What is “the step You don’t want to take”?

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible

– St. Francis of Assisi

Discipline and decisiveness are about knowing that “what you do today determines your success tomorrow”. There may be things that need to be done but you are frightened of doing them: for example, calling the person who could give you your next big opportunity.

You need to have the discipline to keep focusing on the activities that will grow your chosen role, business or project, and the activities that contribute to your growing mastery. If it takes 10,000 hours of practice and training to be a master of your discipline, you need to prioritise time for it.

In a famous experiment known as the “Marshmallow Experiment” a child gets brought into a private room, sits in a chair, and has a marshmallow placed on the table in front of them. The researcher says that he is going to leave the room and that if the child does not eat the marshmallow while he is away, then the child will be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child eats the first one before the researcher comes back, then they will not get a second marshmallow.

So the choice is simple: one treat right now or two treats later. The researcher leaves the room for 15 minutes. The videos of the children trying to resist eating the marshmallow are hilarious, but the real significance came years later. They followed the children for over 40 years and this series of experiments proved that the ability to delay gratification was critical for success in life. The research showed that the children who were willing to delay gratification and wait to receive the second marshmallow ended up having: higher academic scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures.

So, put off pleasure today to build a better future tomorrow and end up being more successful! Of course, there is a need for balance: I am not advocating working all hours of the day, but putting good quality time and attention into the most important things is vital.

“Dum Romae consulitur, Seguntum expugnatur” or “While the Roman Senators talked about what to do, the enemy conquered the town of Seguntum”. Every time we put off key activities that could lead to success, success stays further away.  Decisiveness doesn’t mean being reckless, but once you have weighed up the pros and cons and evaluated the risk, then “feel the fear and do it anyway”.

SMART Steps are really helpful: they are ways to get into action quickly that have low cost and low risk, so you can evaluate the result and then take further action. SMART steps are small scale projects that let you test the water, talk to your customer and find out what they think. For example, I know of a senior manager in the European Union HQ in Brussels who would like to be a coach, and who runs a free coaching group for senior staff in his office every Friday lunchtime. He is testing the water.

And remember that tenacity is important too. Tenacity is when you repeat an activity often, perhaps taking action in small instalments. Charles Darwin had very poor health and when writing his monumental work on evolution, Origin of Species, could not write for much more than an hour a day, so he made a habit of writing every day. And Jules Verne, the pioneer of science fiction, had to visit 15 publishers before getting a book contract.

The effort and intention you put behind your passion and your strengths today will make you more successful in the future.

Are you willing to work on the strengths that support your passion and will build your success?

Start close in,

don’t take the second step

or the third,

start with the first


close in,

the step you don’t want to take.

– David Whyte

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