If you’re truly motivated to improve your life, incremental change won’t get you there — not fast enough. What we need is inspiration — something that sparks action, risk taking, and commitment. Often we have some vague notion of what we want in life, but we don’t allow ourselves to dream — let alone dream big.
If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success. — James Cameron
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.” — Michelangelo
And then we don’t raise the bar again.
Naturally if you’re living your passion, perhaps your biggest challenge is making it happen. If you’re reading this, it is more likely that you’re not quite there. Maybe you haven’t given up, but you aren’t fully committed either. Raising the bar isn’t about pushing you to burnout. It’s about encouraging you to become more authentic — to fully apply your strengths to what matters to you.
Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today. — James Dean
What’s stopping you? Thought leader Edward de Bono warns us about complacency:
1. Cozy complacency: You convince yourself that life is adequate as it is. This isn’t about endless second-guessing your life choices or wondering if your life is keeping up with the Joneses. Get out of your comfort zone but avoid rushing to a decision. Overcome this urge with thoughtful analysis so you avoid looking back at this point in time — wishing you made better choices.
2. Lack-of-vision complacency: You box yourself into your current situation. You can’t envision living any differently. You see limitations: family role, financial situation, social class, career or age group. It’s hard to imagine anything different. You lack support or the courage to rock the boat. You shut yourself down well before the idea even leaves your head. Allow time to fantasize; look for stories of lives or lifestyles that appeal to you. Engage others in brainstorming too, so you’ll explore options you’d normally never consider.
3. Arrogant complacency: You stubbornly cling to your opinions. This is a difficult one, which requires the toughest examination. Often we rationalize how we’re getting by with too little or we convince ourselves that we’re living the good life. Only we don’t pay attention to the cracks. We’re too busy selling our lives to ourselves. Pay close attention to your intuition and early warning signs: a nagging health issue, a quiet whisper that you’d rather get out of what you’re doing, or the years are ticking by.
These examples are overly simplified, yet perilously real. The mind is exceptional at rationalizing our behavior. In the words of Sigmund Freud: to be completely honest with oneself is the very best effort a human being can make. Remember it’s your life you’re talking about. Dare to think about what is really important. Live a life worth living — your own view of what that is, that is what matters most.
How do you overcome complacency? What you need is an idea so compelling, so inspiring that it will ignite you out of your comfort zone and into a better future.
Raise the bar by setting your own “big, hairy, audacious goal,” a term coined by business guru Jim Collins, in his book Built to Last. According to Tom Peters, that isn’t quite enough. You need a goal that is both clear and compelling. Some business concepts don’t translate easily into our personal lives, but this idea of setting a big, hairy, audacious goal for yourself — one that you can actually visualize — is certainly worthy of consideration.
A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions. — Anonymous
President Kennedy inspired Americans to care and believe about space travel — in 1961! He did it with a clear, concise, seemingly unrealistic challenge — to be the first country to land on the moon. He said, I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.
On a personal level, setting the bar that extreme might seem too grandiose or ridiculous. We muse about an idea, but we don’t make the commitment and set an urgent goal or marshal our resources to insure their fulfillment.
These all started as a dream, but someone decided to make a commitment:
- Create a light-source soccer ball: sOccket
- Involve kids in climate change: The Million Kid March
- Invent a healthy fast-food business: Naked Pizza
- Be elected to the school board: Richard Mammen
- Help moms in prison and their kids: Deborah Jaing Stein
Mark Twain said it well: A man with a new idea is a crank — until he succeeds.
Anything that really inspires you is likely to be complicated. So get comfortable making mistakes. Raising the bar not only requires rapid learning but getting comfortable making mistakes. We live in a world that seems to demand flawless perfection every time — a harsh critic of failure. Coming in second is equivalent to “losing.”
We need to take Samuel Beckett’s advice: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
And of course, try again.
Naturally that’s easier said than done. As humans we have a built-in negativity bias! We are hard wired to pay much more attention to problems — dramatically more attention. Thanks to evolution, I guess it makes sense. To stay alive we simply had to learn to adapt quickly to threats — it meant life or death. According to author Jonathan Haidt, psychologists consistently find that the human mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly, and persistently than to equivalent good things. Positives just don’t carry the same weight. I didn’t want to believe this, but here is just one example, called marriage math by Psychology Today. After just one negative experience with your spouse it takes at least five positive experiences to patch things up.
So manage your negativity bias and keep a close watch out for motivation killers. Dean Rieck’s blog, 8 Bad Habits that Crush Your Creativity and Stifle Your Success, has practical ideas to overcome your inner critic. (Although written for the marketing world, Rieck’s ideas are universal.)
Still not convinced to radically raise the bar for yourself? Take a look at Divine Caroline’s blog: Ten Lies You’ll Hear Before Pursuing Your Dream. As she says, working hard on your dream will be very hard work, but at least you’ll be devoting your time, creativity, and energy on something that truly matters to you. That’s positive in itself! Here’s hoping you find inspiration to dream and do something that you wouldn’t dream of doing…without!
Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare. — Japanese Proverb
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