The One Thing Keeping You from Being Great

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The battle cry of the complacent and the one thing stopping you from crossing over from good to great. Nothing will steal your dream quicker than that comfortable feeling you get when things are good. If Steve Jobs and Apple marched to the beat of that drum there would be no iPhone 5 coming out soon because the first one would have been good enough. If that was Mark Zuckerberg’s motto we would still be using Facebook, only it would be called Friendster.

It’s human nature for us to become complacent when things are good, but if you want more out of life (which I highly recommend) then you are going to have to step it up because complacency breeds mediocrity…and mediocrity ultimately breeds failure.

Take Your Medicine

This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you, but here it goes. You have the potential to do great things if you weren’t so focused on accomplishing good things. Your goals are weak. We both know it. They require a reasonably small amount of effort to accomplish so you can feel good about yourself when you are able check them off. They are safe. In the end, they are nothing more than slightly larger items for your todo list.

If you want to be great, your goal should be something that makes you weak in the knees. Something that you logically don’t stand a chance in accomplishing. Something that is life changing. You do have these, but you currently call them dreams and consider them “nice to have’s” and not “must have’s.” That’s not going to get it done.

Here is the truth. What is stopping you from your dream of making $1 million dollars is your goal of making $100,000. What is stopping you from your dream of losing 50 pounds and being in the best shape of your life is your goal of losing 5 pounds. What is stopping you from your dream of being a New York Times Best Selling Author is your goal of writing a book. You are not thinking big enough.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

If you want to accomplish great things you need to start getting uncomfortable. It’s the most effective way to get past that feeling of complacency that has been haunting you all of these years. It introduces a sense of urgency. How many times have you heard the success story of someone that started out living in their car and is now at the top of their game? It’s not a coincidence. They had a sense of urgency that they didn’t have previously when things were good. You can easily create that same sense of urgency without actually having to set up camp in your Honda Civic.

My Challenge (but Only if You Want it Bad Enough)

You aren’t going to catch a giant fish with a tiny worm. If you are committed to living out your dreams as bad as you say you are, I have a challenge for you but it’s going to require that you put on your big boy (or girl) pants.

  1. Come up with something big that you want. Something so big that it’s going to keep you up at night. Something that you have to swallow hard before telling anyone because you know they are going to think you are crazy. Write it down along with the date that you want it by.
  2. Figure out an amount of money that would be really painful to lose and write a check in that amount to a person or organization that just turns your stomach. It could be a political figure, a competitor, an ex-spouse or a hate organization. This is the important part, so don’t write a check for a dollar. Make sure it really hurts. I’m talking about “we can’t pay the mortgage this month if that check gets cashed” kind of hurt.
  3. Put the check in an envelope and address it to the bastard(s) you wrote the check out to and slap a stamp on it. At this point you will likely feel sick to your stomach. That just means you are on the right path.
  4. Give the envelope and your written goal (with the date on it) to someone you trust. Someone that will hold you accountable. Someone that will constantly remind you that they have your check and ask you how you are doing. Someone that will not be talked out of sending it if you screw up.
  5. The rest is simple. If you accomplish your goal you get to shred the envelope and your check. If you don’t, your friend mails it out and you get to live with the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that the world is a little worse off because of you. No pressure.

If you are going to do this, the only thing I ask is that you go all in. Don’t dip your foot in the water, jump in. Do something great for a change. Be amazed at what you are actually able to accomplish if you commit to it.

But Wait! There's More...
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  • Sushain Pandita

    i was inspired by this post …..i’m gonna to work on this

    • Marc Ensign

      Thanks Sushain! Let me know how it goes!

  • carol

    Love the challenge! And the insight of how my goal of wanting to earn $100k is killing the dream of making the million. Wow. Great article.

    • Marc Ensign

      Thank you Carol! Now you need to make sure that you do it…

  • Tmr


    • Marc Ensign


  • Laura Amerman

    Love the check idea!   And this:  “complacency breeds mediocrity…and mediocrity ultimately breeds failure”  Soooo common in our non profit world.  Just because it ALWAYS worked doesn’t mean you should keep doing it!  What are the words of a dying empire?  “But that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

    • Marc Ensign

      The Yellow Pages are another example…there are companies that still spend tens of thousands of dollars a month doing something because it worked 10 years ago. Time to try something new and start getting uncomfortable!

  • Joe Boyle

    Mark, I want to start this humble comment of mine off with a sweet compliment (this shouldn’t been taken lightly – I don’t give many of these out). On a daily basis, I visits at least fifty blogs and just skim the content, but have found the desire to actually read your content word-for-word. It’s really magical stuff you’re able to whip up. Keep up the great work.

    Back to the topic of the article – I think the idea that we’re all focused on the small values instead of the larger ones is insane. A few years back, a friend of mine told me one of the most inspirational quotes I’ve ever heard – “The biggest risks in life are the ones you don’t take.” How beautiful that quote really is. People are afraid of failure far too often. The idea that they could screw up and lose it all really puts them behind a wall. As Roger Waters would say, “fear builds walls”.

    I think that’s why the idea you proposed of writing a massive check and giving it to a trusted one is so genius. Once you’ve gone all in, there’s no turning back. I believe Robb Sutton (it may not be him, but I am fairly sure it was) once told a story of why he became successful – he lost his job and NEEDED it to work. There wasn’t a plan B or another way out. It’s worth thinking about. Great post, as always!

    • Marc Ensign

      Hi Joe! Wow…I am really humbled by your comment and you should know that I don’t take it lightly at all. I sit up every night writing with the hopes of actually affecting someone in some way but not really knowing whether I do or not. Comments like this prove to me that I am on the right path and I really appreciate that.  Thank you for that!

  • Jeff Jacobson

    mark this is brilliant.  i have been a biz/life coach since 1995, and i have used this with clients over the years.  not all the time, but i call it the “big guns” challenge.  guess what?  it WORKS!!!!  i’ve only had to mail in the check one time.  man, when it’s in place, people overcome obstacles that they thought were insurmountable before.  REALLY REALLY great idea.

    a tip: make sure that the agreement between the challenged and the holder of the check is very clear. don’t be wishy-washy about the end goal.  imagine reaching it, only to be unsure whether the person did it or not!  something like “lose weight and get in shape” is too vague/can’t be measured.  but “lose 50 lbs by july 15, 2012, at 3 PM” is very clear.  you can look back and see if it’s done or not.

    your concept of a a goal making you weak in the knees is a great. one.  i mean, why not?  thanks for the inspiration today.  

    • Marc Ensign

      Hey Jeff!  Thanks for the response!!! I definitely agree with your comment…you have to make the goals S.M.A.R.T. so you have a hard finish line and a hard dead line. Every time I cut the check I accomplished the goal, no matter how tough it was. It is so worth giving it a shot!!  Have a great day Jeff!

  • Jamie McCarthy

    I’m in!