Daydream, Laziness & Looking at the Negative

by abclarke

Let’s strip off some of the clothes by starting with my principles for Getting Stuff Done.

I believe that if you daydream, are lazy, and look at the negative, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.

I’ve had good luck to date in following these principles.  They got me into a great college.  They got me my pick of jobs I wanted.  They helped me succeed at those jobs.  They helped me find the bravery to start a company.  And over the last few months, they’ve helped me lose 25 pounds and get back into good shape.

The principles are simple and I can’t claim credit for thinking of them (although I like to think the phrasing is mine).  Many folks have variants on the theme, and they do work.

Let’s break them down.  If you want to accomplish a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) then

  • 1) Daydream: Imagine what the world will look like when you have achieved your BHAG. Then STOP DAYDREAMING AND GET LAZY.
  • 2) Be Lazy: Figure out the easiest step you can take that will move you closer to your BHAG: Then THINK OF THE NEGATIVE.
  • 3) Look at the Negative: Ask yourself, if you take that step, what options are no longer open. If the trade-offs are not worth it, go back to Step 2. But if the trade-offs are worth it, TAKE THE STEP.

And repeat until your goal is accomplished.

Now, I mention these principles here because I’d like you to hold me to these principles if (and I will) I falter from my goals.  But before we get to that, I thought it might be helpful to give a real world example of these steps in action.

In July of 2006, I moved to New York City from San Francisco.  There were many reasons for the move, but in contemplating the move I decided a geographic change should coincide with several personal changes in how I live.  One of the things I decided to change was my body: I didn’t like my body.

I used to be in OK shape – never in “great shape”, but not fat and able to run and bike a little.  But I had allowed myself to get out of the habit of caring for my body.  Upon arrival in New York City I weighed about 188 pounds (I’m 5’11”).   I got winded walking up subway steps.  I didn’t like looking at myself.

So, I set a BHAG: I decided I wanted to be in good enough shape to run around all of Central Park (without stopping) by January 1, 2007.  That’s 6.2 miles in 6 months.

DAYDREAM: And I day-dreamed about it.  The thought of passing some other runners who were doing shorter runs was particularly motivating to me.

LAZY: Next, I got lazy.  What’s the smallest step I could think of?  Well, I figured I should join a gym.  That’s just money – there is no physical pain in signing up for a gym, right?

LOOK AT THE NEGATIVE: And I looked at the negative: What’s the negative of joining a gym?  I’d have to spend money, but I sat down and figured out we could afford it.  I’d run the risk of looking stupid and out of shape.  That was the real downside, but then I realized, I already looked out of shape!  So what if other people saw that too.

With that done, I committed to joining a gym, and by the 2nd week of July I was a member.

Time to repeat the process.   (July 15: 188 lbs, 25% body fat, 0 miles a week)

DAYDREAM: I still wanted to pass those other runners.  The dream still worked for me (when it doesn’t, it’s time to question if you’re doing the right thing).

LAZY: Alright, now I’m a member of a gym.  The smallest next step was to work out.  A little.  Not much.

LOOK AT THE NEGATIVE: Well, I was going to huff and puff.  Not much I could do about that.  Also, I could injure myself, but that just meant work out easy.

And I went to the gym and jumped on a treadmill for 25 minutes.  And it sucked.  But I’d committed to that step, and so I did it.  (I almost puked.)

Time to repeat the process.  (July 22: 187 lbs, 25% body fat, 1.7 miles a week)

DAYDREAM: Yup, still wanted to kick those other runners’ asses.

LAZY: Now I realized the next step was to go to the gym again.  No big surprise there.

LOOK AT THE NEGATIVE: That first time really sucked.  I realized if I tried to do this on my own, I’d start slacking off eventually.  The negative in just going again was I knew I’d lose motivation.  So, I tried to think of another step.

LAZY: And I thought, what if I join a group? That might help.  I used to spin a lot, so I figured I’d try that.

LOOK AT THE NEGATIVE: Well, for one I hadn’t biked seriously in 5 years; I knew my butt would hurt.  But I’d been there before, and knew the key was take-it-easy, so that was solvable.  The step looked good, so I committed to go to a spinning class the next Monday.

Time to repeat the process.  (July 29: 186 lbs, 24.5% body fat, 2 spinning classes).

You get the picture.  I did this for a few weeks, but then started to run into a problem.  Every day (I mean that, EVERY SINGLE DAY), I’d get up and go through the steps:

DAYDREAM: I constantly check the daydream.  (If the dream no longer motivates, it’s time to ask have you achieved what you actually wanted).  And in this case, I was so sick of huffing and puffing, so sick of being a fat ass, and so wanting to kick someone else’s ass, that I knew I had to keep at it.  But it was getting hard to keep getting up for a 6:30am spinning class.   I found I’d skip one in a week, then two (later I’ll talk about the importance of measuring progress). It was a trap I’d fallen into before.

LAZY: I thought about it for a while, and then realized a trick I’ve used professionally might work here.

Often I’d ask project managers on my teams to do a project-review meeting with me.  I’d invite all the other managers to watch and ask questions.  In reality it wasn’t that I wanted to review a project (trust me, those meetings are pretty boring).  But the prospect of meeting with their boss and the bosses of all their team members at a scheduled time, and a scheduled format, would drive the project managers to make sure they really knew their projects.  And they’d come prepared, which made the meetings even more boring, but made them better at their job.

I decided I needed a “project-review” mechanism for myself.  I needed a manager that I could report to who’d hold me to account.  My wife (let’s call her “J”) couldn’t do it; it had to be someone impartial.  And so, I decided to spend some money on a personal trainer.  Not to learn what to do, but to give me someone that I had to “report to” every two weeks and tell them how I did.

LOOK AT THE NEGATIVE: Well, there’s money (and in NYC trainers are expensive).  But I really wanted to kick those runners’ asses, so my wife and I sat down and figured out that (a) if we kept the sessions to once every 2 weeks to check progress and (b) if we cooked more (a hobby I used to enjoy) we could save a lot of money.  So, I committed to J that I’d cook more, and I signed up for a trainer for 8 weeks (to test out my theory).  In my very first meeting with him (let’s call him “G”) he had me lift some very light weights.  At the end, I went to the bathroom and threw up.

But I did it. And I kept repeating the process (August 19th: 183 lbs; 24% body fat, 2-3 spinning classes a week).

Did it work?


I did my first non-stopping loop of the Park on September 27th 2006, over 3-months ahead of target.  I even passed some other folks (not many).  It was awesome, but it made me realize I needed a bigger BHAG.  So, I decided on two things:

  • 1) I will get my body fat below 12% of my total weight by November of 2007. (Some folks have asked why I picked 12%; I did some research. Professional male marathon runners will be around 5-8% body fat. “semi-pro” athletes will be between 7% to 10% for a lot of other sports. I picked 12% as something I thought I could attain based on that).
  • 2) And I will run the NYC Marathon in November of 2007 (fully clothed J ).

And so I keep this process going.

In the interest of “running naked”, here’s how I’m doing to date (did I mention the importance of measuring.  The week in February was a cruise vacation I took where I didn’t have a scale):

Training Progress

As of June 1st, 2007, I’m at ~15.5% body fat (down from a peak of 25%).  I’m running an average of 10 miles a week and cycling an average of 45 miles.  I’ve signed up for the NYC Marathon and am training with a good group.

The point is I try to apply Daydreaming, Laziness and Look at the Negative to everything I do, including the other goals I’ll talk about in this blog.   It may give you insight into how I work, and my hope is with that you’ll help motivate me when I fall off track by suggesting I get back to basics.  And if the system also works for you, please steal the principles liberally.  (After all, I stole them to begin with.)