I used to think the secret to getting what I wanted was to have an ambitious goal, to state it publicly, and to exert as much effort as I could in that direction, as fast as I could.
But I was wrong. That doesn’t actually work.
Before, I might announce my intentions to my friends, post my resolutions on social media, or spend money on the external trappings of effort and intention.
But that’s exactly why almost all New Year’s resolutions fail.
As David Maister wrote, “You get no benefit by announcing anything. You get the benefit of that which you actually do.”
Strategy, as I’ve defined it, is the structure to work efficiently to get what you want. So while knowing what I wanted was vital, it was just the beginning—the structure to work efficiently to get there was always the missing piece.
Because you can’t do anything worthwhile, consistently, by accident.
I’ve found that there are three critical components to that structure, and they must come as a set.
They’re how, over the past few years, I’ve lost more than 100 pounds, read hundreds of books, learned to play the guitar, and built a profitable consulting practice that helps business owners achieve their highest ambitions.
And they’re how I’ll get what I want for this year, too.
They are: Pace, Joy, and Gratitude.
The explorer Roald Amundsen knew better than anyone how to get what he wanted and how to fulfill big ambitions. The first person to set foot at the South Pole, beating his competition—who set out at the same time—by a month, Amundsen had a simple rule for making progress.
Instead of rushing through everything, taking on more than was managable, his biographer Stephen R. Bown writes that “light and simple were his benchmarks”.
Pace was his secret.
He set, not a minimum pace for a each day on the icy continent, but a maximum distance they would travel.
Because it’s not about what I can get done this year—it’s about what I can do every day. As we say, if you can’t see the goal, set a pace.
As one ultra endurance athlete said, true endurance is about “the ability to efficiently persist.” In fact, he said, “there is nothing about ultra endurance that is fast.”
To accomplish big things, I actually have to do very little.
I just need to do keep doing it.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield had a secret for getting through the arduous, never-ending training that got him to space: “The secret is to try to enjoy it.”
When things are difficult, we might assume they have to be joyless, as Greg McKeown points out in Effortless. We assume we have to suffer.
But that doesn’t work because it can’twork.
Most of us simply don’t like doing the things we don’t like doing, so we won’t do them for very long or very well.
In The Gap and the Gain by Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan, they note, “When you’re doing something you genuinely love, and you’re doing it for yourself, then you’re intrinsically motivated and have a healthy passion. You don’t need to ‘force’ things or ‘prove’ yourself.”
Once I’ve set my pace, my next job is to figure out how to build joy into what I need to do. I can make it a game. I can reward myself. I can take more breaks and go more slowly.
I just have to do whatever it takes to likewhat I’m doing—it’s the only way I’ll keep at it.
When I’m not grateful for how far I’ve already come, and I can only see the ideal on the horizon, everything I accomplish just pushes the horizon further out.
Instead of increasing my motivation and resolve, focusing on the ideal just ends up making me demotivated and demoralized.
But gratitude—looking back on what you’ve accomplished with a sense of satisfaction—is the real secret to continually moving forward.
Taking a positive, grateful attitude triggers the “GO response,” as Tali Sharot says in The Influential Mind. Positive sentiment and intrinsic motivation derived from fulfillment and progress keep moving us forward.
Because harshly judging ourselves for how far we have yet to go is just another way to guarantee we’ll never make it.
Instead, we need to stay focused on the progress we’ve made, which will motivate us to keep going, for as long as it takes.
What do you want?
So what do you want for this year?
Maybe it’s more profit, more clients, more work or less work, more time off or more opportunities.
Whatever it is, it will require a strategy. Which is just structure—the structure to work efficiently, every single day.
And that structure should include a slower pace, more joy, and more gratitude.
So, first, know what you want, and know what needs to be true to make it happen.
And then figure out what you need to do every day to get there—at a pace you can maintain, in a way that you’ll enjoy, and with a grateful attitude that’s focused on the progress you’ve already made.
We’re closer than we think to what we want, and it’s so much easier than we imagine.
We just need a strategy.
We just need structure.
So give it a try, and see how far you’ll go.