Can Holding Too Tightly to Your Goal Hold You Back? (What Makes Something High Stakes and Why This is a ‘Bad Thing’?)

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When it feels like we’re walking a tightrope…

Planning for ‘Real’

I was interviewed for a summit this week and the interviewer asked me about planning. He’d read something I’d written about intentionality and inflexibility — how to set a direction and then remain open to what comes up as we move in the direction of achieving it, responding to problems or to new and better ideas.

As we talked, an example came to mind. My examples are often are simplistic, mundane even, because they’re places where I can easily see what’s happening and I hope then that my understanding transmits in some way to those listening (and you reading!).

I said,

OK, if I decide to take my dog out, one option is to go out of the door and wander around aimlessly — and some days I might do that.

Today, I can look out of the window, it’s a sunny day and I can see the hills, so I get an idea to go to the mountains. I prepare, I get a map, I think about my favourite routes, or I plan a new one, I take some water, whatever we might need.

I have intentionality, I have a plan, and I’ve prepared myself as much as it occurs to me to do so before I set off.

(and don’t worry, I’m coming on to the question of high stakes!)

Versus Responding in the Moment

As I’m driving, I might come across a traffic jam, or a friend might call, or I might get a change of heart because of the weather and decide to go to the beach. I might follow my nose on one of those new ideas, or I might stick to my original plan — I’ll do what occurs to me. And what occurs to me comes from how deeply grounded I am in where my experience and well-being are coming from.

The more it looks to me like the achievement of the outcome is something that matters to my happiness, security, sense of self, or whatever, then the more likely I am to stick with it. In this example, if I think my enjoyment can only come from living out my plans — achieving my goals — then I’ll likely stick with the mountain plan. Typically, these things will appear ‘high stakes’ because it looks as if there is something to lose by failing or something to gain through achieving it.

The more it looks to me as if I can see that I can have a great time (or a bad time!) anywhere, and that my sense of self and my sense of well-being don’t come from what I do, but who I am, then I’ll go with whatever occurs to me to do. There’s no ‘right’, or ‘wrong’, decision to go one way or another.

The interviewer was nodding excitedly and bursting to talk — he could see that his audience (mostly people starting a business) got very attached to creating the business they dreamed of creating, without seeing, as he could see, that retaining flexibility and being open to new ideas was actually a much better way to succeed at business — and our experience of the business (like my experience of the walk) will go up and down no matter the actual results in the business.

We forget this — or we don’t see it in the first place. We think that results will create something ‘better’ in our lives, and we get so tied to our outcomes being meaningful, that we don’t see that the reason we’re doing it — a beautiful life — is there regardless of whatever it is we’re aiming for.

‘High Stakes’ Create Fixedness

After the call, I reflected on a conversation with a client earlier in the week. We’d been talking about her work, budgets were tight, and she felt like she was boxed into achieving outcomes that looked unachievable with the resources she had (in the way she, ideally, would like to deliver them).

The outcome is absolute, she told me. We’ve raised expectations and the implications of not achieving in the time-frame we’ve set are very serious. I don’t want that to happen.

And I agree, expectations had definitely been raised and the programme recipients would be disappointed, they’d also, at least some of them, experience real, actual financial hardship.

I can see how easy it is to look at those two situations as different — in some moments they look different to me.

In the one, it’s me and my dog, who really cares whether I go to the mountains or the beach? The dog will be fine wherever we go and I could fall into a peaceful state of mind, in awe of the beauty of nature at either location. Or I could fall and twist my ankle — who knows. Deciding on a destination for a walk doesn’t look like a ‘life and death’, important decision to most of us.

In the other it looks like there are other people, potentially hundreds or thousands of people. And expectations have been raised — a broken promise can look different to a decision not yet made. And financial hardship can look real, and serious, whereas the worst outcome of my walk is probably nothing more than a rain shower and a wet dog.

Whatever the reason, it’s so easy for one to look ‘high stakes’ and the other not.

And, yet, in some moments they look exactly the same.

But What If We Are the One Who is Creating?

What’s very obvious to me in the walk example is that I’ve completely created the idea of the walk in the first place. I could stay home and cuddle on the couch with the dog (he’d probably get bored and we’d end up going out anyway), I could do some writing, or I could meet a friend.

The walk isn’t taking me anywhere, it isn’t essential to my enjoyment of my day, or indeed the dog’s enjoyment of his day; it’s something to occupy my time, to provide me with purpose and meaning, to give shape and structure to my day. We’re both good either way and new ideas can come to us in any moment — the mountain walk as the form of my idea is simply one form — like the form of a cloud into a dragon or a dog.

What if the financial aid project is exactly the same? What if it’s the best idea that came to my client’s organisation at the time they designed it?

What if, now they’ve hit a potential road-block, all they can do is wait to see what new ideas come to them? Yes there will be disappointment, financial hardship, but what if sticking to the project come hell or high water, is exactly the same as me sticking to my walk and bugger seeing my friends or spending hours in traffic.

I’ve said I’m going to do it and I will!!

What if all our experiences of life come from the same place?

All the actions we take, large or small, involving just us or thousands of other people, come from the same place — the place of human imagination, the place of the creativity of mind.

And, as they play out and we come across unforeseen problems, what if we can have new inspiration from exactly that same place of creation as the first idea came from.

What would that do to our perception of ‘high stakes’?

And, if that shifts, what else changes?

With love


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