As part of my son's 10th birthday celebrations we flung him around a theme park at the weekend, shamelessly trying to run his legs off and exhaust him. As he's part Duracell Drummer Bunny, we knew this would be a tall order, but we achieved it nonetheless and he slept like a log; mission accomplished!
Amongst the fairground rides and attractions were some stalls inviting you to Hook-A-Duck and the like. One such stall was called Cactus Lasso, with three wooden cactus shapes to throw hoops at (see the accompanying image). The aim of the game is to simply throw a hoop at the cactus and have it land on either the lower, middle or upper stems. Obviously the prize for landing on the top part of the stem was greater than the prize for landing on the easier lower stems, as slightly more skill and confidence was required to succeed.
What fascinated me though was how few people aimed for the middle stem, and how no one, in the ten minutes I was watching, even attempted to lasso the top stem. I didn't even see them take a moment to consider their options, they jumped straight into what they thought would secure them an easy and lesser - win. The magnitude of what I was witnessing hit me in the face like a copper-bottomed frying pan: This is how too many people live their lives - not daring to reach higher, automatically assuming they can't and accepting failure without even daring to try. These people were aiming for, and hoping to win mediocrity. I was speechless for a moment, and I'm sorry you missed it!
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
So given the same circumstances, what would you do? Would you aim for the top stem and the bigger prize, or would you dare not believe that you can and aim for the safety and higher odds of meh? Would you rather walk away with tat (i.e.: an inflatable hammer) by aiming low, or would you risk walking away with nothing, versus a sumptuous plush cuddly toy, by aiming higher?
I had to test myself and find out what I would do, having paid my money and placed myself under a modicum of pressure to perform. Obviously I had no option but to aim for the top stem, partly because I have no discernible need for an inflatable hammer in my life, but mostly to walk the walk. I stood with the hoops in my hand, chuckling at the predicament I'd put myself in, but I then quickly focused my mind on the task in hand.
The first hoop sailed over the top of the cactus altogether. Hmmm, how very me! The second hoop crashed into the front of the cactus before hitting the floor. Undeterred, I focused harder and visualised the third and final hoop rattling around the top stem triumphantly, telling my subconscious mind what I expected from its collaboration with my arms and hands. With the Rocky IV Training Montage soundtrack blaring loudly throughout the park, and everyone clambering to get a glimpse of my historic success or failure (no, not really, this was just a comedy fantasy sequence running in my head), the third hoop left my hand and took flight...before rattling around the top stem of the cactus. I was now the proud owner of a large cuddly monkey, and I'm thinking Dame Judi Dench could play me in the movie adaptation.
In all seriousness, how much like some lives is this? How often do you stop and think about the choices you make every day? How often do you catch yourself on and ask yourself why? Why did I do that? Why now? Why not? Why this way and not that way? To what extent are you living your life on what I call Treadmill Autopilot? When you're driving to work, do you notice the passing scenery? Do you take pleasure in the changing seasons, or a cute toddler negotiating a kerb at the traffic lights? Or do you plunge straight into your smart phone whilst stationary for three minutes? Do you live at all mindfully, or are the majority of your choices and actions taken without you really being present in the moment? If you stepped up to Cactus Lasso, would you have automatically taken aim at the low stems, without ever asking yourself why you weren't attempting something more?
The thing is, if you're prepared to settle for second best, mediocre and meh, then that's all you're ever going to get. For those of you arguing with me now, stating you'd prefer to walk away with something - even if it is an inflatable hammer - rather than nothing, then that's the most you can ever hope to win. Do you really want your life, and the content of your life to be forever merely meh? Seriously? If so, okay, it's your life and I wish you luck - have at it. If not, then oh we should talk!
As Robert Kennedy said: "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly". If you only play small and aim low, you're never going to reach your full potential or the heights of success you're truly capable of. To achieve greatly you must try greatly. It's time to dare - how much time do you think you have? I'm not talking about risking your mortgage payments, or putting yourself in harm's way, I'm talking about bursting out of your stagnant comfort bubble and daring to achieve more than you already have. Get off the damn treadmill and start challenging your thinking and choices. Just because you've always done it like that, doesn't make it right for you now. It's time to dare and it's time to grow!
Start small. No one is expecting you to climb Everest in your lunch break. Start by deciding upon a goal. What's it going to be? Let's use becoming your own boss and self-employed as an example. So you make the decision to strike out on your own, but you're not going to wake up in the morning a multi-millionaire with a global franchise paying into your bank account. No, this huge goal will be achieved with the focused and disciplined completion of a million tiny tasks, completed exceptionally. One step at a time, with every decision taken mindfully, not automatically for comfort's sake. This huge goal will be completed by taking the hard choices and aiming for more than what's easily attainable.
IT'S TIME TO DARE
Staying with my Kennedy theme, on 25 May 1961, John F Kennedy announced to Congress his plan for sending an American to the moon within a decade; he dared to dream bigger, to go further, to reach farther. On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module's ladder and onto the surface of the moon, mission accomplished in only 2978 days. Your goal may not be quite as vast as JFK's, or take as long, or cost as much to accomplish, but it can be done - if you dare.
JFK didn't aim for the low hanging fruit of an easily vanquished and low cactus stem, he aimed higher and, because of his vision and challenge to NASA, his stated mission was accomplished. Frankly if a man can be sent to the moon and back in 2978 days, in the (comparatively) technologically primitive 1960's, then why can't you achieve your goal now? Your excuse is invalid, there is always a way, and I am here to help you find it.
For now though, your mission is to think about the ways in which you live your life on autopilot: do you always eat the same meals, go to the same places, read the same authors, take the same routes and do the same things over and over again because they're comfortable and don't challenge you to think or stretch yourself into who you could be? Your mission now is to stop living and thinking on autopilot, to take some risks and find out what you're truly capable of. Yes, you're likely to crash and burn like I did with the first two throws at the cactus, but the secret is to persevere, refine your thinking and methodology, accept and implement the lessons, which will ultimately guarantee your growth and success.
It's time to dare!
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