Several years ago my team planned a 2-day event called the Instigator Experience. In the nine months leading up to the event, my life changed a lot. I found a mentor who played an instrumental role in helping me turn my business around, self-published a book that succeeded beyond my wildest expectations, and we rebranded the podcast as Unmistakable Creative. After the event was over, my life took a turn for the worse. The major difference between before and after the event was clarity. Before the event, I knew exactly what I should be working on every single day:
Write my book
Oversee a redesign
Plan an event
After the event, I didn’t have the same clarity, and as a result, I lost a great deal of momentum.
When you’re not clear on your goals, it’s impossible to accomplish them.
You’d never get in your car with no idea where you’re going. But we do this all the time in life.
Half the battle of finding clarity is figuring out what you want. Sometimes we think we want certain things because other people think we should want them. When we choose to do something because of the validation we’ll receive, we often make errors in judgment. These errors happen when we choose ‘should’ instead of ‘must’, prestige over personal fulfillment, comparison drives our decisions and ego fuels our ambitions.
For a while, I had this idea that I wanted to turn Unmistakable Creative into a large, venture-funded media company with 100’s of employees. But the more I understood what that truly meant: a board to answer to, employees to answer to, an office where I was expected to show up every day, the less, I wanted it. By doing that I’d end up creating the very thing I’d spent the last ten years trying to escape.
Figuring out what you truly want is a process of deep emotional inquiry and the willingness to be honest with yourself, even when it means that honesty won’t be compatible with what other people might want or expect from you. It’s a process of letting go of the bullshit stories you tell yourself, the masks you hide behind, and the labels you over-identify with. It’s about seeing yourself through every dimension and deciding how all of those align with what you want to do and who you want to be.
Daily Writing Habit
One of the reasons I write 1000 words a day is that it helps me find clarity. By getting thoughts and ideas out of your head and onto a blank page, you’re able to see your thinking. Another simple exercise that I revisit every few months is something my friend AJ Leon recommends in his book The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit:
Write a 500 word description of what you want your life to look like in 2 years. This will act as your signpost. Then (and here’s the kicker) post it on your blog or email it to someone who will “get it”. It’s hard to go back on a revolution that you’ve already announced.
Meditation can be another great way to find clarity. When I interviewed Gay Hendricks about finding your zone of genius, he recommended a daily meditation and contemplation of the following:
Aligning Actions to Goals
Once you have clarity, it becomes straightforward to align your actions with your goals.
Last year I had one big goal: finish writing my 2nd book. The action that aligned with that goal was to set aside one focused hour a day of uninterrupted creation time and write 1000 words a day. I even have the period from 7am-9am blocked off on my calendar as a time for deep work.
Clear actions are great, but without a deadline, in place, you can find yourself moving a lot but going nowhere.
I had a deadline of November. Because of this, I was able to break up a huge goal into smaller manageable parts. Writing a 50,000-word book feels intimidating. Writing 500 words a day over nine months doesn’t.
Accountability can also make a big difference in your ability to take action. I work with a fantastic writing coach who keeps me on track. If it had been a few days since I’d made a dent in my manuscript, she’d send me an email nudging me, or we’d set up a phone call to talk about where I was stuck.
This year I have other goals that I’m trying to reach:
The launch and publication of my new book
2 paid speaking engagements a month
Double our revenue from last year
This will mean taking very different actions than the one from the year before.
In his book Principles, Ray Dalio uses the analogy of a machine to describe a process for achieving goals. We have goals, and we have an outcome. The actions you take bridge the gap between your goal and your outcome.
If the goals are different than the outcome, you have a flaw in the design of the machine. Design and people make up the machine. For example, take something like writing a book. The design of the machine includes the following:
A publisher (in some cases)
Then you assign people to each part of the machine. If the outcome isn’t favorable, you have to either change the design or change the people.
Launching a book is a bit like running a startup. Each person in the design has a responsibility. The publisher finances the project. Much like VC’s they invest in 100’s of titles and Barack Obama and Tim Ferriss make up for the losses they take on all the other authors. It’s the power law at work. The job of the author is to be the CEO, to build the product, hire the right people, and drive sales.
The most valuable and useful thing I do in the entire writing process is writing the book. In every other part of the design of this machine, my value decreases. It’s why I worked with a writing coach and hired a marketing firm to help develop a launch plan.
When we were planning an event, I realized my most valuable contribution to the process was curating the speakers. We hired an amazing event manager who managed all the moving parts, and every morning she would send me a list of things I needed to decide on.
When you view your goals through the lens of designing a machine, you see your inadequacies and align your actions so that they correlate with your zone of genius.
Focus on High Impact Activities
High impact activities move the needle on whatever is most important to you.
Let’s say I have a goal to add more subscribers to our email list. All I have to do is look at what activities have added the most email subscribers to our list in the past:
Writing an article for Medium/Our Blog: 100’s of new subscribers
A Facebook Status update: very few new subscribers
Tweeting: Very few subscribers
The highest impact activity is obvious: write great content. That could be articles, ebooks, or newsletters.
Suppose you have a goal to increase revenue for your company. There’s only one high impact activity that moves the needle: selling more products and services.
Throughout his career, Brian Tracy always asked himself the question “is what I’m doing leading to a sale?” If the answer was no, he knew that he wasn’t focused on a high impact activity. So ask yourself “is what I’m doing moving the needle on what matters the most?”
High impact activities tend to be in your zone of genius, the kinds of things that nobody can do as well as you do. They also tend to be focused on behavior instead of outcomes. I can’t outsource writing or interviewing guests for the Unmistakable Creative. Those are high impact activities. But editing the show, formatting blog posts, and other ancillary activities are necessary, but not the highest impact things I could be doing for our business.
For some people, low impact activities become a form of procrastination. As a result, they’re busy, but not productive. They might even be efficient, but they’re not effective. Below I’ve included a simple framework you can apply:
The goal: Make More Money
High Impact: Sell More Stuff
Low Impact Activities: Check email or FB
Consistency and a Bias Towards Action
When we planned the conference I mentioned above, I didn’t have a clue how it was going to happen. But the one thing I did have was a strong bias towards action. By lunch on the 2nd day at my friend AJ Leon’s conference in Fargo, I was handing out an iPad to people, showing them a landing page for the Instigator experience, and asking them to enter their email addresses. I didn’t know anything about planning events. But that first step showed me the power of small consistency actions. By the second week of November, the conference was sold out, we booked a venue, and we were off to the races.
A bias towards action is what separates the people who benefit from clarity from those who don’t. If you hire a coach or mentor, and they help you find clarity, but you don’t take action, it doesn’t matter.
There’s profound power to consistency and the little things we do repeatedly lead to big changes in our lives. Consistency leads to progress which increases your motivation, which in turn creates momentum. It also allows you to focus on behavior instead of outcomes.
When you break up any major goal into the smallest manageable parts, it appears far less daunting.
In any life, you’ll go through periods where you have a tremendous amount of clarity and lack it. When creative projects have been a big part of your identity for a long time, and then no longer are you’ll be searching for clarity. When a career has been a big part of your identity for a long time, and no longer is you’ll be searching for clarity. Throughout our lives, we walk into these caves of darkness and emerge into the light, having evolved, grown, and transformed into better versions of ourselves.
Gain an Unfair Creative Advantage
I’ve created a swipe file of my best creative strategies. Follow it and you’ll kill your endless distractions, do more of what matters to you, in higher quality and less time. Get the swipe file here.