Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How (not) to jinx your goals

Wouldn't it be awesome to complete something simply by imagining it? For instance, I've imagined a job where the hours were during my productivity peak (3PM to midnight), and my wife has probably imagined being able to successfully communicate with me before I've had morning coffee.

When I was a kid, it was called daydreaming. Now it's called any number of things, but the results are pretty much the same. It remains a dream.

What we do as kids is fine, but as adults it can have a negative impact on us because as we live out our goals in our minds, we begin to jinx our ability to follow through; and the fire fizzles.

You can probably already hear the proverbial bus coming, but relax; it's only a recording of a bus. I'm going to run through a scenario that I've actually seen play out. I'll follow with how I avoid the negative side effects that come with what I call jinxing one's goals (I use the term loosely).

1: Opportunity knocks:
An opportunity to make an extra buck presents itself, and like any interested party, you look into it more. If your like me, you'll be up many a night researching it.

2: You do the math:
More late nights on the calculator proving the numbers add up.

3: You talk it out:
...to yourself. Not a bad thing, especially if you're one to work things out verbally. This means even more late nights being a recluse in the backyard or car so you don't keep your family up.

4: You tell a friend:
You talk to a friend and before you know it, the conversation turns into a blitzkrieg of facts, information, credible sources and calculations.  Not only that, you try to do it all in the space of a single conversation (to the uninitiated, it's like having your head strapped to a Gattling Gun). You may believe you are cool, calm and collected, but the more your friend's eyes glaze over, the more fervent you become until it you are yipping.  If you ever find yourself here, try to recognize that most people need as much time as you did to absorb as much information.

5: The breakthrough:
Your now weary friend pretends to suddenly see the light, gets as excited as you and may even yip with equal fervor to validate your infallible research, urging you to take action to be all that you can be (so they can end the conversation gracefully, go home, take an aspirin and bask in the warm glow of the tube). These scenarios often repeat many times before anything real happens, if it happens at all.

6: The decision:
Finally, after having lived vicariously through your own excitement and others' "excitement" and you have amassed sufficient validation to yourself, you make the big step and invest time or money into the venture.

7: The outcome:
Based on statistics alone, the vast majority of business ventures fail. This means you're at a greater disadvantage if you sap your inner energy and jinx right through the honeymoon phase before you have anything to show for it. Failure to follow through is very common, and no different than being sold an appliance because it came with a $300 rebate incentive, which many people forget to cash in, ultimately leaving them with a decision that had no follow through. Sales tactics count on human nature, because it's predictable. The numbers don't lie. Also, circumstances are another excuse for failing to follow through on a venture, due a wide variety of causes, which of course are nobody's fault right? Or are they?

This is a moment of truth that most everyone will face in life, sooner or later. How you respond will likely determine how you succeed.

So, how does one not jinx goals? There are many ways. Here are the one's that work for me:

I: Regulate yourself:
Save your energy and excitement! It's good to be excited, but give it some longevity. Pace yourself. You'll need the energy later.

II: Keep it to yourself (for now):
Nothing ruins credibility like a fizzled fuse on a firework that never existed, so don't spout about your next venture until you have something to show for it. This will naturally curb your enthusiasm to a more realistic level. If you don't, you may fall into a rut of rash decisions just to prove yourself (which, in and of itself, is a lousy motive).  In short, don't add undue pressure on yourself by creating bad subconscious habits. Keep your cards close for a bit.

III: Sleep on it. A lot:
Nothing adds clarity like a good night's sleep. More often than not, loose ends or limitations will come to light. In context with the previous point, you're also less likely to be in denial if no one knows, so any necessary adjustments can be done without having to admit shortsightedness or lack of patience. By the way, these are skills you learn. They certainly aren't natural, but they are necessary.

IV: Write out a business plan:
Whether simple or complex, it should be thorough. Write it as if you had to convince venture capitalists. Then and only then should you consider getting input from someone you trust. Let them review it on their own terms and come to their own conclusions. Not only will this retain credibility, it will build it! Be organized, logical and objective about your goal, and sensible people will recognize it!

V: Ask them for constructive input:
Most advice unasked for is unwanted, so it's important you open that door. Constructive criticism comes in many forms. My personal preference is to have weak areas pointed out but not specified allowing me to take advantage of the learning opportunity. This builds thinking skills and prevents entanglement.  If you can't avoid getting entangled or embroiled with rationalizing a detail or justifying a thought process, don't despair.  Keep at it until you "get it", because some things can't be learned from a book or a college course.

VI: Be gracious and gracefully receptive:
Constructive criticism is tough, no doubt. Remember, don't argue points and don't let others argue points. You are in control of your project, no one else. Receive input with appreciation and take it under consideration. There's no reason to feel threatened unless you are in denial about something (an easy trap to fall into; but you're not alone in that). Ultimately, you asked for the input so you should get to choose whether or not to use it.

VII: Repeat, repeat, repeat:
If you're skilled at being honest with yourself, chances are you'll find multiple reasons to repeat this process several times before your plan is finalized. This is why you need to save your energy and play close to the chest for a bit, because you can easily exhaust yourself.

So, in short, exercise restraint within and without. Keep a steady pace in your project development. Don't go on a dream binge and it won't become humdrum by the time the real work sets in.  Maintain your momentum and don't lose ground. There will be many obstacles to achieving your goals, but don't let jinxing it be the thing that stops you before you even get started.

If you have experienced this, leave a comment and let me know how it affected you and what steps you took to avoid it.

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