Be the change.
It’s that simple. I think it is the reason I hated the election, the coverage, both parties, and all of the social media bantering. At the end of the day, it was people looking for someone or something to provide the change they want, instead of looking internally for the motivation, and doing it themselves. It was people attempting to use fear, or being consumed by their own fear, pointing out flaws and inadequacies in everything and everyone except for the person that matters. As a country, the process was important, but as far as I am concerned the last person who will make this country great again sits in the Oval Office, Democrat or Republican. The real mechanism for change, the real equity this country has, is you. You are the only person at the end of the day who really cares about you, and the environment around you. When viewed in those terms, it seems like a heavy burden, because it is. It is heavy, because it matters.
I dislike this time of year. It is a time when people (me included), pick an arbitrary date on a calendar to redefine themselves, to start fresh in hopes that turning a page will provide them with the discipline needed to follow through on often difficult tasks. It is the time of year when we collectively set ourselves up for failure. It is the same as deciding to sustain on a diet of nachos and ice cream for a weekend, because “I am going to start my diet on Monday.” Nothing changes on Monday, except you feel like garbage, and are now two steps behind.
I want to be the change, and I want you to be as well. If YOU want that for yourself, if YOU want to be successful in your goals, YOU need to be smart about how you approach them. I had the opportunity to be an instructor at one of the most difficult training pipelines in the world. My job was simple; select for those that I, and those serving operationally would work with, shoulder to shoulder. It was a difficult task; a mistake could mean the loss of life much further down the road. I was a filter to the SEAL community, ensuring that only the right people made it through. To do my job well, I used the curriculum and took people to their breaking point, then sent them home, regardless of how much they wanted it. I had grown men break down into tears, realizing their lifelong dream had come to an end. I watched hundreds of men throw the towel in, consumed by their emotions in a moment they will likely regret for the rest of their lives.
Physical limitations did not cause these failures; they were nearly all mental. I spent a lot of time talking to people after they made the decision to quit, I wanted to understand why some stay the course, and others do not. I was not conducting a sociology project, I wanted to be more effective at making others quit. I wanted to understand where the most difficult and painful stress points were, so I could apply them to others. The answers were strikingly similar. Nearly everyone who decided to quit did so because they became overwhelmed by the totality of their goal. When they started thinking about the complexity and duration, of all the steps required to be successful, they were much more likely to fail. It was that simple. If I could get a student to think in those terms, in combination with physical discomfort, my odds of getting them to quit went through the roof. That may seem harsh, but the job they were applying for should not be taken lightly.
The students that were the most successful, the ones who displayed the most resistance to my charm, were the ones who took a different approach to setting goals. Instead of thinking about BUD/s as a six-month evolution, they approached it as making it through one day, 180 times. They did not view Hell Week as a five-day crucible, but as a challenge to see the sun rise five times. Some broke it down even further, focusing on survival from one meal until the next. They “chunked” their goals, and focused on micro successes, that resulted in macro achievements. The difference in this mental approach protects you from your low moments, where you question your resolve (and we all do), and keeps you from making decisions you will regret. This approach does not make anything “easier”, it is simply a tool that can help protect you from your own mind. It applies universally, from parenting, to behavior, economics and becoming a Navy SEAL.
Don’t waste your time setting a goal for the year. Set a goal for a day, or a week, or a month. Pick the length of time that you can bite off and swallow. If in the middle of the process you become overwhelmed, reset your parameters. If you want to ensure your failure, allow your ego to attach itself to your plan. If you allow the plan to take center stage, and not the pursuit of change, you will fail. If your initial plan calls for month long goals and you reach the finish line by using daily goals, who cares? Do not become attached to your plan, become passionate and dedicated to arriving at the desired end state. It is all that matters.
Expect to be challenged, expect the journey to be difficult. There is no way around this, unless you set a goal that is easy to accomplish, which likely means it is meaningless. The things that come easy in life have little to no value. Those that you sweat and bleed for, are the ones that have impact.
Don’t look for individuals, idols, and systems to be your savior. All you need is a mirror. The answer you are looking for, and the single biggest obstacle standing in your way, is right there, staring back at you.
Be the change.