If you’re anything like me, you tend to be destructively ambitious.
When it comes to setting your sights on what you want to achieve, you set unrealistic expectations for yourself in a short period of time. Instead of knocking your goals out of the park, you struggle to make any forward progress.
And then, when you fail, you sulk.
Curled up in a ball on the couch, you compare yourself to others who started at the same time as you and wonder where you went wrong. Then instead of taking your therapist’s advice, you determine you’re a complete and utter failure and decide to go ahead and eat that Ben and Jerry’s you stashed in the freezer while binging the latest season of Ozark for the third time.
Trust me, I get it. I do this all the time. Well, until recently at least.
See, I pulled an old running trick out of my back pocket, and when I did, I started marking goals off my list at a furious pace.
First, some backstory.
What My Friend Taught Me About Running
At some point in high school, I started running for the hell of it. Running became my favorite form of exercise. When I entered college, I kept up the practice and even ran with members of the cross country team from time to time. And while I was able to hold my own with well-trained athletes, there were times I could barely keep up.
During a long run with my friend, he gave me a piece of advice I’ll never forget.
It was toward the end of our run and I was struggling to push through. We only had a little over a mile left to go and I resigned to myself that I would just have to walk it.
My friend, unphased by the limitless road before us, tried his best to encourage me.
Breathlessly, I said, “I just can’t do it, dude! I’m too tired.”
“Yes you can!” he replied. “Throw a stone.”
“What?” I asked.
“Throw a stone. Pick a spot a little way up the road and toss an imaginary stone there. Run to the stone, pick it up, and do it again. Do that until we get to the finish line. You’ll make it.”
Taking his advice, I picked a spot at the end of the block, fixed my vision on it, and pushed toward it. Once I reached my marker, I did it again and again until we finally reached the house.
“That’s a great mindset hack,” I told him, pleased I was able to run the entire distance without stopping.
And that’s the very trick I’ve adapted to meet my non-running goals with great success.
I throw stones.
Some Guidelines for “Throwing Stones”
It’s not a bad thing to set overly ambitious goals. In fact, it’s important to establish goals just outside what you’re able to accomplish at your current level. It’s the only way to grow.
The problem is when you set unrealistic expectations for yourself and what you think you’re able to accomplish in a given period of time. (Again, if you’re like me, you totally suck at this.)
What you can learn from “throwing stones” is that your focus shouldn’t ever be on the finish line (i.e. your overly ambitious goal). Your focus should be on the next checkpoint you’ve set for yourself.
While it’s important to know what you want and where you’re headed, your attention needs to be fixed on the next step of your journey, not your final destination.
When you take those steps immediately in front of you, it puts you that much closer to your ambitious goal without being overwhelmed by how far you need to go to the goal itself.
How to Throw Stones in 4 Steps
So how do you use this concept for non-running goals? Let’s break it down.
1. Pick a big goal you want to reach.
Take my writing business for example. My big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) is to make $65,000 by the end of the year from writing projects.
It seems pretty overwhelming to do that in one go and it’s definitely going to stretch me. But that’s why it’s the perfect kind of task to throw stones at.
2. Break it down.
To make it more manageable, I need to break down my big goal into smaller pieces. Essentially, I’m deciding where to toss my stones throughout the year (i.e. “milestones,” no pun intended).
It looks like this:
- $65,000/year =
- $5,417/month =
- $1,250/week =
Every month, I need to pull in an average of $5,400. That’s about $1,250 each week.
Given the current pricing structure for my services, that’s very doable, and a lot more manageable than chipping away blindly at my BHAG goal.
3. Schedule time on your calendar
In the same way a runner trains for a marathon, I schedule time on my calendar to work toward my milestones. Even when I don’t want to, I consistently show up every damn day (trust me, there are days I’d rather keep sleeping).
But by dedicating time to chip away at my goals, I’m more likely to achieve them. Blocking off time on my calendar in advance is a good way to hold my feet to the fire.
Tip: Use the Seinfeld Strategy (i.e. don’t break the chain).
4. Throw your damn stones
With a strategy and training schedule in place, it’s time to chip away at the BHAG.
For me, I throw my stone to the first checkpoint and get to work. It might be as simple as responding to 10 LinkedIn posts, or as involved as pitching 20 new clients.
Wherever your stone lands, it should stretch you but still be achievable so you can push your way toward it with reckless abandon.
By the time it’s all said and done, you’ll have run your own “marathon” and be dancing at the finish line!
TL;DR Version for the Busy People
Do you suck at making progress toward your ambitious goals? Feel like a loser when you fail? Take my lesson from running: throw a stone.
Break your big goal into smaller, more easily achievable steps. Then set your eyes like flint on simply taking the next step, nothing else. In time, you’ll be dancing at the finish line!