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If you use ink to complete a crossword puzzle – you’re a deliberate person. How can you be a pen user instead of a pencil user…with a fat eraser handy?
Frequently I’m engaged in a conversation with people who are on a quest to make an improvement. Maybe they’re trying to elevate their sales or revenues. Maybe they’re working to upgrade the people on their team. Or maybe they’re trying to launch a brand new enterprise.
Invariably somebody will utter something – usually a cliche – about commitment to the goal. I’ll hear things like:
“We need to go all in on this project.”
“This is our primary objective. We’re committed to seeing it through.”
“We’re at the point of no return on this.”
People express this in a variety of ways. Here’s one of the more popular ways I hear it…
It’s time to burn the boats.”
Many people cite the incident in the 1500’s during the Spanish conquest of Mexico when Cortes gave the order to burn the boats in order to force his troops to conquer the land. I don’t even know if that really happened, but if you Google “burn the boats” it’s not the only example of it. And doesn’t it sound good? I mean, how much more deliberate do you want to be?
We value that level of commitment. We even romanticize it. But I don’t agree with it because it presupposes that you – or we, or anybody else – can be more deliberate if we’re desperate. For quite a few years I’ve given the following advice to clients…
“Don’t presuppose that you’re not able to chase it hard enough unless you’re desperate. Thoughtful intent can often beat desperate. Embrace thoughtful intent as you chase your goals.”
Being deliberate isn’t desperation. It’s not intention. It’s not just being thoughtful. It’s thoughtful intention. More technically correct, it’s action taken with thoughtful intention to move closer to the goal.
Too many people are chasing dreams. They hop from thing, to thing, to another thing. Mostly in their mind.
I suspect a few other people actually do something. They take some action. They don’t think much about it, confusing motion with action. It’s a common myth to think that because we’re moving, we’re taking meaningful action.
Then there are the people who think about it ’til the cows come home, then they take an action. But they’re so slow to act they don’t get much done. And their rate of speed is so slow there’s rarely any momentum.
And then there are the desperate. You’ve been desperate before. Burned boats foster desperation. It may not foster deliberate action though. Well, to be fair, it may not foster positive deliberate behavior. Thieves, murderers and other criminals often act out of desperation. And quite often they’re very deliberate, but only in committing more crimes.
That proverbial point of no return is a poor method for incorporating deliberate behavior into your life. Or more deliberate behavior.
There’s a scene in an old Al Pacino movie, And Justice For All…where Pacino’s character, an attorney, takes a helicopter ride with a judge, the pilot. Unbeknownst to the attorney, the judge likes to play a little game where he goes beyond the halfway point.
“We’re NOT alright, land!” That’s not just a great movie line, it’s wise advice. By the way, the judge crash lands the helicopter in shallow water just 90 feet from the landing pad.
Desperation can create panic. Not exactly the ideal inspiration for wise action. Or thoughtful intentions.
Deliberate action is best taken when we’ve considered our options and figured out our “next best step.” It’s what we do when we put a puzzle together, or work a cross word puzzle, or work a math problem. Truth is, it’s pretty much what we do no matter the problem we’re facing. Solutions are worked out because we’ve got a special skills as humans. We can run scenarios in our head. We can answer a problem with a hypothetical and theorize (quite often with great accuracy) how it MIGHT turn out. Then, based on those mental models we’ve run in our head, we can take deliberate action to do what we think is best.
We can avoid being stupid by avoiding putting ourselves, or letting ourselves, be put in desperate situations. Stupidity happens when we neglect to pre-think what we’re doing. Don’t believe me? Then you’ve never raised teenagers.