Sharks have extraordinary awareness. They can easily detect distant vibrations and faint scents in the water. This helps them locate and eat their prey. Cool.
Humans have poor awareness. Their combination of bad habits and misinformation cause them to be oblivious to their poor goal strategies. This helps them procrastinate. Bad.
If we humans want to improve, we need to let the shark be our guide. Here are some tips from the ocean’s fiercest fish.
1. Sharks Start Small
A great white shark is looking awesome near a massive shipwreck. He’s guarding a treasure chest below him, which is partially open with gold doubloons glistening in the water-filtered light. Sharks like money. Just go with it.
Several kilometers away, a massive 400-pound tuna fish clumsily gashes his fin on a sharp coral reef. Fool. Delicious tuna blood is released into the deep blue abyss and dispersed by the water current.
The shark is counting his doubloons when suddenly, his sensors sense something. Sensors gonna sense. It’s a very slight smell, but it’s unmistakable. It’s blood. The shark abruptly leaves the treasure behind to determine the direction of the scent’s source.
This is our first lesson. For a shark to go in the direction of his desires (tuna flesh), all it takes is a slight scent.
Humans are harder to get moving. Most of us, if we were sharks, would require seeing the whole bloody tuna right in front of us to move toward it. That’s bloody ridiculous! We want the massive tuna, and we do aim for the massive tuna, but we don’t seem to believe the small scent trail is worth pursuing. The great white shark is shaking his head at us.
You guyyyyys, the scent is how you get to the tuna!
~ Great Whitey
In human terms, we need to take small steps in the direction of our giant tunas. Picking up the slight scent of tuna is a huge win for the shark. Likewise, writing 50 words toward a new book is a huge win for a human. We mustn’t ignore the small win due to our blinding lust for the big win. Small wins don’t replace big wins, they make big wins happen!
2. Sharks Commit to Follow the Scent
The great white just left the treasure chest in pursuit of the big, juicy, bleeding tuna. He doesn’t see it, but he smells it. With each sway of his 22-foot body propelling him forward, the scent grows stronger.
This part of the shark’s journey is like a Mini Habit, which is a very small behavior that you do every day. Each tailfin stroke by the shark is like another day in which you’ve completed your mini habit: one push-up per day, pulling one weed in your garden per day, thinking of one business idea per day, etc.
At this point, you can sense that progress is being made, but your ultimate prize isn’t yet in sight. You’ve not yet developed a habit or seen big results, but you’re on your way.
3. The Shark Finds the Tuna… Close Your Eyes, Kids
The scent is strong now, and the shark sees a glimmer in the distance. Swimming speed increases. The shark’s dilating eyes fixate on the tuna fish in the distance.
Abruptly pointing its nose down, the shark dives 50 feet below the tuna and positions himself in the abyss. With breathtaking speed and uninterruptable conviction, it rushes toward the surface, tuna unaware, and sinks its razor sharp teeth into the massive 400-pound body with frightening ferocity.
The first bite is just the beginning. The taste of tuna blood sends the shark into a frenzy. It thrashes violently in the water, continuing to bite and tear the tuna apart. It’s brutal. Even the other sharks say, “Bro, that’s enough. You got it.”
When it comes to our goals, this is what we want. We want to destroy them and metaphorically tear them apart. We want to win. But to learn from the shark, we must take its brutal attack in complete context. The shark’s journey began with the slightest, humblest hint of the tuna’s scent. This little smell provoked a small action from the shark. It then continued with commitment, consistently swimming toward its target. Only when it saw the tuna, and not a moment sooner, did it go for the kill.
Well, duh, Stephen. If the shark can’t see the tuna, how can it go for the kill?
Good point, and that’s exactly the question I ask people who have the goal to lose 100 pounds, start a profitable business, write a book, or change their behavior. How can you possibly attempt to dominate a goal when it’s currently out of your reach? Having a goal out of your reach is no more embarrassing than it is for a shark to have to swim to its target.
These massive, “normal” goals that society has conditioned us to pursue are way too far away for most people to attack, in the same way that the tuna was too far away from the shark in the beginning of our tale. Imagine a shark fiercely biting the water around him, accomplishing nothing. This is what we look like on a daily basis when our goals are out of sight! To succeed, we must approach and “see” the goal before we try to kill it.
Your proximity to a goal depends on a few things:
- Your skill level in that area
- Your habitual relationship (or lack thereof) with the goal
- Your objective progress
- Your confidence in your success (self-efficacy)
When you want extreme fitness, and you smell the scent of one push-up, what will you do? Most people will think about how weak it is, and seek a stronger scent or look around for a larger fish. Smart people will understand that such small beginnings are treasure maps to the biggest fish in the sea! The great white shark in our story knew that while initially faint, the smell could lead him to a big meal, and it did.
Mini Habits Easily Become Ferocious Achievements
I haven’t talked about this much, but a mini habit can be a springboard for “ferocious goal attacks.” As a habit grows, your confidence blooms, and your skills increase, you get more and more dangerous. Your goals will begin to shake in fear.
Nobody fears sharks because they can smell very well (not solely on this basis), but that’s how they find their prey. Nobody fears sharks because they can swim (not solely on this basis), but that’s how they reach their prey. People (and tuna) generally fear sharks because they are killing machines with razor sharp teeth, but their sensory and tracking skills make this possible. We’re drawn to the final kill, but it doesn’t exist without the other skills.
In the same way, nobody is impressed by one push-up a day. Nobody is impressed by consistently doing it for six months straight. People are more interested, however, when you tell them you’re in the best shape of your life today because of those decisions. They will perk up when you tell them that you’ve put on 20 pounds of muscle because of those decisions (this is my story).
When a mini habit matures, you can attack your goals with unparalleled ferocity, confidence, and skill.
Like a shark tasting blood, when you are so close to your goal that success is imminent, your motivation can “frenzy.” Motivation is typically unreliable, but this one instance can be an exception. Anytime you taste victory, you may enter a motivation frenzy because you now know success is possible and you want more! It’s been three years since I started that first push-up that became a mini habit and then a full-sized habit, and I have tasted victories large and small. I’ve seen my body change and I’ve gotten stronger.
What started as an innocent one push-up per day has become a ferocious attempt to gain more muscle. I’ve been trying challenging, structured programs to build muscle, and while they are demanding, I know I can stick with them! In a couple weeks I’m going to finish up this muscle-building program and plan to try this one next. I can only do that because I’m here. I have a strong gym habit, I have more skill in weightlifting, and I am fully confident in my ability to complete these programs. About five years ago, I tried to do P90X. I only made it to 30 days (of 90), and that was with skipping many days and workouts.
You want another personal example? My most embarrassing one? Okay, sure.
An Embarrassing Example, A Promising Future
Today, I required myself to say hi to one woman whom I was attracted to while at the grocery store. Here’s why.
I’ve always thought of myself as a catch, romantically speaking (who doesn’t think of themselves as a catch?). I’ve done speed dating three times, and about 90% of women have selected “yes” on my card, so I figure I can’t be too repulsive. But guys, out in the wild, I’m like a lost puppy. I’ve literally, not once in my lifetime, tried to pick up a woman at a bar or club, in no small part because I rarely go to bars or clubs. That’s a huge chunk of experience I’m lacking, and because I’m not into the bar scene, it leaves me with places like the grocery store (or online dating, blaaaargh) to try to meet women.
Ideally, I’d like to have at least one date a week. This would increase the odds of finding Mrs. Deep Existence. She doesn’t have to call herself that.
I haven’t been getting one date a week because it’s far easier to stay in my safe shell, which begs the question…
Why don’t I set the goal to get one date a week?
I’ve already been trying that. By that, I mean my version of trying to get frequent dates is hanging out with my male friends and playing video games. In other words, I’ve been the freaking idiot shark biting the water around me. When a goal is too far away from you, you’ll only be able to bite the nearby water! Ask any of my guy friends, and I talk about women plenty. The desire is there. But there’s a gap between my comfort level/skillset and what I want to achieve socially and romantically with women. When that gap is there, you go nowhere.
That’s why I set that mini goal today. And metaphorically speaking, what did it do for me?
I stopped foolishly biting the water around me, turned around, and began swimming toward the tuna. I made progress.
I said hi to a beautiful woman… and I didn’t die from it! For extra credit, I asked a different woman about the difference between chili powder and chili seasoning, and we had a brief, chili-based conversation. To the rest of the world, that’s like… “Wow, nice job. You said hi and talked about chili. Pffft!” But in my mind it meant more than learning that cumin was in chili seasoning but not all chili powders—it shattered a communication barrier I felt!
This is only the beginning. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I’ve done this “hi challenge” last year, and it resulted in a pretty big breakthrough. I’ve been on a dozen or so dates in the last year because of the progress I’ve already made by taking small steps.
This area is no different than the other areas of my life that I’ve already conquered in this way. I gained 20 pounds of muscle through one push-up per day. I became an international bestselling author through 50 words per day. I look forward to the day when I can say I found the love of my life because I decided to require one “hi” per trip to the grocery store! Perhaps someday I’ll do a more comprehensive write-up about this area of my life and the strides I’ve made due to small steps.
Trust the Process, Ignore the Doubters
Like a shark following an invisible scent, others won’t see the reasoning behind your small steps in a new direction. They can’t see what you’ve begun to follow and won’t understand why you’re not doing more. Basically, the world will think you’re crazy… until they see the 400 pound tuna.
Most people aim for the attack right away when they’re completely unprepared for it, which causes inaction and/or massive failure. Instead, I recommend approaching your life goals like a shark. Use a reliable strategy like mini habits to bring you closer and closer to your target through consistency. Then, when your target is in sight and you can taste success, go wild. Frenzy! Attack like a shark.
If you’ve been practicing your mini habits for a while, pay attention to your target, whether it’s organization, fitness, reading, writing, romance, knitting, business, or something else. Pay close attention to the signs of habit (Part 6, Step 8 in Mini Habits).
A mini habit’s embarrassingly low requirement won’t make you tame. It won’t make your dreams shrink—it will bring you closer to them. It’s the trace of blood in the water, and you’re the shark. Follow the scent. Do it every day. The scent will get stronger and stronger. When you’re finally face-to-face with your tuna, you’ll know exactly what to do.
Good luck out there, sharko!