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Why most people will never reach their big goals

Ready to roll your eyes? Just read these gems:

  • Love is blind.
  • What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
  • You can’t judge a book by its cover.
  • The grass is always greener on the other side.

These clichés have been repeated so often that they no longer mean anything. Plus, they’re annoying.

Person #1: “Well, that just goes to show you can’t always judge a book by its cover…”
Person #2: “Shut up Robert.”

But just because these clichés are overused and worn-out doesn’t mean they’re not true.

Take this one from my homeboy Lao-Tzu:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao tzu is my homeboy
Lao-Tzu is my homeboy.

That’s the truth.

And it explains why most people never get to where they want to go in life: They’re too afraid to start (or they don’t know where to start). And so they just stand still while everything else passes them by. They never take that first step. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, especially after I read this comment on one of my recent posts:

Dave's comment
Dave talks himself out of starting.

Here’s the gist of what’s going on with Dave.

Dave seems like a nice guy who wants to help people…but right now he works on Wall Street and isn’t very happy with his life.

He’s “interested in teaching yoga/fitness classes” but has always talked himself out of taking action. He analyzes everything and tries to make “perfect” decisions…which means he ends up doing nothing.

Dave is like a lot people I know: He has an idea of where he thinks he wants to go…but he consistently talks himself out of moving in that direction.

In some ways, it makes perfect sense: There are simply too many unknowns.

Look at how Dave talks himself out of it:

  • “What if I suck as an instructor?”
  • “Is [teaching yoga] really something I want to do?”
  • “It’s a lot of money and sacrificed weekends to become a yoga instructor.”

When framed like this, the stakes are too high to try something different. Dave has a steady job and a specific set of skills. In order to do something else, there’s the possibility that Dave might fail (and fail hard).

It’s easier to stay on Wall Street and continue making good money (but not enjoying life). It’s easier to stand still.

But here’s the thing about these stakes: They’re fake. They only seem high.

In fact, there’s a very simple thing Dave could do THIS WEEKEND to start moving in the right direction:

He could run a simple test.

Instead of becoming a certified yoga instructor and sacrificing all his weekends for the next year (or worse, quitting his job and cashing out his retirement to “follow his passion”) what if Dave invited some people over to his apartment for a yoga session?

He could move the couch, cue up some music, invite a handful of his friends and co-workers over and just do the damn thing. He could try it out and see how it goes. He could take the first step and get immediate feedback:

“Do I enjoy teaching yoga?” Yes.

“Do I suck as a coach?” I don’t think so, but there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement.

“Is teaching yoga a smart career move?” I don’t know, but I’m going to explore my options.

Sure, teaching yoga in his living room might not be as cool or as impressive as having his own studio with a sound system and a light show. And without a fancy yoga certification Dave might not be that confident in his abilities as a coach. But none of that matters right now.

What matters is that by running the test, Dave’s taking a few crucial steps forward. He’s building momentum and collecting data. He’s learning as he goes.

If he finds out that he enjoys teaching yoga, then he can explore the idea of making it into a side-gig or a full-time career. And if he doesn’t like it? No big deal. The only thing he lost was a few hours on a Saturday. And now he’s able to move on to the next idea, guilt-free.

Testing whether or not he likes teaching yoga is Dave’s third option.

The first option Dave has is standing still (which he’s currently doing).

The second option is quitting his job, starting a yoga studio, and realizing he has NO IDEA how to make money doing it—which happens way more often than you’d think.

"I quit my job!"
Please DO NOT do this.

What Dave’s comment can teach us is that no matter what we think we’re choosing between, we all have a third option. It doesn’t have to be all this or all that.

99.9% of the time there’s an easy, small-stakes way to test our ideas and see if they’re actually worth pursuing.

OK, one more anecdote about testing and then I have an exercise for you.

When innovative companies (like Precision Nutrition) are hiring, they NEVER find the best candidate and just give them the job.

PN Most Innovative company
You don’t just waltz into a job like this.

Instead, the top people who make it through multiple rounds of interviews all get test projects. They get a baby-sized version of the kind of thing they’d work on if they were actually hired.

This is good for both parties: The company gets to see each individual’s skills “in the field” and test multiple people out before they hire (which is extremely expensive).

And the people vying for the job get to see 1) if they’re capable of doing the work, 2) if they even enjoy doing the work, 3) how they mesh with the company’s culture.

Everybody wins. Even the people who don’t get the job win since they learn how to hone their skills to become more valuable.

Why Most People Never Make Progress Toward Their Goals

The truth is, even though they’re capable of great things, most people never make progress on their goals because they don’t take that very first step. Either they’re scared…or they’re paralyzed by thinking too much.

They don’t realize they have a third option: A small, low-stakes test to see if their idea is even worth pursuing.

Of course, most people who hear stuff like this think “Yeah, that’s a really good idea, I should really try it”…and then they do nothing.

But you can be different. So here’s a question:

What idea, dream, or goal have you been sitting on…and what ONE small step can you take to test it out?

Whatever you decide to do, it doesn’t have to be big. In fact, it shouldn’t be big. All you need is one simple action that will give you immediate feedback and move you one step closer.

Either you’ll like what you find and continue on the path; or you’ll realize you want to move a different direction altogether.

If you want some accountability—which I’d highly recommend—I encourage you to tell a friend or family member what you’re going to try and when.

Or you can share your idea and next action with me and other readers in the comments below this article. 

Remember: There’s a BIG difference between people who say they want to do something…and people who actually do something.

Let’s be the latter.

– Nate

PS – Before they hired me to help them grow the company 10x the size, Precision Nutrition gave me a test project — even though by that time I’d already published a book, written hundreds of articles, and coached clients professionally.

And last year, before I started accepting business-coaching clients, I decided to test if it was a good fit. At first, I took regular 1-hour coaching calls on Fridays.

After I passed that test, I stopped taking calls and instead started working with a single client. This allowed me to test two things: 1) If I enjoyed working more in-depth with people, and 2) if I could deliver massive value and results for the people who hire me. (Both turned out to be a resounding “YES.”)

The point I’m trying to make is this: Testing is always a good idea no matter who you are, where you’re at in your career, or what you’re trying to do next.

So now it’s your turn:

What idea, dream, or goal have you been sitting on…and what ONE small step can you take to test it out?