When I was 18 years old, I found myself spending time with a lot of friends in a small town named Rancho Cucamonga. Growing up near Rancho Cucamonga, the name isn’t terribly surprising to me but others outside the area hear the name and think of some southwestern hole in the wall and they wouldn’t be that far off except it’s mostly tract homes at this point.
A city named Rancho Cucamonga has two possible fates: hole in the wall or suburbia town. It doesn’t have a cool enough name to become a hipster haven (too many syllables, hipsters hate effort unless it’s a restaurant) and it’s a great place to raise a family.
I wasn’t old enough to drink, so the hangout became the local bowling alley. I was “too cool” (clearly) to be in a league or anything, but I did partake of Cosmic Bowling often enough to be regarded as a regular at the incredible Deer Creek Bowling facility.
Two of my best friends were serious bowlers. When I say serious, I mean to say that they had gone above the level of using other people’s balls (also a sign of a serious relationship). One of them had his own shoes (honestly, that would be the first accessory I would have purchased to avoid the god awful clown shoe rentals with that mysterious sanitizing spray). They would regularly double my score but I didn’t really care because I was there for a completely different reason.
Until I noticed that one day, these guys were able to attract attention from the opposite sex for their bowling prowess (those two words really don’t get paired together enough). I became more determined to be at least a competent bowler and asked them for advice.
One of my bad ass bowling buddies pointed to a series of arrows just a few feet into the lane and told how to aim my ball at the smaller arrows at a certain angle and if I did that right, the rest of the lane would take care of itself. He told me that for the next 5 times I play, don’t even lo
ok at the score and just count how many times I could hit the arrow at the right angle and track that. This little hit the arrow two feet away was a smaller game within the game ended up a lot easier to master and by the 5th time, I was able to mini-bowl a “perfect” game (hit the arrow every time I tried).
I had a date with a Bowling Alley Beauty (she used a 12 pound ball which made her dreamy af) the weekend after I arrow bowled the perfect game and felt ready to impress. The game I perfected the arrows, I managed to bowl my best game every looking at the real score (183) and I knew this was in the “good night kiss” range for bowling alley babes. I was ready to impress.
I knew that if she caught me looking at the arrows, I’d be embarrassed as some kind of Bowling novice (which now I’m not sure if that’s less embarrassing than “Bowling Expert”). I looked down the lane, aimed for that center pin on the right side and got ready for my first 200+ game.
My post 183 game had left me dri
pping with confidence so I was sure this was a fluke so I took my 2nd attempt with high expectations. I aimed down the aisle again and managed to pick up three pins on the left side after my ball hooked prematurely (blame the ball for gutters, blame the bowler for strikes).
In short, I didn’t clear 100 pins. I don’t remember how the date ended which is not a good sign for that either.
Screw the Score
If there’s one thing I learned from my time at the Bowling Alley other than the universal appeal of Mozzarella Sticks, it’s this idea: when we try to force results, we struggle to execute the process.
When you’re undertaking a massive change in life, it is far more effective to focus on the behaviors that produce results than the results themselves. Experts, coaches and consultants can help us determine where the “arrows on the lane” are and 80% of the results come from the fundamentals (the most important 20% of the behaviors).
- 20% of words in the English Language account for 80% of the usage.
- 20% of errors in a computer cause 80% of the issues (Microsoft Study 2002)
- 20% of carpet receives 80% of the carpet wear.
If all we did each day were the 5-6 most important things, we would get almost all of the way there. It’s like I always tell new clients trying to figure out the “perfect plan”: if you do something, even if it’s the 5th best or 10th best thing, you’ll see incredible improvements over doing what you’re doing (i.e. Not doing) now.
Life and the fairer sex sometimes distract us from the arrows and tell us to try and prove our worth by aiming for the pins. It’s the reason a single week of weight gain on the scale after three consecutive months of losing is enough to make us question everything that got us the results we’ve had so far.
Focusing on the Arrows
When I coach people about weight loss, we focus on the behaviors. I’ve seen it happen countless times when a person isn’t “on plan” for several days in a week and still lose weight. We do not celebrate weight loss more than a single clap just as we do not mourn weight gain more than a single sigh. We celebrate the process and habits of weight loss. In other words, we celebrate hitting the arrows regardless of what the pins do.
I have a similar practice with business coaching. When I work with Salespeople, I care first about how many sales calls they make and s
econd how many they close because I recognize that the second is contingent mostly on the first.
In my experience, the person that wins sales awards is almost always the one who made the most calls. The person who loses the most weight and most consistently is the one who stays on their diet the longest, the most consistently and exercises the most often. That’s not always true in the short term but it’s been 100% true in the long term for myself and the people I work with.
I know that tracking how many bowls of kale you ate this week is not nearly as interesting or rewarding as celebrating a 5-10 p
ound weight loss in a given week, but by focusing what you ate and how you moved instead of how your body processed what you ate and how you moved allows you to maintain complete control over your behavior, maximizing the chance for positive results and momentum.
They See Me Bowlin’, They Hatin’
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the results don’t matter. In the end, we all want to become better, stronger and faster. Getting optimal results is the reason we seek out optimal behaviors. I’m not trying to say that winning and scoring are unimportant to me or my clients.
What I’m trying to tell you is counterintuitive but true and has been told to you your entire life:
“It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.”
When people use this mantra, they typically mean to say that you should play fair and honestly. When I use it, I mean to say that how you play the game will determine whether you win or lose. Like plants growing from the soil, results will come when they come as long as you continued in the behavior that produces the results. And the old maxim holds true, what you measure gets managed (and done).
What are the top 3-5 things you could do every single day or week to produce results in your life? Start tracking those things today, every day, and every week and you’ll stay on your plan and avoid discouragement when the plants don’t grow.
Where are your little arrows?