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The Courage to Change

What does it take to have the courage to change?

Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic about an inspirational professor named Jack Gilbert and the effect he had on one student’s life:

But I will never forget what the real Jack Gilbert told somebody else—an actual flesh-and-blood person, a shy University of Tennessee student. This young woman recounted to me that one afternoon, after his poetry class, Jack had taken her aside. He complimented her work, then asked what she wanted to do with her life. Hesitantly, she admitted that perhaps she wanted to be a writer. He smiled at the girl with infinite compassion and asked, “Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes!

How great is that line.

I knew in order to achieve the great things I wanted I had to tap into my own courage. I had to find the courage to change.

Each of the monthly experiments I committed to in 2017 are in their own way about me summoning the courage to break out of habits and routines that I built up over the years.

The problem though is it is one thing to read something and be inspired and quite another to act on that inspiration day in and day out for a month.

Here is what I did.

Line of Sight

In yesterday’s post on how to get inspired, I talked about connecting long term goals with our short term actions. That has been one of the hardest things to do for me.

It’s sort of like the problem I have with reading hundreds of books and just letting the knowledge I gain wither and die.

I’ll come across great ideas and take detailed notes, but moving to that next stage of acting on what I learn just doesn’t happen.

Sometimes I think it would be better to read fewer books if I applied their ideas in a more consistent way.

I’m a huge believer in reaching our goals if we can make a connection between what we are doing today and where we want to be sometime in the future.

I call this Line of Sight.

If we know why it matters what we are doing today, down to the second, I think it is easier to keep up that work for as long as we need to.

It reminds me of a story I heard once about three bricklayers.

The Three Bricklayers

The first bricklayer was asked what he was doing. He said he was laying bricks. The second bricklayer was asked the same question. He said he was building a building. The third bricklayer was asked and he said he was building a house of worship.

I’ve heard a few variations of this story. The point is the first two bricklayers see what they are doing as a job or a trade. The third sees what he is doing as a calling.

He is doing something for a bigger purpose. I think it is safe to assume he probably does better work.

I’ve heard a similar story about a janitor at NASA in the 1960’s being asked what his job was. He said it was to get a man on the moon. He knew if he did his job well he would be part of a long line of people who together could make the impossible (at the time), possible.

It’s sad that so many people these days don’t see a connection between what they are doing in their jobs and the most important goals of the company.

What if every worker felt that what they did everyday was vital to the success of a company? How different would company performance be across the board?

The problem though is how to build that feeling, whether it is as an employee, or for our situation, trying to build good habits to get more organized?

I finally figured out that I had to start at the end.

Let me explain.

Do the Work…But Start Backwards

I’m currently listening to Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles on Audible. He talks about the small number of people that have written goals.

It reminded me of a quote I read once that said if you don’t know where you are going you’ll probably get there.

I have written goals all over my house in folders, notebooks, on my laptop and probably in places I long forgot.

What I realized was I write these goals down – usually at the beginning of the year – but I never go back to them. I don’t remind myself of them and I don’t make them part of my daily/weekly/monthly routine.

My problem was, I wrote down where I wanted to go, I just left the name of the destination in one place and started walking.

Finally, this year I wrote down my goals and put them in a few places where I am guaranteed to see them on a daily basis.

I finally knew where I wanted to go. The question became how do I get there?

Start at the End

Great, I knew where I wanted to go and I kept reminding myself daily where it was.

So, how do I get there?

Until they make Uber for goals, it was on me.

What I did was take each goal and start to work backwards day-by-day, from large to-do’s broken down to smaller and smaller to-do’s.

For instance, I want to live a good and productive life. I want more time with my family and I want to make enough money so that living from paycheck to paycheck becomes a bad memory.

Fine, sounds like a few Big Hairy Audacious Goals to me. Shout out to Jim Collins.

But how do I make that happen?

Well, if I get more organized, if I stop procrastinating, if I make my days as productive as possible, that has to help, right?

How do I make those things happen?

Here is what I came up with:

Why not find 12 behaviors to target as keystones and focus on each one for a month.

Run an experiment on my life and spend a month pulling everything together. I’ve read nonfiction books on these topics for 20+ years, but I’ve never organized it, consolidated it and built a system that made me act on it.

That is what these monthly experiments are all about.

They are my attempt to accomplish huge life changing goals by breaking them down into smaller parts.

If I can see what I’m doing on a daily basis (line of sight) and work backwards I know I can chip away at anything that stands in my way.

I’ve spent the last few posts talking about how I was going to do things. Starting soon I’ll discuss what exactly I did.

Published in Monthly Experiment Organization

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