How to choose a goal for your Working Out Loud Circle

The first thing you do when you join a Working Out Loud Circle is to choose a goal. Yet for many people, that can be a challenge. Should my goal be big or small? A work goal or a personal goal? Can I have more than one?

So I want to make that first step easier. 

In two weeks, when we begin a 6-week Working Out Loud course that has you experience a circle and get live coaching along the way, I’ll help each of the participants pick a goal that will make it easier to get great results.

I’ll use these four simple questions as a guide.

1. “Do you care about it?”

Change can be difficult, so you want to tap into your intrinsic motivators as much as you can. They include autonomy, mastery, and purpose - your need for control, for a sense of getting better at something, and for connection to others or to something bigger than yourself. 

When you think of your goal, pay attention to how you feel. If you don’t care about it now, then you won’t care enough to do the exercises and attend your circle meetings, so choose something else.

Choosing a goal you genuinely care about will make it easier to develop the habit and mindset of Working Out Loud. Then you can apply those to any goal. 

2. “Can you make progress towards it in 12 weeks?”

Ambition can be good, though typically not when you’re trying to change your habits. (Consider how many New Year’s Resolutions are broken in January.) 

If your goal is too ambitious, merely thinking of it can tend to paralyze you, and progress towards it will be too slow to notice during the time you’re in your peer support group. So, given the limited time you’ll be in a circle, try to pick something that feels more achievable. 

3. “Is it something other people can help you with?”

Deepening relationships is at the heart of Working Out Loud. So you want to select a goal that depends on relationships giving you access to knowledge and opportunities you might not have otherwise.

If your goal seems like something you would accomplish on your own - “I will lose 20 pounds” or “I will get my MBA.” - choose something else or reframe it in a way such that relationships can help you. That brings us to the fourth question.

4. “Can you frame it as a learning or exploration goal?”

This, for me, is the best question. If you can frame what you’re trying to do in terms of learning and exploration, you’ll be more likely to adopt a growth mindset. More likely to try new things. More likely to be open to new people and possibilities. 

Especially in your first circle, consider goals that start with one of these phrases:

“I would like to be better at…”

“I would like to learn more about…”

“I would like to know more people who…”

Framed this way, you’ll more readily tap into your need for mastery and purpose. That will be true whether you want to get better at your job or at a hobby, explore new roles or a new topic, connect with people who can help your career or who share a common interest with you.

In addition to making progress towards your goal, you’ll also be doing something else: developing your sense of self-efficacy. That’s the feeling that you have the ability to improve whatever situation you’re in - to get more out of work and life if you want to. The more you practice Working Out Loud, the stronger that feeling becomes.

Here’s the PDF I’m sending to participants in the course. I hope you find it useful in setting your own goal. If you want more help, the course starts on October 5th, and you can still reserve a seat by sending me email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com.

 

 

“If I panic, it’s over.”

Have you ever felt like you’re drowning? I mean the kind of drowning where you’re sinking under the weight of your aspirations and all that you have to do to realize them.

Perhaps you’ve had a glimpse of what your future could be like, but as tantalizing as that glimpse is, it’s so far out of reach that you can’t imagine you’ll ever get there. Perhaps you can list 100 reasons why you’ll never make it, and 100 mistakes you’ve made, and 100 other people who are better, luckier, and more deserving than you.

Some of the best advice I’ve heard is, fittingly, from a free diver who sinks to depths of over 400 feet with nothing but his own breath, and then has to make it back to the surface.

From the depths

The diver’s name is Guillaume Néry, and he describes what he goes through as he sinks. Forty meters. Fifty meters. Eighty meters. The deeper he goes, the darker it gets and the greater the suffocating compression of his lungs. At 123 meters, the pressure is 13 times greater than on the surface.

Then, after already being underwater for so long, with nitrogen dissolving in his blood causing confusion, with it being twice as hard to ascend than to sink, he must return.

“A flurry of thoughts goes spinning through your head…around 60, 70 meters, you start to feel the need to breathe. And with everything else that's going on, you can very easily lose your ground and start to panic. When that happens, you think, "Where's the surface? I want to go up. I want to breathe now." You should not do that. Never look up to the surface -- not with your eyes, or your mind. You should never picture yourself up there. You have to stay in the present. I look at the rope right in front of me, leading me back to the surface. And I focus on that, on the present moment. Because if I think about the surface, I panic. And if I panic, it's over.”

Free diving

When you want to do something big

Of course he planned and trained, and he emphasized that, though alone for most of the dive,“without all the people around me, the adventure into the deep would be impossible. A journey into the deep is above all a group effort.”

But there often comes a time when the goal seems so big or out of reach, that you naturally become afraid. Those are the moments when your brain, in an effort to protect you, makes you think of giving up rather than fail.

It’s at those times when, like a diver at 60 meters underwater, the thinking doesn’t help you. Instead, to reach your goal you have to calmly focus on the present moment, let go of the fear and the innate need for control, and keep moving. Inch by inch, meter by meter.

“That dive is a journey to the very limits of human possibility, a journey into the unknown. But it's also, and above all, an inner journey, where a number of things happen, physiologically as well as mentally.”

My role model for a better career and life

He grew up in a suburb of Atlanta, studied history at the University of Georgia, and took his first job as a bond trader in Chicago in 2006. A few years later, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, he was laid off. Without much money and with few prospects of getting another financial job at the time, he decided to try something different.

His name is Brandon Stanton, and what he did next is an example of how I’d like to approach work and life.

Brandon Stanton

A goal of getting better at something

Before he lost his job, he had purchased a nice camera and enjoyed taking photos while walking around Chicago, so he decided his goal would be to practice his hobby as he traveled around the United States. Like many thousands of people interested in photography, Brandon’s first idea was to create a photo blog based on his travels in different cities:

My first stop was New Orleans, then Pittsburgh, then Philadelphia. Each time I arrived in a new city, I’d get lost in the streets and photograph everything that looked interesting, taking nearly a thousand photographs every day. After each day of shooting, I’d select thirty or forty of my favorite photographs and post them on Facebook. I named the albums after my first impression of each city. Pittsburgh was Yellow Steel Bridges. Philadelphia was Bricks and Flags. I had no big ambitions at the time. All I had was some vague, naive idea of making a living by selling prints of my best photos. In the meantime, I was just posting them for my family and friends to enjoy.

He had other ideas too, including plotting ten thousand street portraits on an interactive map to create a photographic census of the city. But it was only through actually doing the work, posting it publicly on Facebook, and getting feedback that he started to try other things. Along with the usual city scenes, he started taking candid street portraits. When those portraits received a favorable response, he started asking his subjects questions and including snippets of the interview with each photo.

By the time he arrived in New York in August 2010, almost all of his photographs were of people. He created a new album on Facebook and then another one. He decided to call these albums “Humans of New York.” He never intended to stay in New York, but by the end of the summer, after a short trip to Chicago to collect his things, he moved back to New York for good.

Purposeful discovery

Brandon’s goal kept evolving. Without any formal training in photography, he gradually kept learning to take better photos while also learning how to approach people. (“At first, the rejections sting,” he said.) By early 2012, what started as simple online photo albums had attracted thirty thousand likes. By April of that year, it was sixty thousand, and other people started to copy his work, creating Humans of Copenhagen, Humans of Tel Aviv, and more. Such groups helped to further spread the word about Brandon and his work. By the fall of 2013, the number of Facebook fans had skyrocketed to over a million people.

Brandon was still shooting photos, but now other things became possible, including the launch of a book, an “inspiring collection of photographs and stories capturing the spirit of a city,” that became a number-one New York Times bestseller. He was named to Time magazine’s “30 Under 30,” attracting yet more attention and opening up more possibilities. Brandon reflected on how he was able to change his life in a way that was not possible before:

Humans of New York is an amazing story, and it’s a story that could not have happened ten years ago. Without social media, I’d probably just be a quirky amateur photographer with a hard drive full of photos. I’d be cold-calling respected publications, begging for a feature. I may have even quit by now. Instead, I’ve discovered a daily audience of nearly a million people. Or should I say they discovered me.

Doing well and doing good

With the success he was experiencing, Brandon’s goal shifted again. He was starting to make money and decided early on to give some of it away, to try to do more with his photos than he had considered possible before. He described it in an online interview in 2013:

I don’t want to “cash out” or “monetize” HONY [Humans of New York]. I like to say it publicly because I want my audience to keep me on mission. HONY print sales have raised nearly $500,000 for charity in the past six months. I want to further monetize the site for nonprofit ventures. I honestly want to “give” HONY to New York in some way.

Brandon recently turned thirty-one. His Facebook page has more than thirteen million followers, and there are millions of followers on other platforms too. His third book is coming out later this year. In the summer of 2014, he went on a fifty-day world tour of twelve countries sponsored by the United Nations that included Iran, Iraq, Ukraine, Kenya, and South Sudan. Why go to these places? “The work has a very humanizing effect in places that are misunderstood or feared.” His purpose had shifted yet again, and his fans noticed it, as expressed in a comment on a photo of four women in Iraq: “You are changing the world one interview at a time. I am very grateful.”

A path to a good life

I am unlike Brandon in many ways. I’m much older, have five kids, and work in a large global corporation. But I can follow a similar path to discovering meaning and fulfillment.

Brandon made his work visible, and the feedback on it helped him get better while also helping him develop his network. He was generous with his work, posting it freely, and also generous with the eventual proceeds from that work. Importantly, he used his initial goal as a step toward exploring a range of possibilities that might be more meaningful and fulfilling. As a result of that exploration, in just over three years, he fundamentally changed his career and life—from out-of-work bond trader to beloved photographer, author, and philanthropist.

That’s the kind of path I aspire to take. We'll see where it goes.

A letter from my future self

  Lincoln's adviceIf you’ve ever wondered where you’re heading, or what your work and life is leading up to (if anything), then I have an exercise that might help you.

This week, I suggested this exercise when several people I’m coaching were struggling a bit with their purpose. That reminded me I had done something similar for myself more than 4 years ago, and when I read it again this week I was surprised at what I found.

A vision of your future

In Coach Yourself, Anthony Grant and Jane Greene advise that to help decide what’s important to you and what to focus on, a good method is to write yourself a letter from the future. (Other variations including creating “vision boards” made up of pictures from magazines.)

Simply choose a date a some months or years ahead. Then imagine what happened during that time if your life had gone well and how you’d feel if you were successful and fulfilled. The real examples in the book showed there’s no one right way to write such a letter. The common theme was simply people writing earnestly about what they were doing and feeling at some future point.

“For it to be real, for it to be useful, you need to engage your emotions. It seems that there is something quite special about writing it down that allows you to reaching into your deepest self.”

My own vision

In, 2009, I took part in a Keith Ferrazzi “Relationship Masters Academy” that’s now an online offering. When we began, he had us write up our dreams and goals, a short summary of our long-term vision, and three specific results that would tell us if we’d accomplished our goal. He also had us describe how we would feel if we didn’t pursue our goal and if we did.

It was a variation of a letter to my future self. And I remember, when I wrote it, that I was nervous. How odd to be nervous simply writing something about myself that no one else would see! I also remember, once I let go of my anxiety and let myself write, that I could taste the future.

Here are my answers, unedited, from four years ago.

My Dreams/Goals

“To live in different countries for months at a time - Japan, France, Spain, Italy...(to name the top 4)

I would like to write (publicly - beyond my weekly work blog, which was at least a start) and to connect with an audience.

I’d like to create! Books but also software and other projects. Things that people would use and love.

I’d like to do something genuinely helpful, particularly when it comes to education for kids who may not normally have access to it. (I benefitted from going to a free scholarship high school which changed my life.)

Oh, and financial independence... :-) Actually, I don’t mind the idea of having to work to earn a living. But the dream is more to be able to research/write/speak/ present about ideas and connect with people. Perhaps ideal “jobs” are those of a Malcolm Gladwell, Clay Shirky or Seth Godin...or Keith Ferrazzi :-) ”

Articulating my vision

“I will become a champion of ideas. Who will write, speak and connect. Within 10 years. (But taking steps NOW!)”

How will I know?

“I will have authored a book or other notable content that > 20,000 people read. I will have been paid to speak. I can earn a living from writing, speaking and (only some) consulting.”

How will it feel if I don’t try and if I do?

“If I don’t pursue my mission now, I will continue to live my status quo and.... My sense of being special will fade. My frustration at not doing “more” will increase. My (constant) fear of having to earn enough for the next 20+ years will remain. My entire life will be colored by the 2 statements above.”

“If I do pursue my vision now, I will be increasingly happy and... My sense of peace and inner calm will be much, much greater. My energy and enthusiasm will be much higher - every day. My family will be happy because I’ll be “present” and happy.”

What will your letter look like?

I hadn’t looked at this exercise since I wrote it four years ago. What surprised me is how much of it still feels right or is coming true. Either I’m a fantastic forecaster or, much more likely, the act of envisioning the future and writing it down shaped my thoughts and my actions.

What about you? What would your letter look like? Not your bio or about page or whatever else you might write to impress someone else. Write to your future self for yourself. Maybe share it with one close friend who can support you.

Destiny isn’t something that awaits you. It’s something you create.

A letter from my future self

  Lincoln's adviceIf you’ve ever wondered where you’re heading, or what your work and life is leading up to (if anything), then I have an exercise that might help you.

This week, I suggested this exercise when several people I’m coaching were struggling a bit with their purpose. That reminded me I had done something similar for myself more than 4 years ago, and when I read it again this week I was surprised at what I found.

A vision of your future

In Coach Yourself, Anthony Grant and Jane Greene advise that to help decide what’s important to you and what to focus on, a good method is to write yourself a letter from the future. (Other variations including creating “vision boards” made up of pictures from magazines.)

Simply choose a date a some months or years ahead. Then imagine what happened during that time if your life had gone well and how you’d feel if you were successful and fulfilled. The real examples in the book showed there’s no one right way to write such a letter. The common theme was simply people writing earnestly about what they were doing and feeling at some future point.

“For it to be real, for it to be useful, you need to engage your emotions. It seems that there is something quite special about writing it down that allows you to reaching into your deepest self.”

My own vision

In, 2009, I took part in a Keith Ferrazzi “Relationship Masters Academy” that’s now an online offering. When we began, he had us write up our dreams and goals, a short summary of our long-term vision, and three specific results that would tell us if we’d accomplished our goal. He also had us describe how we would feel if we didn’t pursue our goal and if we did.

It was a variation of a letter to my future self. And I remember, when I wrote it, that I was nervous. How odd to be nervous simply writing something about myself that no one else would see! I also remember, once I let go of my anxiety and let myself write, that I could taste the future.

Here are my answers, unedited, from four years ago.

My Dreams/Goals

“To live in different countries for months at a time - Japan, France, Spain, Italy...(to name the top 4)

I would like to write (publicly - beyond my weekly work blog, which was at least a start) and to connect with an audience.

I’d like to create! Books but also software and other projects. Things that people would use and love.

I’d like to do something genuinely helpful, particularly when it comes to education for kids who may not normally have access to it. (I benefitted from going to a free scholarship high school which changed my life.)

Oh, and financial independence... :-) Actually, I don’t mind the idea of having to work to earn a living. But the dream is more to be able to research/write/speak/ present about ideas and connect with people. Perhaps ideal “jobs” are those of a Malcolm Gladwell, Clay Shirky or Seth Godin...or Keith Ferrazzi :-) ”

Articulating my vision

“I will become a champion of ideas. Who will write, speak and connect. Within 10 years. (But taking steps NOW!)”

How will I know?

“I will have authored a book or other notable content that > 20,000 people read. I will have been paid to speak. I can earn a living from writing, speaking and (only some) consulting.”

How will it feel if I don’t try and if I do?

“If I don’t pursue my mission now, I will continue to live my status quo and.... My sense of being special will fade. My frustration at not doing “more” will increase. My (constant) fear of having to earn enough for the next 20+ years will remain. My entire life will be colored by the 2 statements above.”

“If I do pursue my vision now, I will be increasingly happy and... My sense of peace and inner calm will be much, much greater. My energy and enthusiasm will be much higher - every day. My family will be happy because I’ll be “present” and happy.”

What will your letter look like?

I hadn’t looked at this exercise since I wrote it four years ago. What surprised me is how much of it still feels right or is coming true. Either I’m a fantastic forecaster or, much more likely, the act of envisioning the future and writing it down shaped my thoughts and my actions.

What about you? What would your letter look like? Not your bio or about page or whatever else you might write to impress someone else. Write to your future self for yourself. Maybe share it with one close friend who can support you.

Destiny isn’t something that awaits you. It’s something you create.