In a scene in the spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, the One-Armed Bounty Hunter finds Tuco Ramirez in a vulnerable position: In a bubble bath. Pointing his gun at Tuco, he begins a speech: He’s been looking for Tuco for eight months, and now he’s finally got him where he wants him, and … Tuco pulls his gun from beneath the bubbles and shoots the One-Armed Bounty Hunter five times. He stands up in the bathtub and says,
“When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”
Every December, we take stock of what we did last year, writing another chapter in our autobiography. A few days later, sometimes after pounding way too much champagne, we gear up for another trip around the sun by deciding how we want to improve ourselves in the next year. Sometimes we throw out pretty vague statements that don’t require us to be accountable to ourselves: I’m going to be a better husband this year. I’m going to lose weight. I’m going to run more.
Every year on his birthday at the end of January, my friend Alan commits to something big for the year. He doesn’t hold up a glass of whiskey and announce to his friends that he’s going to read 52 books, or go to the gym more often. He puts his money where his mouth is and plans something, with a deposit, or plane tickets. The first year, he called Frank Sanders at Devils Tower Climbing and made an appointment to climb the tower with Frank. Then he went and bought a pair of climbing shoes and a pass to a bouldering gym so he could try to figure out how to climb a little bit before they started up the tower in four months. Another year, he put down a $500 deposit on a Grand Teton climb to raise money for a nonprofit. Next year, the Matterhorn. The next year, a trip to the Bugaboos. And so on.
Supposedly, if you write down a goal, you’re more likely to achieve it. Is that true if you “write it down” in a Facebook status or a tweet?
I don’t know, has anyone ever reminded you of something you said on Facebook? “Hey Bob, didn’t you say six months ago that you were going to climb more/Mt. Rainier/5.12 this year — how’s that going?” Right. Somewhere in a billion viral videos, Oatmeal cartoons, George Takei posts, and vacation photo albums, we forgot about your New Year’s resolution. Did you?
Maybe the question is: Do we really want to do anything, or do we just want to tell people about it?
Business psychologist Peter Shallard says telling people about your next big idea robs you of motivation. You tell people, you reap the rewards of the idea, and then you don’t execute.
So are we dreaming, or are we making plans? There’s a big difference between broadcasting something about someday riding the Kokopelli Trail and sending one close friend a rough itinerary and asking, What are you doing the weekend of April 20th?
I have a handful of people in my life I share some ideas with, and I am careful which ideas, because there is no lag time between me sharing the idea, and that person asking me “When are we doing this?”
In 2009, The Dirtbag Diaries published an episode called The Year of Big Ideas. Fitz interviewed Rangi Smart, a high school math teacher who found a 20-foot constructed jump on one of his favorite mountain bike trails and decided he was going to take a shot at it. He told his wife, then a few friends, and no one shared his stoke. You’re an adult, they said, you’re providing for a family, et cetera. So he finally told the only people he knew would hold him accountable, to back up his talk: His 9th- and 10th-grade students.
“Once I told my classes — I got 160 students — and I started making verbal commitments to them,” Rangi said, “Then it was over. I had to do it.”
Rangi told his students because he wanted them to make him feel like he had to hit the jump, not because he wanted them to think he was a rad mountain biker. Then he went out on his own and stuck the landing — barely.
Me, I got a few plans for 2013. What are they? Hey, if you have to shoot, shoot.
More stories like this in my new book, Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, out now.