The Best Path To Success?

A path cuts through a field toward rounded hills. One has a spreading tree on with a flock of birds. In the background, a spectacular , mulit-cloured sunset beckons

“Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.”

— Dale E. Turner

Fit Goals? Stretch Goals? Or Both?

Abraham Maslow said we long to be “that which we glimpse in our most perfect moments.” However, we often fail to live up to that potential because we’re afraid to stretch for what truly matters.

Over time, as we fit our goals to what we think is our capacity, the glimpses fade. Instead of filling us with hope, those goals trigger doubt, regret, and fear. Others’ success mirrors our failed potential.

We wonder, “Why don’t my goals lead me where I want to go?”

Why can’t I succeed at what truly matters to me?”

Fit: A Recipe for Mediocrity

Success can be defined as creating what truly matters—in life, work, relationships… whatever. 

However, because many of us do not know how to consciously create the high-level results we long for, we settle for reacting or responding to circumstances. 

We focus our precious life energy on merely solving problems. We focus on things we think we “should” succeed at. We let parents’, bosses’, counsellors’ and others’ definitions of success guide us. 

Most career planning just helps you fit your dreams and goals to what you can do, or afford. “Set realistic goals!” But is this good advice?

Learning organization guru, Peter Senge, says that setting goals to fit current capacity has caused untold businesses—and individuals—to fail. 

Merely fitting goals to capacity is a recipe for mediocrity.

Fit Goals Limit You And Your Success

When you fit your goals to what you can currently do, or what you have to work with, you limit yourself. 

You cut yourself off from the potential glimpsed in Maslow’s perfect moments. 

So you settle for less. You set realistic goals. But without a bigger vision or dream, such “fit” goals fail to spur you to sustained action. Frustrated, you set the bar lower.

Senge calls this process “the eroding goals syndrome.” 

Your dreams dwindle away. Success eludes you. So, what’s your option?

Stretch: Pathway To Success

Remember the old saying, “Set no small goals for they lack the power to stir our souls.” It’s true. 

On their own, small—”fit”—goals do not engage and excite us. They do not draw us toward action, learning, and our most longed for results. 

Successful results creators don’t start by setting reasonable, fit goals. They stretch for what truly matters—independent of current capacity. 

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says successful leaders stretch. They set BHAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

They create a “chasm” between their vision and current capacity. 

Then bridge it with realistic goals that become the building blocks for completed results—and success.

A high-jumper throws himself over a bar set high, his back almost touching the bar, and in preparation for the kick what will take him up and over.
Stretch for key goals. Then set realistic ones that support them.

How To Create The Results You Long For

“Those who do not create the future they want—
must endure the future they get.”

—Draper L. Kaufman, Jr.

Step 1: Craft a Vision of Your Desired Result

All successful results creators begin with a vision—a clear, compelling mental image of a result they want to create. A BHAG.

Take those glimpses from your most perfect moments, and make them shine with clarity. Flesh them out. Make them concrete. Make them so engaging that when you read them out loud, you get goosebumps!

A vision doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be clear enough you’d recognize it when you create it. 

Indeed, you don’t even have to believe the result is possible. Nor do you have to have all the skills or resources when you start. You need the desire, and a clear, compelling vision, to start.

And an organizing framework in which to integrate vision, reality and action into successful results.

Step 2: Embrace Reality But Don’t Be Driven By It

Although successful action and results are driven by vision, you must be careful to ground your vision in an accurate, objective, emotionally neutral assessment of current reality, i.e. the current state of you and your result. 

Being objective is key. Making things better than they are, or worse, distorts reality. It makes your action base less solid. 

Describe reality, don’t judge it! Doing so will give you a solid platform, and generate energy for action. 

Step 3: Energize Your Actions With Creative Tension

“Tension” means “a tendency to move.”

A clear vision grounded in objective reality generates creative tension. When you hold a vision of your desired result in mind—simultaneously—with its current reality, tension arises out of the gap between what you want and what you have. You can use the energy in that tension to move toward your vision.

Creative tension is the engine of creativity. Just as a stretched rubber band generates energy to power model airplanes (or used to, before they all became digital) creative tension can power you through times when motivation fades or fails.

It builds the momentum you’ll need to finish fully, and bring your result into being, easily, effectively.

Graphic with the word CREATE in Sharpie-hatched, bold letters. A hand is holding the pen.

Step 4. Create And Adjust, Create And Adjust…

If creating is anything, it is a learning process. 

Working within the life design framework—the possibility field—of creative tension, it becomes easier to take action, learn from your experience, see the latter as merely feedback, then make adjustments, and gradually shape your completed result.

It’s not necessarily easy. It will take practice and persistence. 

But the sooner you make your first 5000 mistakes, the sooner you’ll learn to create. So, as they say in hi-tech innovation circles, “Fail fast, learn lots!”

Step 5: When Reality Matches Your Vision, Stop. Celebrate!

When your current reality matches your vision, stop: you’re done. Use the energy of completion to move start on a new result. When Picasso was asked what was his favorite painting, he replied, “My next one!”

How To Succeed On Your Own Terms

Every time, you catch a glimpse of what you truly want to create, or be, use this five-step process. 

Stretch, don’t just fit.  When I first suggest this approach to clients, some are initially skeptical. “It sounds like a lot of work,” they say. 

Maybe so; maybe not. 

But repeatedly limiting yourself to fit goals and falling short of your most important goals is a lot of work, without big results at the end.

So, tune into to those glimpses of your most perfect moments. Revive the dreams hidden in them. Renew your commitment to what really matters. 

Doing so will not only rejuvenate your dreams; it’ll renew you, too. Creating success on your own terms becomes a real possibility!

Bruce Elkin

Life Design Coach. Personal Life Coach. 25 years experience. Clients on 6 continents. Author of 5 books and ebooks. Cares about the Earth and living in harmony with its natural systems.