Extreme Leadership, Incorporated President Steve Farber recently wrote a challenge involving seven words.
He made a reference to his thinking on this topic at the Extreme Leadership Summit a few weeks ago, saying something to the effect that most people are very bad at keeping their word.
We say we’ll do something, deliver something, create something, and when the deadline comes, we say things like “I ran out of time” or “I forgot” or make some other excuse.
I believe that we’ve let ourselves get away with mindless lip flapping for far too long; therefore, let me suggest this: if you could, somehow, hold yourself ridiculously accountable to your own words, if you spoke with a contractual attitude, you could earn a tremendous competitive advantage over 99% of the population. You could earn the rare status of the person whose word truly is their bond. Imagine the cred you’d gain.
He talks about seven words that change everything. Those seven words? “Do What You Say You Will Do,” affectionately known as DWYSYWD.
It sounds simple, but there is a lot packed into such an obvious-sounding sentence. It involves quite a bit of groundwork, actually.
Learn to Say “No”
If you are going to hold yourself to what you promise, you can’t say yes to everything you are asked to do. When you make a commitment to be somewhere for one person, you have effectively said no to being anywhere else with anyone else, right?
It can be hard because many of us don’t want to say no to another person’s request. It feels rude. It can feel selfish.
But you also know that you can’t be in multiple places at the same time. You can’t multitask effectively, according to the science. You can’t squeeze in more hours in a day.
So you only have so much capacity. At some point, you have to say no whether you consciously decide to do so or not.
If you agreed to go shopping with your daughter, for instance, you aren’t going to be spending it on your own game development. You’ve said no to your own goals when you said yes to someone else’s.
Similarly, if you said you were going to meet with your friends at a bar, you have cut off all other options for how to spend your evening.
And depending on your priorities, it may be a fine decision to make.
Which brings us to how you know when to say yes or no to a request.
Figure Out Your Priorities
If your life is a boat, then your priorities act as your North Star. With priorities, you know which direction you will decide to go. If the currents and waves turn you around, you can quickly steer back on track.
Contrast it with a boat with no direction and no destination, and you have the experience of most people. Tossed and turned in the turbulence of life, they just know they don’t want to capsize. Otherwise, so long as they are floating, it doesn’t matter which direction they go.
As I wrote in 2005 in a post on responsibility:
“Go with the flow” is a nice saying, but it is a horrible motto for your life.
Knowing your priorities in life, you gain a lot of clarity. You have a much better chance of identifying opportunities as opposed to distractions.
So how do you know what your priorities are?
Identify Your Goals
Here’s a choice: go to the gym, or watch TV.
If one of your goals involves a healthy body, you know you will choose the first option no matter what you’re feeling at the time. If you have no such goals, then the whim of the moment dictates your actions. If you are tired or unmotivated or don’t have a habit of going to the gym, then you are probably more likely to sit on the couch. Without a clear health goal, there’s no reason to point you out the door!
In the boat analogy above, your goals are your destination. You can’t decide which direction makes sense unless you know where you are going. Similarly, you can’t prioritize unless you know how to measure two options against each other.
If you take on a project, does it get you to your goal or take you away from it? Going to the gym is clearly going to be a better option than watching TV on the couch if your goal is to be healthier. Spending time with your spouse is clearly a better option than working late at your day job if your goal is a loving relationship.
And that clarity is what allows you to decide what to do when faced with multiple options.
Know Your Why
How do you decide what goals matter to you? You need to know your overall purpose. Your Why needs a good answer.
You want a healthy body? You better be able to answer why. When it is 5:00AM and raining out and the blankets are warm, everything will be screaming that your morning exercise routine is too painful and uncomfortable and annoying. Merely wanting a healthy body won’t be enough. Knowing you want a healthy body because you want to be able to play with your active children, on the other hand, drowns out the noise.
Knowing your Why gives your goals meaning beyond themselves. When the going gets tough, people start expressing doubt. Do I really want to run my own business? Do I really want to get married? Do I really want to learn guitar?
But your Why is how you determine the difference between a whim and a conviction. Your business isn’t about you. It’s about the people it will help. So you get up and work. You are getting married because you want to share your life with someone special. You are learning how to play guitar because you want to be able to play on-stage at your local bar’s open mic.
Your Why doesn’t have to be incredibly world-changing. It just has to be identified and clear to you.
The Key Is to Know Yourself
You need to know quite a few things about yourself. You need to know what you are capable of. You need to know what matters. You need to know why you care.
But it’s not easy to figure those things out if you don’t put in the work. As one of my favorite Nietzsche quotes puts it:
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
The cost to know yourself is higher than most people are willing to spend. It’s easier to go with the flow of your family’s expectations, the interests of your friends, and the pressures of society.
But once you know your why, you can choose your own goals, which may or may not match the goals of others.
And once you have your own goals, you can make decisions according to those goals.
And once the decision is made, you have said no to any other options.
It is the hard work of knowing who you are and what is truly important to you that makes it easy to DWYSYWD. The reason is because you’ve already done the work of making decisions for the long term, so the short term decisions almost make themselves. And you’re more likely to keep the commitments you make because they are in alignment with your values, purpose, and goals.