Where are you going? And how are you getting there?
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A gust of wind burst in when he opened the door and told me to stick my legs out. At first, instinct refused to comply, but I reminded myself that Dean had done this thousands of times. He knew what he was doing.
Sitting on the edge, I looked across the horizon. Cotton ball clouds floated in midair, suspended in the sky like a photograph. I was in suspense myself, literally on the edge of my seat in the airplane awaiting the inevitable.
The next thing I knew, Dean pushed us out the door and we immediately began free falling 10,000 feet towards the earth. I don’t think this is what my doctor had in mind when she said I needed to make some changes to my lifestyle, but it certainly helped me get there.
T.S. Eliot once suggested: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” This sounds great—but I doubt the poet ever went skydiving. When you’re plummeting towards the earth, the “rest” is certainly your business.
Perhaps in this context it’s better to listen to the sage words of Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” You either land safely on the ground, or you don’t. There’s no in-between when it comes to skydiving, so be careful who you let pack your parachute—and it might be a good idea to also look before you leap.
Ask the Right Question
What compelled me to jump out of an airplane in the first place? It all started with a visit to the doctor’s office where I was given an uncomfortable diagnosis. The doctor said I had two options: take medication for the rest of my life to manage type 2 diabetes, or make significant changes to my lifestyle.
At first, I leaned into the medication option, because that was the expedient choice. But it didn’t take long before I gave more serious thought to the lifestyle changes that could lead to sounder health. After all, there are things I want to do with my life, and the only way to do them is alive.
“Can I get healthy?” Up until then, the answer had been no. At least, that’s the answer given all the choices I had made up until that moment—and the same actions that got me to that point weren’t going to get out of the predicament.
“Can I get healthy” is the wrong question. The higher quality question is “How can I get healthy?” Now that’s something to work with, because it presumes there is a way and I only have to find it.
Tend to the Causes
The psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson reminds us that even the most powerful person in the world cannot force an apple tree to hand over an apple, because we can’t control results. All we can do is tend to the causes that promote results. We can plant good seeds in fertile soil, provide sunlight, and plenty of water. For the gardener, there is only the trying. The rest is none of their business.
This is true whether your goal is to grow a tree, start a successful business, create a compassionate learning environment, or reverse a medical diagnosis—or truly anything else. Consider the valued result you’re looking for, then ask yourself: “How can I tend to the causes that promote this result?”
Tending to the causes is a call to create process goals rather than mere outcome goals.
We might think of this as the relationship between a Mission Statement and Core Values: the Mission Statement is where we’re headed, and the Core Values are how we get there.
Top 5 List
Where do you want to go? What do you want to achieve? What’s your desired result?
Whatever your desired result, make it the guiding light that informs your every decision by reflecting on the process you can engage in to achieve it.
When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and my goal became to live a long and healthy life, the causes and systems I put in place included:
This is just a sample of the type of essential element causes that I scheduled in my days to engage in the process—all of which can easily be tracked and measured. No single element will guarantee a long and healthy life, but tending to these causes do provide the best chance to get there.
For your own goals, consider the behaviors, activities, resources, and systems you can tend to—all working together to equip, enable, and promote the results you’re looking for. Then, put these essential element causes into your schedule. I use a one-sheet weekly planner to schedule these tasks and keep it on my desk, creating a daily reminder of where I’m going and how I’m getting there. Feel free to use this sheet, or use whatever system works for you.
For example, when I learned there was a weight limit for skydiving—and that I was over the weight limit—it provided the perfect opportunity for a fun secondary goal. While preparing to go skydiving, I also tended to the causes of my primary goal of a long and healthy life. (That is, so long as the parachute opens on time.)
Stacking relevant primary and secondary goals can provide valuable fuel to continue tending to the causes that promote desired results.
The free fall ended with a sudden jolt when the parachute opened, and we gracefully glided gently to the ground. There was a lot of trust involved in this activity:
There’s a lot of trust involved in an activity like skydiving, and isn’t this also true of everything we do? The decision to keep living each day comes with it the trust that things will be okay, even without any guarantee that anything will work out.
After all, for us there is only the trying. The rest is none of our business.
Jonas Cain, M.Ed. is a storyteller, magician, musician, and facilitator of fascination on a mission to help you experience abiding joy.