Big Scary Goals—And Why We Need Them

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by luis llerena via unsplash
by luis llerena via unsplash

With the countdown until the New Year approaching way faster than I was ready for, I’m still writing about resolutions, and thinking about resolutions. Also, I’m apparently really into talking about fear this week. First, I was working on a draft was about doing things that scare us in order to improve and grow (stay tuned for that one), but now, I’m talking about putting something scary on our calendars for far into the future.

In one of our upcoming podcasts, I get wicked excited about the idea of a “Big, Scary Goal.” I also love more habit-style resolutions, but there’s something so awesome about underlining a major event or specific accomplishment as the thing you’re working towards.

It Has to Be a Big Freaking Deal—And You Have to Name It

Not lose 5 pounds. This is a goal that, at first glance, seems somewhat crazy/impossible/freaking hard. It should be daunting in a way that makes you wonder if it’s do-able. It should feel like you have no idea where to start, or you’re just too petrified to start because there’s so much to be done. That’s how you know it’s scary.

It also has to be something you can write down. Get in shape isn’t a big scary goal because it’s too broad. (Do an Ironman is a better one: it encompasses the getting-in-shape, but there’s an actual moment where you know you’ve accomplished it. Getting in shape can be a lifelong mission that you never really know if you’ve fulfilled.)

One of mine, and I’ll be talking about this a lot in the next few months, is to finish my first fictional book. Because the idea of writing it has scared me so much in the past, I hadn’t made much progress. Now, PUBLISH YOUR NOVEL is on the whiteboard, underlined, and it’s happening (slowly but surely).

The Big Scary Goal is Long-Term

The Big, Scary Goal (I’m going to call it the BSG) might take a decade to accomplish. But having it looming is usually enough to force you to make those smaller resolutions and form specific habits along the way.

Case in point: I’ve been working on a novel for eight years now. Honestly. I had a brainstorm in college, wrote the first chapter, got terrified of it, and dropped it. Since then, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to write it. This year, with 30 looming in just a few short months, I knew I wanted to make it happen before that (arbitrary but still scary) day. So, I made a plan.

The Big Scary Goal Doesn’t Work without a Smaller Plan in Place

Forget the novel for a second, let’s think about the obvious example: you don’t just sign up for an Ironman as your BSG and then show up that day with a wetsuit, a bike and a prayer. You train and you prepare, building slowly towards that goal.

With the novel, it was similar. I knew my main block wasn’t the plot—I had the outline. It was the writing itself that was the hangup, and so I made it a daily ‘to-do’ to write a paragraph. Just a paragraph—it could be a sentence, two words, two thousand, whatever came out. I started that six months ago, haven’t missed a day, and the rough draft is almost done.

Our podcast guest, by the way, discovered that the original BSG was actually completely within her reach and hit it three years before her original due date, which highlights another key point:

The Big Scary Goal is Usually Not So Scary

Once you’ve put the processes and habits in place, the goal itself gets closer and closer, bit by bit, and before you know it, it’s accomplished. Obviously, we’re still talking about a ton of hard work, blood, sweat, tears—but when you break it into smaller, manageable chunks, it’s usually not as daunting as it seemed when we dreamt it up.

The 5,000 words I had for the novel is up past 30,000 now (close to the right length for the type of novel it is), and it’s surprisingly ahead of schedule… Because as it turned out, writing one paragraph wasn’t as hard as I thought, and with just that small mini-goal, it’s not really that daunting.

I’m really stoked for the podcast to go up, so check back here for an update when it does: I think you’ll love it, if you’re intrigued by the idea of picking something that scares you.

OK, now you: what’s your big scary goal for 2017?

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