I’ve always found it helpful to measure my life by what gets done each year.
Some people loathe the idea of the being so bound to the calendar, and choose to ignore it altogether with regard to their goal-setting, but I’ve always enjoyed being able to sit down in December and review all the objectives I completed over the previous 12 months.
Yet what truly excites me is not a laundry list of small bucket list items achieved (e.g. speak at a wedding, travel to Asia, take French classses), but a BIG DRAGON SLAYED i.e. finishing a big project.
I like to look back at those HUGE projects that required focus, stamina, and pushed me in a way that afterwards left me with a true feeling of progress and accomplishment.
Somehow it just feels more motivating for me to work through the year having an anchor, some big, singular beast that I can carve out time for, something I really know will move my life forward or give me true satisfaction upon its completion.
In previous years this has been:
- Co-writing the manuscript of a book (which became a New York Times Bestseller)
- Finishing my PhD (in previous years it was “write a first draft of my PhD”)
- Bringing a product from idea to completion
These things sharpen my focus and give me a tangible goal to attack each morning when I awake and wonder what to set my mind on.
It’s not as though any of these things are somehow my entire life’s work. They are simply the things that, if I focus on them now, will push my life forward and propel me to the next level. The things that deep down I feel compelled to do, even if they feel ambitious and frightening to my current self.
There are four reasons I think slaying a dragon (i.e. taking on a big, scary project) works so well:
– It gives you a giant leap, instead of a little push forward
If you don’t take on a dragon, you’ll spend a year working on whatever small jobs come to eat up hours and hours of your time, but which don’t really move the needle a year from now. That’s when you wake up on January 1st and realise, “I accomplished none of the things I wanted to last year, how did this happen??”).
It happened because you ignored the dragon. You spent your time instead off in the woods hacking at spiders and insects, instead of emerging to face the real beast you know you need to take down to make progress.
– It gives you real “retrospective pleasure” later on
I’ll admit it. I still feel a strong sense of pride whenever I look back on the book Matt and I worked on together.
I also look back at my PhD with a real heartening sense of having climbed a mountain. The pleasure keeps on returning, like you’re constantly reaping emotional dividends from having truly stretched yourself.
Take on dragons, and you’ll sing songs in your heart long after victory.
– It improves your craft
Choose a big project that you know will be cognitively demanding and test the limits of your skillset.
Taking on only miniature goals tends to mean incremental improvements, whereas attacking a dragon means you level up afterwards and learn 100 lessons you would never have known if you had kept your ambitions small.
You don’t have to know what your passion is to decide which dragon to attack, just take on a task in an area you know you want to improve at right now (e.g. Book to run a marathon, build a blog and post every week, or start a business and resolve to acquire 10 customers).
– It gives your year meaning
Meaning comes from many places, but knowing that the last 12 months were about something helps me to give the year a significance it wouldn’t otherwise have had.
You’ll spend the year chipping away, and in the end, after a ton of heavy lifting and wondering whether it will pay off, you’ll have something real and tangible to show for your efforts.
We’ve not yet reached the end of January. Get on the train now, choose your weapons, and decide on a dragon you want to take down this year. If nothing else, it will let you flex your fighting skills.
Question of the day: What dragon will you slay in 2016? Let me know in the comments below!
Stephen Hussey helped co-write the Get The Guy book and is a wealth of knowledge on dating and relationships.