment and situation I step into to, regardless of any previous success achieved.

The practice of excellence is just that… a practice. In the the martial arts, as with many art forms, sports and other complex skills, we are taught that there is no substitute for repetitious practice of our basic moves. Re-learning some of those basic moves is also critical.

An open mind is essential in the face of personal change… and it is necessary to help one evolve with the ever changing world around us. Openness to learning and relearning will keep you on the path of excellence.

I have always considered myself an open person – thirsty for knowledge, hungry to learn from the great teachers of the world. However, several years ago, during my doctoral studies, I was challenged by one of my supervisors on the issue of my openness and my opinion of what makes a ‘great teacher’… I remember we were walking along Acland Street – a particularly quaint street in Melbourne, populated by delectable cake shops, gourmet cafes, restaurants offering cuisine from every corner of the planet, and shops overflowing with bohemian culture – when he turned to me and said “Sean. You are not open! You divide up the world into ‘my equal’ and ‘not my equal’… and if you don’t see someone as your equal or greater, you don’t listen!” Wow! I was stunned… here I was always thinking of myself as open to anyone and I get stung by someone, whose perspective I respect immensely, on that very issue. He followed up by saying, “If you are open… from the mouths of babes you will learn.”

I have never forgotten that interaction… and I am reminded of it again today as I work hard to practice excellence in my life, in my business, in my health, in my relationships. I am reminded of my own words, which I have often said to others – “constantly seek to learn and grow – this is one of the pillars of resilience… and part of the path to success.” Openness to learning requires humility, which I could see that I lacked back when I received those words from my supervisor… and it requires courage – the courage to admit to weakness and uncertainty, coupled with the courage to ask for help… it also requires  commitment – the commitment to learn and implement whatever it takes to build strength into those weaknesses and conviction into the uncertainties.

If you want to practice excellence in your life, there are a number of key things I could suggest, which I believe I have learned from my failures in life, and which I hope to keep re-learning and practicing along the way:

1. Make discomfort your ally, not your enemy – learn from discomfort

Our survival mechanisms are hardwired to be on high alert of discomfort – particularly in the form of fear and anxiety – and generally to avoid situations which provoke such unpleasant feelings. However, a defensive or avoidant stance, causes the mind to narrow and withdraw, shutting down the opportunity for learning and growth. However, if you are pursuing goals that are not threatening your life or your physical well-being, then your survival mechanisms might be lying to you about the need to pull back and avoid discomfort. Too often people are stopped in life because they give too much weight to the fear and anxiety, which is telling them to stop pursuing a goal. If you are in a balanced state of physical and mental health, then you might actually consider that discomfort is an essential part of growing, which you want to embrace and move toward, rather than move away from. Learn from the discomfort; open to it; let it tell you that you are in the right place, rather than in the wrong place.

2. Weak is tough – learn from your vulnerabilities

Many cultures seem to reinforce that mental toughness is about being stoic – never let them see you in pain, never let them see you as weak… that might work if you are a gladiator fighting for you life in the arena… but for everything else in life, have you ever noticed that it is more difficult to admit that you are struggling than to pretend everything is OK? Admitting to vulnerability is not weak at all – it is far tougher than hiding it. AND, hiding it or living in denial is a sure fire way to keep your mind closed and to shut down most opportunities for learning. It is only when you open to your own weaknesses that you can begin to take steps to strengthen them.

3. Challenge the future – learn from what has not happened yet

We can spend so much time looking backward, worrying about the mistakes we have made in the past, that we don’t pause to think about how we can prepare for the challenges we might face in the future. Galileo was cast out as a heretic for claiming that the world was round at a time when it was considered by all people to be flat – his contemporaries were closed, perhaps by fear, to thinking about how to manage the uncertainties of a future that included a round earth. To practice excellence in your life demands that you contemplate the possibilities of what you don’t even know yet, and to prepare the mind to be open to the yet to be experienced challenges that lie ahead.

Practicing excellence in 2011 for me is going to include a lot of learning. It is going to start and end with openness, and hopefully humility, that I will always have much to learn. May your own practice of excellence challenge you to remain open to the countless opportunities for learning with which the universe provides you.

There exist limitless opportunities in every industry. Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier. ~ Charles F. Kettering

All the best,
Dr Sean R