The easiest path is to hedge and reduce risk, but this winding road leads to drift and failure. Commitment is your quickest path to success.
Should I pay for a high-performance bicycle or start with something cheap?
Should I find a coach or get a book and study on my own?
Should I tell people that I plan to undertake a 1700-mile bicycle ride?
My amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the flight or fight instinct, was firing.
You haven’t ridden a bicycle in 20 years. You don’t even own a bike. You’ll be 57 years old when you start. Seventeen Hundred Miles is insane. You don’t even know if you’ll like cycling. Don’t fail and embarrass yourself.
That narrative was playing in my head, urging me to shelve the idea altogether or at least lower risk and reduce vulnerability. Get an average used bike and see if you can avoid falling over. Don’t tell ANYONE until you are sure you can do this.
The amygdala helps you survive by urging you to avoid danger, which is usually better than fighting, getting hurt, and becoming easy prey.
Our instincts tend toward risk aversion when it comes to big goals and uncertain situations.
I’ve studied decision-making for most of my professional life, and I coach people on achieving goals like becoming better leaders and building their businesses. I know the amygdala’s game plan.
The rational brain, what Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman calls system two thinking, also tends toward risk aversion.
Is a 1700-mile bicycle ride a good decision? What are the opportunity costs?
I could do a lot with the 7500 dollars for a bicycle and kit, not to mention the investment in time and energy to train for this endeavor. I could use those resources to grow my business, for example, or take a vacation.
The risks of going public about the ride and then face-planting were very high — who wants to be the subject of “I told you this was a dumb idea” and “Wow! What an epic fail” scorn.
System 1 and System 2 were aligned — reduce the commitment, avoid the exposure, and lower the risk. Be sure that you can be successful BEFORE you commit.
That option was the fast track to failure.
If you want to achieve a dream or a big goal, you need unequivocal commitment — burning the boats after crossing the river so that everyone knows there’s no going back.
When you make an unequivocal commitment, your amygdala kicks into fight mode, and your analytic brain shifts to figuring out how to be successful.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Put enough skin in the game so that you have the incentive to follow through. Buying a cheap bicycle would have reduced the commitment and might have made training too cumbersome. Investing in the right kit up front increased enjoyment and created the all-in mindset.
This logic is the same for professional development. People rarely complete free or low-fee programs because there’s no skin in the game. Coaches and advisors who charge higher fees also feel more accountable to their clients. The more you invest, the more likely you will follow through and thus get better results.
The first secret to success is to invest in your success.
2. Get the proper professional support. Lone-wolf-it if you want to fail fast; surround yourself with the right people if you desire lasting success. I researched and found the right cycling coach in Chuck Kyle — a veteran and coach who is a world-class cyclist. He created the training plan that got me into the right shape for the ride. He offered to coach for free, but I wanted to pay him for the expertise and the mutual accountability (see above).
Mentors like Kate Shortall and Phil Godkin were instrumental champions and, being local, helped me with riding form, bicycle fit, safety kit, and advice that improved my training and performance.
A way to see ourselves professionally is by the five people we spend the most time around. Are these five people ones who drag you down or caution you against growing, or are they all people who push you to get better every day and are committed to your success?
Gathering the right people and support is the second secret to success.
3. Shed the body armor and make the emotional commitment.
Don’t keep it a secret. You cannot grow unless you are willing to get rid of your bubble wrap.
Keeping your goal a secret leads to hedging and second-guessing yourself into retreat.
You have to be willing to be vulnerable by letting people know that you are going for a big goal or bucket list item.
Everyone can see you step out of the bunkers of familiarity and into the proverbial no-man’s-land of bold and daring. That open space is frightening because people can watch you fall on your face. It’s also the arena where you persevere, suffer setbacks, learn and adapt, and succeed.
Making an emotional commitment by letting people know what you are doing focuses your attention on how to be successful because you’ve cast away the hedging and second-guessing. Ignore the trolls and unsolicited advice. Stick with the people who cheer you on, boost your morale, and root for your success.
Put your stake in the ground, your mark on the wall. Not keeping your aspiration a secret is the third secret to success.
Of course, there are times when going all-in is a lousy strategy, like when crucial variables are outside your control and the risks of failure are catastrophic. You need trusted advisors and coaches who will tell you the truth — the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, you aren’t training hard enough, you’re hedging, and you are at risk of failure unless you address x, y, and z.
In this case, I controlled the key variables: training, costs, routes, time, pace, etc. Success was likely with the right commitment.
What’s stopping you from pursuing your dreams?
Get more action steps about leadership and accountability in these recent podcast interviews:
Conflict management and leadership in Wake-up Call hosted by Mark Goulston. https://mywakeupcall.libsyn.com/ep-370-chris-kolenda
Gaining buy-in: Way of Champions podcast, John O’Sullivan and Jerry Lynch: https://podcats.apple.com/us/podcast/292-christopher-kolenda-retired-us-army-colonel-on/id1223779199?i=1000581115154
Leaders as exemplars in Get Uncomfortable with Shae McMaster: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/get-uncomfortable/id1557553154?i=1000575764193
How to get good at getting better: Getting Down to Business with Shalom Klein. https://anchor.fm/shalom-klein/episodes/Podcast-of-Get-Down-To-Business-with-Shalom-Klein–08142022—Chris-Kolenda–Chris-Kolenda-and-Kimberly-Janson-e1mbu0q