Stretch Your Productivity and Success

A lot of people offer advice about setting realistic goals, and I confess there’s a great deal of appeal to that strategy. After all, setting unrealistic goals self-evidently seems like an invitation to frustration and failure.

But there’s another approach to goal-setting that has a unique kind of merit. It’s this: “If your goals don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”

At first glance, the notion of setting scary goals is itself scary. But think a little deeper: The very process of living – with its tragedies, unpleasantness, and dreaded outcomes – can be scary. If the scariness of life is too intimidating, you will face that extra level of reluctance to accept opportunities and strive for possibilities that could prove very fulfilling. It’s far better to become used to the scariness as an acceptable “cost of living,” and simply get on with it.

The advantages of setting scary goals include the following:

You’re Tapping into Deep Desires

Mundane, realistic goals certainly reflect some of what you want to achieve. But these desires tend to be relatively close to the surface: more money, a better career, new clothes, a nicer car, perhaps an award or other recognition.

Goals that scare you, on the other hand, are naturally larger, harder, and more tightly connected to yearnings that emanate from the center of your being. At least in part, they’re scary precisely because they’re so important to you.

You’re Stretching Your Limits

Mundane, realistic goals can be difficult to accomplish, but they are realistic because they are well within your capabilities. Accomplishing them may polish your skills, talents, and abilities, but will rarely stretch them.

Goals that scare you, on the other hand, generally require that you learn and grow beyond whatever you can already accomplish. When you set your sights on scary goals, you automatically sign up for the School of Hard Knocks. By the time you earn your degree there, you will be far more knowledgeable, skilled, and confident than when you began.

This growth will make tackling your next goal – scary or not – much easier.

You’re Making Maximum Use of Your Abilities

Because they are within your current capabilities, mundane, realistic goals rarely demand your best efforts. Think of a race horse: it can easily pull a milk wagon. It’s only when a race horse competes against other race horses that s/he can test and demonstrate his or her full capabilities.

In the same way, accomplishing your scary goals will nearly always require your maximum efforts, usually over a long period of time, often against difficult obstacles and daunting adversity. This is a truer test of your capabilities than goals you can accomplish with one hand tied behind your back. 

You’re Inspiring Others to Help

Setting and working toward scary goals tends to feel inspirational. In many cases, you’re striving toward something important, something with a very large impact, and something only a few people would attempt. As a result, such an effort contains a much more powerful emotional component than you’ll find when reaching for mundane, realistic goals.

This extra emotion communicates itself to the people around you, and is likely to inspire others to contribute their own efforts to bolster and complement yours. For a variety of reasons, scary goals have the potential to attract more help then mundane, realistic ones.  

It Concentrates Your Focus

Walk across the room. Now walk across the same distance on a tightrope. Which excursion drew more of your attention and concentrated your focus more tightly?

Now walk across that tightrope suspended 100 feet in the air. Notice the difference?

This is the same dynamic you’ll experience when you set yourself a scary goal. As you make the more demanding and difficult effort, you’ll:

  • Pay a lot more attention to details,
  • Prepare more thoroughly,
  • Proceed more deliberately, and
  • Work harder to avoid potentially unrecoverable mistakes.

All of this concentration and focus sets the stage for the kind of higher-level performance you’ll need to accomplish that scary goal.

Success Is Much More Fulfilling

When you get to the other side of that tightrope, you’ll feel a lot better about what you’ve accomplished than you feel when you simply walk across the room.

Of course, with a scary goal, success is far from assured. Failure is a definite possibility. But unless you’re actually walking across a tightrope without a safety harness, there’s little chance you’ll suffer permanent harm from the effort to accomplish a scary goal.

On the other hand, if you succeed – even if you succeed in obtaining only half of what you originally set out for – you’ll feel great, and you’ll have accomplished something important and worthwhile.

And let’s not forget that, with a scary goal, the effort alone brings the kinds of benefits I’ve outlined in this discussion.

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