Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Achieving Your Goals the Lee Marvin Way

At the library the other day I randomly picked up the book Get Up: A
12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks and Weirdos by Bucky
Sinister. Though I've never had a drug or alcohol addiction, it turns out
to have lots of wisdom about living in general, told in entertaining, no
bullshit style. I especially liked his discussion of setting goals and
pursuing them, using the movie Point Blank as illustration:

"In this film, Lee Marvin is after $93,000 that was his share of some
unspecified heist. What stood out for me was his use of a step method to
get his money back. He calmly yet violently moved from one step to the
next in the quest to retrieve the money owed him.

We have two main lessons to learn from this: Be specific in your
goal-making, and be ardent with each step. Marvin doesn't look to get any
more than a specific amount. He's not interested in getting $100,000, he
wants what's coming to him. His resolve goes no further than what he needs
to do for that part of his journey."

Bucky Sinister goes on to talk about how asking "What would Lee Marvin
do?" helped him get through the horrible process of getting back into
school as a 35 year old 4th year dropout, and eventually getting work that
would earn him $40,000 a year. He resolved to do something on this quest
every day, whether it be a short phone call, or filling out a form. No
matter how complicated and intimidating the subgoal, he tackled it step by
step. After all, Lee Marvin started his quest with "nothing but one
address of one person who was slightly involved in the old caper. He went
from there, step by step, to figure out what he needed to do."

Clearly the really hard part is setting the right kind of goals, molding
them out of the amorphous blob of wants and fears for the future that are
always floating around inside my head. This is something I struggle with a
lot. Some of the subtle things I think make the Bucky Sinister type of
goal different than some of my past attempts:

-the specificty, to the level of what kind of car you want, what *colour*
it will be, the exact amount of money you want. That way when you achieve
it, you *know*. The specifics can be adjusted over time, but there's
motivational value in making yourself *see* what a goal will look like, in
great detail, when it is finished, *feel* what it will feel like. Some of
the decisions in visualizing it are arbitrary of course, but I think
there's power in making those decisions.

- There shouldn't be too many at a time. Even three might be too many.

- Each big goal has a smaller goal in front of it, blocking it from view
and from my mind, that I can start on *right now*, and that when done
will get me closer. Something that shouldn't take more than a few weeks.

- Sometimes thinking really big, like decades-long. Bucky talks about deciding that 10 books is a good lifetime's work for a writer like him, and getting started on the first one. Get Up was the second.

- At the same time, not setting deadlines for them (except, of course, death). Deadlines can be discouraging to me, at least if I take them too seriously (here we're talking about projects that don't have actual deadlines). If you keep going after each small goal steadily, a little bit every day or week, the rate doesn't matter that much.

- Still it's good to have automatic, indisputible metrics of your progress. For instance Mr. Sinister can count how many books he's written. A friend set up an automatic script to update the number of words in his thesis file on the front page of his website every day. Making every smaller goal have a very specific end state, so that you're very clear when it's done (and can celebrate!) is a big part of that.

There's more great stuff in here, for instance about using your inner
hustle monkey for good and how you need to nurture all four aspects of
your personality symbolized by members of the A-Team (this is not your
everyday self-help book) but I'll stop for now.

Huh, almost convinced myself watching point blank is my most important
next step...

1 comment:

amphimacer said...

"Point Blank" really is a good film, and worth the 90 or so minutes it will take to watch it, and yes, it does have that step-by-step aesthetic which looks like a useful method for getting things done -- though the amount of killing in this movie is perhaps not ideal as problem-solving support.

"Desolation Row" is also a great song, and I too memorized it at one time, about thirty-five years ago (I have to say I can dig up only about 75% of it now, but that still pleases me). In fact, I played it complete a couple of times in coffee house performances, and that always got some stunned looks. Playing and singing for money was a goal I achieved, though I never became rich or famous, and it's one of those experiences that enrich your life for decades afterwards.

Finally, a comment with reference to Anthony Trollope's daily round (by the way, I disagree with him -- I think he was a man of genius, and I continue to read one of his novels every year or so. Charles L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) had a technique to make certain he would answer letters he meant to get to (it's noted in the introduction to a selection of his letters I have): he would address the envelope and put on the stamp. This meant that the money was spent and could not be recouped. Obviously, now that we send most of our personal correspondence by e-mail, it's not so relevant to mail, but the idea may still be of some value, transferred to other tasks.