We live in a culture of choice. Big, small, X-large, decaf, grande, no foam, etc… (can you tell I’m drinking a grande decaf cappuccino right now?)
Choice is good some of the time. It’s nice to have options. That being said, I can tell you one situation where choice will hinder rather than help you – when you’re trying to accomplish a big goal. When you’re on a mission , you need to remove choice from the equation and relentlessly, single-mindedly pursue your goal.
Let me explain what I’m talking about. Sometimes friends or people I meet will say they’re impressed I made it through medical school. “That sounds so difficult,” they say. “I’m not sure I could see it through.”
Well, let me tell you – had I thought I had a choice in the matter, I wouldn’t have made it through, either. On more than a few early mornings I would have much preferred going back to sleep rather than waking up at 4am, throwing on my scrubs, and heading to work so that another douchbag attending could throw surgical instruments at me in the OR. I would have much rather sat at the beach than spend six weeks of summer studying almost 14 hours a day before my board exams. But I didn’t, because I had already made the decision to be a doctor. I was committed, so I didn’t wake up thinking I could choose to show up or not show up. Showing up was the only option.
I feel similarly about my days playing college water polo. I loved my experience being part of this team, but believe me, I rarely wanted to get up at 5am for morning practice, only to go back for another practice later that afternoon. Many days I loved the exercise and comradery, but other days I just wanted to sleep in. So why did I never miss a practice in my four years of playing (minus a brief stint with pneumonia)? Because I had already made a decision to be a part of the team, and missing practices la-dee-da for no reason was not an option.
Do you love your job? Hopefully, but maybe not. Even if you do, I’m sure there are days when you’re less than enthusiastic about it. Do you still show up for it every day? I bet you do. You show up because you either made a decision that you’re committed to it, or because you feel that you have to. Choice has been removed from the equation.
Think about a time you’ve accomplished something important to you – maybe a physical challenge, or a work-related project, or finding or improving a relationship. Remember that drive you felt? That internal sense that there was no option but to see it through? What did it feel like to have no doubt you would accomplish this goal? You need to cultivate this feeling every time there is an end goal you’re trying to reach. You need to eliminate the option of giving up.
So how can you eliminate choice?
I wish it were as simple as making the decision to see your goal through. Deciding what you want is key, but only the first step. Next you need to…
#1 – Show yourself why not committing is unacceptable
You may be wondering what prompted my decision to reinvigorate this blog. I was listening to a goal-setting workshop with Tony Robbins and writing out everything I was hoping to accomplish in the next 1, 3, 5 and 10 years. A huge part of the list was my dream of becoming a writer, publishing self-help books, and growing my blog into a business that could sustain me from my beach hut on a Nicaraguan surf break. I started to wonder, why am I procrastinating on this project that is so integral to my future goals? Where is the disconnect? I imagined what it would mean to me if I never accomplished this goal. I realized how even the thought was totally and utterly unacceptable. No matter how challenging or time-consuming it would be, I HAD to see through this process and give it my full effort.
Let’s say you’re trying to lose weight. It’s not enough to say “I want to lose weight.” You need to imagine what that goal means to you, and how it would affect you if it never happened. Are you willing to go through the rest of your life with low energy, feeling unhealthy, looking fat? Are you willing to feel that way right now?
#2 – Imagine it’s already happened
Part of the reason I never doubted my decision to go to medical school, even though I hated my life for a notable portion of it, was because I had envisioned myself seeing through the process so many times it already felt like a reality. When I was in high school, I thought about what I wanted to study in college, what my pre-med classes would be, what grades I would need to get. In college, I thought about my medical school applications, where I would want to move for medical school, what kind of apartment I would live in. In medical school I thought about what specialty I would go into, how to get the best grades I could, where I would apply for residency. The process played over in my mind so many times that I felt like I had already gone through it even when I was just starting.
You need to do the same thing with your biggest goals. You have to know what you want, you have to show yourself why achieving it is the only acceptable option, and then you need to live the entire process from start to finish over and over in your mind until it is ingrained.
#3 – Reinforce your commitment to your goal every single day until it is habit
For anything difficult I’ve ever done, 5% of it was motivation and 95% was habit. The key is to use brief bursts of motivation to ingrain the habit that will keep you going long after your motivation has waned. Do this by reminding yourself every day why your goal is so important. When you get up in the morning, first thing, write down 1) your goal and 2) your Reason Why. Free-write a little paragraph about it. Keep writing until you believe it. If your Reason Why is compelling enough, you’ll have no choice but to find a way to your goal, even if it’s difficult or you’re unsure of how to get there.
What about you? What big goal have you been putting off? How could you remove choice to commit to your goal right now? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by paul bica