4 Tactics to Achieve Any Goal or The Magic of The Second Step
During his commencement speech to the University of Texas, Admiral William H. McRaven begins his address by telling the graduating students to make their beds. This instruction is not metaphorical in nature, though one could intuit the inherent metaphor in taking responsibility for the state of one’s own bed. How many of us grew up hearing our parents tell us: you made your bed, now you get to sleep in it?
McRaven, however, was being entirely literal. “If you want to change your life,” he tells the graduates, “make your bed.” In making your bed every morning you begin your day with discipline, which builds foundational habits that will influence everything that comes after. And when life delivers you a particularly challenging day, you will enjoy the relief of coming home to a well-made bed.
FAILING TO BEGIN
I believe success (as well as failure) is processual. (If you believe external indicators like luck, economy, environment and education are the critical factors then the following post is probably not for you.)
In my conviction that success is processual, I have always viewed excellence as a problem to be solved. And, in the spirit of diagnosis, I would contend that the best way to identify a solution is through retracing our steps to the initial moments in which the process breaks down.
Whether our goal is to achieve sales excellence, customer acquisition targets or weight loss, (any goal, really) our failures (statistically speaking) tend to live at the beginning of a thing, not square in the middle of it.
While it is true that all of us will “fail to begin” a thing we would prefer to do, this isn’t usually the moment of initial breakdown. Rather, a failure to begin is generally a reflection of priorities. In other words, the problem is just not that important to us.
The real challenge is when we do begin but realize, at some point after the fact, that it wasn’t enough. How many times have we started a diet or made that first sales call? How many have written the first chapter of a book? How many new sales contests have been strategized and implemented, only to fail in the follow-through? If the first step is the deliberate act of beginning, it is the second step that serves as our moment of initial breakdown, and will most-often predict success.
BEGINNING TO FAIL
Step one of making your bed is to get yourself out of it. Step two is to make the thing.
Any reporter will tell you that a good interview lives in the follow-up questions. Even the Karate Kid knew that putting the wax on was only half the battle (product of the 80’s, here).
So often we begin things we believe are critical without a clear indication regarding what the second step is. What, exactly, is our follow-up strategy? There are typically two reasons we don’t make a habit of identifying the second step.
1. We just don’t consider it. We are so focused on driving forward momentum that we figure one step will to lead to another.
2. We do consider it, but don’t know what the next step might be.
McRaven’s advice is convenient, in the same way it is convenient that Mr. Miyagi explained the necessity of removing the wax after applying it.
In our lives, however, the second step is not always so clearly definable. When there isn’t somebody to provide direction, it falls on us to make those conscious choices.
Driving is a great example of unconscious activity. Most of us can relate to that moment when you realize you’ve arrived at your destination and can’t fully account for the last few miles. In this way driving has become so routine we do it unconsciously. But during those early “learning permit” days it was a conscious effort, requiring an entirely different level of attention.
When working toward any new goal, conscious activity is critical to identifying next steps and maintaining momentum. Specifically, it entails the process of acting, diagnosing and reacting (see specific tactics below). Without such careful attention we will most often, gradually…passively quit. Typically, without even being fully aware that this is what we are doing.
The problem is, we are never rewarded for our efforts in consistency. We have to slug it out, day by day, making minor incremental progresses until a moment of acceleration happens. Then, hold on to your hat because magic happens during these spurts. Yet, even within these instances of substantial reward, the process remains.
THE 4 TACTICS: UNCOVERING THE SECOND STEP
1. Make Each Step a Small Step (ACT): Goals are big, substantial things. The steps we take to achieve them are small. Get out of bed. Make one sales call. That’s all.
2. Look For Problems: This is necessary for entrepreneurs who seek to create something, of value, and it is necessary to achieve any goal. Look for the problems that materialize from your first step with a critical eye.
3. Write Down The Problem and (DIAGNOSE) A Second Step: Generally this is the step most underutilized. Physically writing down the problem and drafting a possible solution makes your effort tactical. Write everything down. Track progress, effort and outcomes.
4. Take Another Step (REACT): Engage in a specific action that results from your diagnosis. In other words, do something differently. Then, repeat: Act, Diagnose, React. This process allows trial and error to ensue. It allows for incremental progress to be made with every new sales call, or with each flight of your marketing campaign, or with each weekly workout strategy.
To a certain degree, I hesitate for this post to further illustrate the pure importance of failure, but it is an unavoidable truth. We can Fail To Begin, or Begin to Fail. There is no third alternative.
In addition to being uncomfortable, failure is also only half of the battle. Conscious activity makes it tactical and palatable. It allows us to learn something so that we can take step after step in search of the magic. It won’t always be rewarding and some days, we won’t want to do it. But this is where we persist. The next step beckons and we will never know how close we were to success if we don’t fight for it.
And worst-case scenario, when life deals us a particularly challenging day, at least we’ll come home to a well-made bed.