Leap before you look: Goal setting for living on the edge

I just quit my job.

I booked a plane ticket to the USA with no clear idea when I will come back.

I am starting a business.

Basically, I leaped off the cliff before I looked.

Have you ever read a guide on how to set goals? They pretty much all tell you to break down your dreams into manageable chunks. Then break those chunks into smaller tasks. Then break those tasks into even smaller pieces that seem ridiculously easy to tick off. Until in the process of ticking off these tiny tasks over days and months and years, you will eventually find yourself arriving at your dream.

To use the leaping off a cliff analogy, a traditional goal setting guide will have you plan out all the steps to gradually descend your way down the cliff in a nice safe way. Step one, measure the height of the cliff. Step two, research all the possible ways of descending it. Step three, research everyone else who has ever successfully made it to the bottom of a cliff… Step six thousand and fifty two… finally arrive at the bottom of the cliff. It sounds so logical and reasonable – after all, the only thing you have to do on day one is buy a tape measure.

This approach works wonders… for about half the population. People who are naturally driven to be ‘completers’, who love finishing tasks, who dislike uncertainty – they will love this approach. It is their methodology for being successful and it works for them.

The other half of the world’s population are not completers. We are the ones who can never seem to muster the motivation to finish everything on our to-do list (or sometimes to even start it). We love the big ideas and the crazy possibilities present at the start of a project, but we hate the tedious process of dotting our ‘I’s and crossing our ‘T’s. We go for possibilities over perfection.

For these people there is something to be said for the leap before you look approach.

‘Leaping before you look’ is characterized by:

  • Having a massive goal in mind… but no concrete plan for how to get there
  • Huge amounts of energy at the start of projects… but little motivation to deal with the details
  • Wanting to make a massive impact… and wanting it to happen now
  • Performing amazingly well under pressure, particularly deadlines
  • Rising to seemingly impossible challenges… and wanting to not just meet expectations, but smash them out of the park
  • Making commitments you are unsure you can fulfill… and finding a way to deliver afterwards

If this is you, you are definitely not alone, despite what standard goal setting guidelines teach us.

In fact, forcing yourself into those standard goal setting proceedures will turn your scary, exciting, crazy goal into a ‘to-do list’. And we all know how bad we are at finishing those!

Instead, embrace the fact that you are different. Jump in head-first and force yourself to grow and adapt in order to survive. Gradual changes won’t work for you. If you’ve dreamed of starting a business quit your job tomorrow so you have no choice but to make it successful. If you want to change careers enroll in the course you need now. If you want to learn another language move to that country for a year – on your own – so you have no choice but to learn fast. If you want to run a marathon, enter today and announce to every person you know your intention so there is no way to back out of it.

Here’s what the goal setting guide for ‘leap before you look’ people should say:

  1. Choose an exciting and scary goal. If your goal doesn’t give you crazy butterflies then think bigger.
  2. Make a very public commitment to achieving your goal. Don’t just put it on social media. Tell everyone that you personally respect and admire what you are going to achieve. You won’t want to disappoint them by failing.
  3. Right at the beginning, don’t take a tiny first step towards your goal, take a running leap as far as you can make it. Momentum will fuel your success.
  4. Be comfortable with uncertainty and risk. Trust that you have the intelligence, skills, determination and resources in your life to find a way to get where you are going without having the map at the start.
  5. Model the absolute best in the world. You’ll be inspired to learn from the very best, whereas learning from the ‘good’ will feel like a chore.
  6. Raise your standards. Surround yourself with people who consider your goal to be ‘normal’ (or in many cases have already achieved it).
  7. Live as though it is absolute certain that you will achieve your goal. Once you refuse to let doubt enter your thoughts it’s amazing how resourceful your mind can be at finding paths to success.

Lastly a note on dealing with friends and family who love you, but who are more of the ‘look before you leap’ mentality. I’ve found one of the best ways to deal with their worries and objections (all borne out of a desire to see you safe and happy) is to plan out the worst that could happen.

The worst you ask? Yes. Because in reality what they imagine might happen as a result of your risky behavior is a) very unlikely and b) not nearly as bad as they think.

If you quit your job to start that business and it fails you can always get another job. If you move overseas to learn a language and are crying from loneliness within a month because you can’t communicate with anyone, you could always come back home. If you start studying something new in order to change careers, you’ll always have your old career to fall back on. If you start running that marathon and don’t make it to the end, all that’s bruised is your ego (and you would still have managed to get fitter).

Showing your loved ones the absolute worst that could happen in the case of failure will allay their fears and hopefully garner their support rather than their criticisms.

So embrace the uncertainty and the crazy decisions. Be confident in the face of the worries of your friends and family. Take big risks. Learn from the best in the world. Go after the things that scare you and excite you. Do your goal setting on your terms.

Leap before you look.

You’ll find your wings on the way down.

May 10, 2015