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Navigating Uncertainty

What will it take to get you there?

Every worthwhile undertaking requires effort. The problem is, we are generally pretty lousy at forecasting how much effort it will take to accomplish what we are pursuing. We can envision a goal or desired outcome, but because it is unfamiliar, we aren’t exactly sure how to get there, or how long it will take to reach our destination. Truth be told, we aren’t even sure if our intended destination is the right one.

That makes sense, of course. New endeavors will, by definition, contain the element of uncertainty. This phenomenon presents itself in two primary ways, and in both cases our errors in judgment impact our likelihood of meaningful accomplishment.

Overestimating Effort – Dreaming the “Impossible Dream”

When we think our challenge is HUGE, nearly insurmountable, this creates an equally sizable obstacle to taking action. We think, “This is impossible. It will take too long. We’ll never get there.” So, we hesitate to even take the first step. Discouragement sets in before we even get started!

Underestimating Effort – Are we there yet?

The converse of this problem is that we oversimplify the challenge. Our expectation is that it will be relatively easy to accomplish the desired outcome. Then, it isn’t. When we encounter the inevitable and unforeseen challenges, we become thrown, reactive, and easily discouraged. Clearly, this is not what we anticipated. So we give up.

Note: In both cases, the impact of a poor estimate is the same: Discouragement, inaction, and confirmation of the status quo. Falling short of our desired outcome, we default to the familiar and established patterns of action.

Creating Encouragement

To avoid these pitfalls and create sustainable positive action toward your desired goals, follow these five suggestions.

  1. Focus on improvement, not outcome. When we focus entirely on an end result, we put ourselves in a “win or lose” scenario. By focusing on improvement, we are pursuing an ongoing result, and recognizing improvement provides encouragement to keep improving.
  2. Celebrate learning. Ultimately, the attainment of a goal requires improved understanding. From this perspective, even setbacks are encouraging steps forward, as they have successfully revealed new lessons.
  3. Hit easier targets first. When you create smaller, more attainable performance targets, you will hit them with greater frequency. Early successes are essential to building sustainable momentum.
  4. Shorten time frames. Instead of obsessing about annual goals, focus on 12 week, monthly, or weekly targets. Shorter time frames provide more opportunities to succeed.
  5. Make adjustments. As you develop new understanding and abilities, continue to adjust and improve your efforts. You may even discover that your initial “goal” is no longer what you are aiming to achieve.

In short, success is not a goal at all. It’s a mode of operation. This mode, or way of being, requires us to venture into uncharted territory. Naturally, the trail will deviate, turn, or require us to retrace our steps. Consider this all to be just part of the “off balance” adventure. Keep leaning forward, toward learning and growing, and success will find you. Of that, I am certain.

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