When I was ages 4 to… well now, my favorite fictional character was Batman.* Mostly because he is everything I wasn’t. Since the death of his parents, Batman has been singularly focused and utterly disciplined. He spends every night doing the same noble, difficult, but boring thing: patrolling the rooftops of Gotham looking to stop crime. I, however, suffer from a unique attentional deficiency my wife likes to refer to as “a laser beam pointed at a spinning mirror.” From moment to moment, my focus and concentration is fixed, intense, and powerful but rarely for longer than a few days or weeks. Between graduating from college and starting to train people I had no less than 13 career goals from Master of Wine to Marine Officer. But Batman only every wanted to do one thing: fight crime. That's dedication to a goal. In fact, Batman is able to wake up every day and get stuff done because he has goals and he meets them. When I was 25 and 60lbs overweight, all I knew was that I was fat. It took a goal to get me off the couch. But that meant I was one step closer to making my dreams become reality.
Make It Real
Everything you want in life starts out as a dream. They’re big, abstract, and for most people, very unlikely to happen. Reality is kind of the opposite. Lots of small, concrete events that actually do happen. Goals are somewhere in the middle, one step closer to real. Like Diana Scharf Hunt says, “Goals are dreams with deadlines.” So when you are thinking about something that you want to do, make it real. Give it a deadline. Give it a number. Make it realistic. Instead of saying, "I don't want to be fat anymore", say, "I will to lose 60lbs in 292 days."
Plan It Out
60lbs is a big number. Some of my clients have bigger numbers. This can seem daunting because targets that are far away are harder to hit. But the easiest way to stay focused is to give yourself a series of closer targets. "I will lose 1.4lbs a week" sounds a lot easier because it's more real. So break your big goal down into a series of smaller ones and see if they don't feel more realistic and possible. For an extra dose of reality, write them down in your calender. Look! Now you've got a plan!
Make It a Habit
Maybe it's a limitation of my profession, but the only way I know of to get better at something is to practice. Goals are no different. The more you practice meeting goals, the more likely you are to meet them in the future. Alwyn Cosgrove calls it the "Goal Snowball." But I see it as a matter of priority. Dan Gable says, “if something is important, do it every day.” I can’t think of anything more important in life than making dreams come true. So write a plan for your goal that includes a daily task that brings you closer to reaching it. Start with one or two tasks per day. Like, "I will exercise and eat right today." Before you know it, doing those tasks will become a habit. And habits have a way of sticking around and defining who we are.
Summary of How Coach Stevo's Dream Became Reality
DREAM: I don’t want to be fat anymore.
GOAL: I will lose 60lbs in 292 days.
PLAN: I will lose 1.4lbs per week.
TASK: I will exercise and eat right today.
HABIT: Daily exercise and healthy eating.
All the Success, None of the Glamor
When people ask me how I lost 60lbs in 292 days, I tell them, "I made diet and exercise a habit." When young Marine Officer Candidates ask me how I went from a 195 PFT to a 300 PFT in 9 months, I tell them, "I made training for it a habit." It's simple, but it's not easy. And sometimes, it hurts.
My favorite illustration of Batman is this Alex Ross painting from 1999’s Batman: War on Crime. Batman is the archetype of human discipline; someone who has set huge goals, met every one of them, and is living his dream life. And it’s not pretty.
When you break down a dream into real tasks that you can do every day, you’re left with a list of things to do. And the person you dream of being is the person that does those things, every day, no matter what, out of habit. The first step you have to take to become that person is to do is start doing those things. No, habits are not glamorous, but reality rarely is. And along the way, it may even involve some pain. But in the end, it's your dream. Do you want to make it real, or keep it glamorous?
*ok, fine. I wanted to be Batman. Seriously. I had a cape.