Are you going to achieve your most important targets for the coming year?
Your answer to that question can reveal a lot about where you are on what I call “the Ladder of Commitment “, and is generally highly predictive of how far you’ll go in your pursuit of success.
Here’s a quick look at that ladder from the bottom up, along with what may be a surprising conclusion about what it really takes to reach your targets, in business and in life…
Years ago, scientists did an experiment on lab rats that involved dividing a metal cage into four sections and placing electrical current underneath each section. When a section of the cage was filled with live current, the rat would receive a small shock if stepping into that part of the cage. Quickly, the rat would learn to avoid that section.
Over time, each section of the cage was electrified in turn, leaving only one quadrant of the cage as a ‘safe haven’ for our experimental rat.
Even after the electricity was shut off completely, the rat would stay in their tiny corner of the world, unwilling to even attempt to venture out into a world that it had already learned from experience would only sting you if you dared to approach it.
If you’re avoiding even setting targets (or setting them and then hiding them away so you won’t see them again until you’ve failed to achieve them by the next quarterly review), chances are you may be caught up in a bit of ‘learned helplessness’.
Fortunately, the next rung on the ladder is also the easiest way to climb…
They say that curiosity killed the cat, but it might well have saved the rat from the scientist’s experiments.
When you get curious about what it’s actually going to take to reach a target, you naturally engage a higher level of consciousness. You begin to question everybody’s assumptions about what’s really possible, including your own.
And while curiosity doesn’t always lead to success, it inevitably leads to further exploration and the next rung on our ladder…
When you engage with a target, project or goal, you call forth resources from yourself that otherwise may never have been brought to bear. You actually become more capable and able. Something which may have genuinely been impossible when approached from the level of helplessness is made possible by the shift in your level of focus and involvement.
To experiment with this, engage fully with a mundane task today. Do the dishes with energy, enthusiasm, and as if they’re the most important thing in the world. Read your child a bed time story as if it really, really mattered whether Horton saved Whoville or the Cat in the Hat came back.
You may be amazed at what a big difference such a small difference in attention and intention can make. And at some point, you may even decide to jump up another rung on the ladder of commitment…
Engagement is a choice that can be made and unmade in any moment. But once you’re invested in anything, from a mutual fund to a political campaign to a project or goal for yourself or the planet, the stakes are automatically raised.
You have something tangible to gain if your investment pays off, and in most cases something tangible to lose. Your level of involvement is higher and it becomes increasingly unlikely that even the most difficult obstacle will turn into an excuse for giving up, walking away and going home.
However, there is still one more rung on the ladder…
Commitment is that place inside ourselves that recognizes the inevitability of creating any result we are willing to put 100% of our mental and physical energy into achieving. Commitment says “I will get there or I will die trying” – and as such it is one of the most powerful forces in the universe and one which any one of us can tap into at any moment, simply by making the decision to do so.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, I don’t generally recommend it as an effective strategy for creating sustainable personal and professional success. To explain why, let me share a conversation which I have been assured actually took place between a top defense contractor and a 4-star general.
Despite the contractor’s assurance that a particular project would be completed on time, the general felt the contractor’s team were not 100% committed to getting the job done.
He argued that they should remain at work and do ‘whatever it took’ to succeed, even if it meant working much longer hours, taking extra time away from home and family and putting themselves under additional personal pressure and stress.
He told the contractor that understanding personnel management was like eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. The chicken was ‘invested’; the pig was ‘committed’.
The contractor smiled and said “well, that’s true, General – but the pig is dead and the chicken is still producing eggs. I want my people to stay ‘invested’.
The general backed down, and the project was completed on time.
When you look to achieving your targets for the quarter or your goals for this year, it’s useful to know that if you committed 100% to their achievement, almost nothing could stand in your way.
But it’s even more encouraging to know that a simple investment of curiosity, engagement, and intention will draw forth everything you need to not only reach your targets now, but to approach your next target with a renewed sense of hope, possibility and well-being.