“My barn having burned down; I can now see the moon.” — Mizuta Masahide
I am not a runner. I am not even a jogger. I am more of a stomper – the imperfect expression of mass, awkwardly working step by step to escape the pull of the earth, in increments of 10-15 miles per week.
At the beginning of my mid-life crisis, I decided to train for a half marathon, a race of just over thirteen miles. This distance represented a moonshot to me, a jump in a running experience so big it was difficult to imagine even finishing. Not sure where to start, I presumed an increase in weekly mileage was in order, but to what? To 20 miles per week? Double to 30? I am happy to say I figured out the necessary training needs and did complete the race without major trauma or physical damage. But I was surprised by my eventual weekly mileage, which tripled to 45 per week. As difficult as that was, it occurred to me it was easier going from 15 to 45 miles per week, than from zero to 15.
What made it seem as if, once past the original push, the bigger the goal the easier it became to achieve?
Peter Senge, the author of The Fifth Discipline, explains mental models as “deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting.” My familiar way of thinking and acting was an invisible pull on my initiative, working like gravity to keep me in a comfortable and familiar place. My age told me I was too old, my weight told me I was too fat, my job told me I was too busy, my ego told me I was too slow, and my history told me I have limits. Five formidable critics, all of my own making, and all in my head. There was something freeing about reaching subsequent levels of mileage that made it reasonable to consider going farther. But looking back, the hardest battle was getting past the collection of reasons I collected for staying right where I was.
So how can we break free of the kinds of thinking that limit our initiative?
Moonshots can be oddly specific – we’ll put a man on the moon by the end of the decade; we’ll double our revenues in three years; I’ll triple my training mileage. But what constrains us is ambiguous and characterized by a lack of awareness about what supports our belief systems. Moonshots must be specific to focus resources and effort. Constraints operate below our normal level of consciousness, making them vulnerable to being structured by unchallenged assumptions unique to us. To mitigate this vulnerability, I recommend the following methodology:
First, RELEASE every assumption. Gravity does not require our cooperation to be a force – it holds us, we accept it as is, manage it, and don’t take it personally. But assumptions are what we hold, and they require our cooperation. Remember the five critics I described earlier? All of them are the product of assumptions. They exist because I permitted them to occupy space that could otherwise be available to see myself and see the world in new ways.
Second, RECEIVE with intention. Once we release unchallenged assumptions, we are free to pull back the elements of them that can serve us. For example, I may not be too fat to run, but I do understand losing weight will help me run faster. Once we internalize the idea that we have the freedom to choose what we truly need, we are willing to accept information from wherever it may come.
Finally, DELIVER our best. We are always delivering. Our reputations precede us; others anticipate how we will act or what we will say; we express who we are in every deed. The key is to choose and own what we deliver and do it in a way that expresses our personal integrity.
RELEASING what we do not need and RECEIVING what serves us well, inclines us toward DELIVERING our best.
Awareness and reflection of our mental models require courage because we may find the need to burn them down to give us a better view of our moonshot.