There are different reasons why we don’t follow through with our goals.
We declare something grand and ambitious at the beginning of the year when we are full of hope and drive. Soon enough, that initial excitement wears off. By mid-year, a good number of us have abandoned the big hairy audacious goal altogether.
In my experience, one of the main reasons we don’t push through with our goal—no matter how much we want it—has to do with getting overwhelmed with the enormity of it.
The goal (or the long-term dream) is so big and beautiful. Or it means so much to us so that instead of jumping with both feet, we freeze right at the starting gate.
The question then is how we find the confidence and the courage to tackle our ambitious goals. How we don’t get overwhelmed by the bigness of our goal so that we can keep on working at it.
I’ve got big goals for the year, so I’m looking at different approaches to keep the initial push and drive I felt when I set the goals.
Here’s a strategy that resonated well:
Don’t think about the big hairy audacious goal. Instead, focus on the small units of work that you have control over.
This approach was what Brandon Stanton followed in creating Humans of New York (HONY).
A one-man show, HONY is the brain-child of Stanton, a former bond trader who came up with the idea after he was let go from his job in 2010.
He moved to New York from Chicago shortly after losing his job, with minimal resources, to pursue a photography project. His original goal? “To photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalog of the city’s inhabitants.”
Six years later, HONY has one of the biggest, most recognizable presence on the Internet. It has over twenty million followers on social media at the time of this writing. Two best-selling books were published, back-to-back, under its brand.
Although its humble origins were based in NYC, HONY has traveled to over twenty countries to capture and feature stories of people from around the world.
In 2015, HONY worked in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to photograph and share stories of refugees traveling across Europe. Based on the comments on its Facebook page alone, the worldwide reception to this project was powerful. “With a handful of stories, HONY does more for refugee crisis than a thousand op-eds.” (Source: Global Citizen)
Stanton once talked to Elizabeth Gilbert about how he tackled his ambitious goals for Humans of New York.
Stanton said he didn’t focus on the big goals.
He didn’t think about what HONY could become beyond his 10K photography project. He didn’t imagine having millions and millions of followers. He didn’t dream of publishing best-selling books.
He said if he had, he’d have been paralyzed by the enormity of it all.
He would never have had the confidence to proceed because it would seem so grand. Unattainable. He’d have been insecure about his abilities (or lack thereof) as a photographer and would have worried about how others would judge his work.
Instead, he focused on what he could control.
Stanton knew that the only thing he had direct control over was how he used his time. Instead of thinking about big goals, he narrowed his attention down into units of control.
For him, that meant going out every day, walking the streets of NYC, approaching and asking as many people as it took (because most of them would say “no” to having their pictures taken by a stranger) so that he could go home with 4-5 new photos. Every day. Until he got to 10,000.
Along the way, his project evolved into something beyond the photography blog he originally started. His idea grew and morphed, as did Stanton along with it. His confidence muscles got stronger; his methods became sharper.
But the one thing that didn’t change—and hasn’t—was his continued focus on the units of work he could control.
To this day, he goes out there, in NYC or in whichever country his project takes him. He approaches strangers. Asks for their permission to take their photo. Listens to their stories. Takes their picture. Over and over until he can return home with his target number of photos for the day.
You must take these huge dreams, and you must narrow them down into units that you can control. —Brandon Stanton
Six years and hundreds of thousands of photos later, HONY is what HONY is now, IMHO, one of the best things on the Internet (certainly in Facebook) today.
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What is your big, hairy, audacious goal? Are you stymied by your beautiful huge dream?
Can you think of the smallest units of work that, when done consistently, will lead you to the big goal?