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A Master In Progress – Goals Orient You, Systems Get You There

Marc Scheff works with people to design lives beyond what they think is possible. As a child he saw first hand what shifts in perspective and mindset can create even against difficult odds. He now dedicates his time to working with high-level creators and entrepreneurs to create well beyond the success they've had and into the success they've dreamed about.

 
Executive Contributor Marc Scheff

A black belt and a white belt all walk into a dojo. The white belt says “Wow I have so much to learn. Where do I start?” The black belt says “So do I! Let’s both begin our journey today.”


Sporty man raising arms towards beautiful sunset on the road

This is the mindset of a master in progress.


The problem with dreams

If you’re reading this you’re good at knowing you want bigger things.


And you’re good at imagining. Dreaming up more fulfillment, happiness, money, fame, love, all your deepest desires. You might even have a picture in your head of a “perfect” life. The house, the family, the community, the money, the impact you have on the lives you touch.


The problem is, dreaming big is one of the things that keeps you from going after your dreams.


It’s a well-trodden truth, when you have big goals they seem… big. And if they’re really big then there are parts you don’t know how to do, and an unsettling awareness that there are probably gaps you don’t even know you don’t know.


When you have goals at enough size and with enough unknowns it can feel safer just to stay comfortable, i.e. not start. It’s like if I told you you were going to compete in a martial art at the expert level against a much bigger opponent, and they had many more years of training, oh and you weren’t even sure you knew any martial arts.


You might not step into the ring.


The way past this is to realize, of course you shouldn’t!


The goal is a process, not the big goal.


Reframe

As James Clear puts so well, it’s not about goals it’s about systems.


I train in jiu jitsu. The first rule of jiu jitsu club is to always talk about jiu jitsu club.


Yes, I have goals. Like everyone, I would like to eventually get my black belt (currently I have my purple belt under Marc Adami and Steven Crocilla at Park Slope Academy, come visit). Anyone who says they don’t care at all about that is trying to sell you something.


However, if I went in everyday thinking only about a far-off goal, I would become frustrated. Every day not having this dream would feel fruitless. Just another day without The Big Win.


And if/when I eventually do get it, IF that was my only goal, that day would be a good day… followed by infinite days not only without the win but without a goal.


Goals are great to orient yourself. Systems create momentum.


A consistent system will create forward motion and over time you’ll reach your goal and have momentum to continue to new ones.


My system isn’t in how good I am or how good I get. The system is quite literally just showing up to the dojo. Doing that enough times will get me there. And after I get there, that same system will sustain me in future goals.


This applies not just to athletic endeavors, but in your personal and professional life as well.


Take these articles. I’ve written hundreds of ideas and scraps and even full articles that won’t see the light of day. I truly don’t think I could have effectively written these pieces on day one, like stepping into the expert level competition on day one. Only that practice of small consistent steps is what pushes me forward to challenge myself and now write here.


I’m going to tell you something you may already know about small steps, then I’m going to show you how that actually creates flexibility and a more likely successful far off goal.


Small steps

Well-trodden and worth repeating advice: small consistent steps are the only thing that will eventually lead to our goals.


In jiu jitsu the small step is showing up in the morning, every day. It’s (almost always) easy and fun. It actually doesn’t matter if I had a good or bad performance, I check the “success” box when I walk in the door.


But with any big project, with many steps and time to completion, things will change. When we understand this we can steal from creative processes to make forward progress AND have the flexibility to adjust as we learn more about what’s possible and what we enjoy doing.


One of my clients came to me knowing they wanted to leave their job and start their own company. They knew how they wanted to do it and who they wanted to do it with. They also knew they wanted to work slowly and not make big decisions too quickly. Instead they journaled, met with me, researched through conversations with colleagues who had made their own leaps, and took the time to show up on the proverbial mat a little bit each week.


Months later, after these consistent small steps, they have a plan that is clear and achievable.


And it doesn’t look like the plan they had on day one. As they continued to repeat the process of asking, evaluating, and adjusting, it became clear that their initial idea had to change and in fact change for the better.


The time they took to work slowly allowed for new ideas to come, doubts to be addressed thoughtfully, and a plan to come together in a way that felt truly aligned with their vision.


They were already at the top of their game in their field and they still approached with the mindset of a master in progress, open to new ideas, being in action in small ways, and staying curious about how each step felt and how aligned each plan was with their own values and goals.


The time it takes to put in all those small steps allows space for evaluation and pivoting. That flexibility and acceptance of the process allows for flexibility and frankly a little more joy in the process.


As a client recently told me, joy is the whole point.


“Is being made by”

A client recently told me that in renaissance times artists would sign their work with a latin word meaning “is being made by” followed by their chop, mark, or signature. This illustrates the concept of a master in progress beautifully.


“Art is never finished, only abandoned” – attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci

It’s a frustrating truth that for many artists, the end of paintings is bittersweet. The rush of accomplishment, mixed with the new vision of future, better work. This is the problem with tunnel vision on a goal.


The concept of “is being made by” is a nod to this idea that a single work, achievement, or goal, is never the end goal of our lives. Every goal is just a milestone on our path to mastery or legacy.


One of the members of my group program for artists speaks about this beautifully. He paints, completes work, and sits back in the same chair to paint again. The work that “is being made” is the artist themselves, and the goals are results of a consistent system of practice.


The goal is just one part of a lifetime journey. This takes the pressure off of perfection, and therefore stuckness. If you know that whatever you are attempting is just one of many attempts, it’s much easier to actually do it.


Outcomes

James Clear talks about the long-term effect of small steps and small changes to process along the way.


If you were to travel in a rocketship millions of miles to a destination, a goal, you would orient your ship and lift off. If you didn’t have a process of evaluating along the way, and if your calculations were off by a single degree, you could miss your goal by millions of miles.


If you lift off, and evaluate your trajectory each day (small steps) and adjust as you go, you have a much higher chance of getting to your goal.


Further, you might also discover new information, new obstacles, or even new destinations that feel even more aligned with your mission. By using small steps instead of a giant leap, you will both see and likely take advantage of those opportunities.


If you assume you knew everything you needed to know at the start of your journey you might end up somewhere far from where I wanted to be.


If you know that you are a master in progress, you will know that each step is an opportunity to grow, like the black belt at the very top of this article.


Exercise

Answer the following questions in a journal.


  1. Where are you an expert?

  2. What is a big challenge you’re excited to take on in the next 6 months?

  3. What is one big goal?

  4. What is your ongoing micro-goal, aka small step, that you show up to consistently, repeatedly, that is both easy and fun?

  5. How and how often will you evaluate and potentially adjust?


Discussion

I’d love to start a conversation with you here.


What are the small practices you consistently do that will bring you closer to your dreams, and sustain you once you’ve achieved them?


 

Marc Scheff, Life Designer

Marc Scheff works with people to design lives beyond what they think is possible. As a child he saw first hand what shifts in perspective and mindset can create even against difficult odds. He now dedicates his time to working with high-level creators and entrepreneurs to create well beyond the success they've had and into the success they've dreamed about. His purpose is to unleash creativity, and he has had the distinct pleasure of doing with work with a healthcare exec, a museum curator, an advisor to the president, and hundreds more.

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