3 Unconventional Steps Extremely Successful People Take in Life
Everything starts with a dream. But if that’s all you do, you’re in serious trouble.
Also, having a positive attitude is an explicit requirement, because a negative attitude makes us more likely to quit — or to never even begin in the first place.
But when that positive attitude becomes a constant habit of fantasizing, things go south really quick. Yes, that’s right, tirelessly dreaming about success is not constructive.
Again and again (somewhat to our surprise at first), our course members and coaching clients have had the same negative outcomes from over-fantasizing about what they want. Big fantasies, wishes and dreams detached from real life experience (action) never translates into the necessary motivation to create a more energized, engaged life. It translates into the opposite — more procrastination.
Why? The inexperienced, emotional human brain just can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
When you fantasize, certain parts of your brain think you’ve actually achieved your goal. So rather than ramping up, motivation actually pulls back. From what we’ve experienced through coaching thousands of people over the past decade, the main reason positive fantasies often predict poor achievement is because they do not actually generate enough energy to pursue the desired outcome. They don’t get people out of their chairs!
Too much dreaming turns positive thinking into mere wishful thinking.
So if it doesn’t work, why in the world do we do it so often? Plain and simple: it feels good.
Just like stuffing your face with chocolate cake or checking your email for the 70th time today, it feels good in the moment — but is counterproductive to long-term success.
Constant dreaming about success in the future seems to protect our egos against sadness in the short-term, but then promotes sadness over the long-term if that’s all we do. Because lofty expectations are being built but aren’t being backed by any substantial means to get from point A to point B.
Want to lose weight? Those who merely dream of looking thinner often lose significantly less weight than those who envision themselves gaining weight if they don’t take deliberate and immediate action.
Want to meet that special someone? The more frequently our course members and coaching clients have admitted to indulging in positive fantasies, the less likely they reported initiating a real relationship.
Okay, you get the idea. Dreaming by itself leads to nowhere worthwhile. So, what are the missing steps?
2. Aim for a specific outcome.
This part isn’t too difficult. You just need to take your dream and crystalize it. Be ultra-specific.
So if “making more money” is your dream, your desired outcome might be “get a raise at my next annual performance review.”
Dreaming of a better work-life balance? Your outcome could be “A daily work schedule that allows me to be free every afternoon at 4 P.M. sharp and off during weekends.”
So your dream is now clear. But this is when things get trickier and a bit more unconventional. It’s time to be constructively negative…
3. Visualize your obstacles ahead of time.
We call this “mental contrasting.” You need to consciously think about the obstacles that could potentially prevent you from achieving your desired outcome.
This might seem counterintuitive at first, but it’s a strategy that works wonders. And here’s what’s really interesting: As we’ve used this method in our coaching practice over the years, some people who do this get more focused almost instantly, while others end up less motivated in the short-term.
Does that mean this strategy is defective? No, it means it’s truly working. Here’s why:
The people who do not get a boost of focus are often the ones who realize the “specific outcome” they are aiming for is not specific enough or simply not reasonable – meaning they’re aiming for a goal too big and overwhelming for their current mindset.
So this mental contrasting doesn’t only motivate people to get the right things done, it also helps them break their bigger long-term goals into achievable shorter-term goals that they can wrap their minds around and get excited about, right now. So…
When people visualize their obstacles and realize they have a good chance of overcoming them (“I want to get a raise this year”), motivation increases.Those who visualize their obstacles and realize their goals are too lofty and not specific enough (“I want to make a billion dollars this week”) report less motivation.
The latter are deterred from dreaming the wrong dream again and again, and so they tighten up their focus and don’t waste any more of their time. Thus, outcomes for both groups that use mental contrasting are positive.
The bottom line is that to be successful, we have to envision what could go wrong, and what will inevitably go wrong, in advance, before we begin. Far too many ambitious people fail for easily preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a well-thought-out backup plan because they refuse to consider something might not go exactly as they dreamed it would.
Today, this strategy not only helps entrepreneurs close billion dollar business deals, it saves lives. Prior to my career in personal development and life coaching, I spent a decade working for the U.S. Marine Corps. One thing I learned from the high-ranking officers I worked for: They spend a vast majority of their mission training time going over every possible mistake or catastrophe that could happen during the mission. Every possible error is mercilessly examined and linked to a suitable reaction: If the aircraft is hit and losing altitude, we’ll do X. If we are forced to make an emergency landing in enemy territory, we’ll do Y. If we are outnumbered on the ground, we’ll do Z.