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Zero to One, One to Infinity

In my opinion, you don’t get much better than what the good folks at Alcoholics Anonymous do for recovering alcoholics.

So transparently, I’ve not had firsthand experience with AA, but being an avid podcast consumer, I’ve heard enough testimonials that I’m sold. From Rob Bell talking about it being a welcoming, “bullshit-free” zone space to Dr. Drew constantly encouraging Loveline callers to seek help with their own addictions, something clearly has to be working. There’s a lot the 12-step program gets right, and I could easily write multiple posts on how we can apply their tactics beyond breaking alcohol addictions.

But for now, I want to focus on one aspect, and that has to do with goal setting.

Let me ask you a question: have you ever failed at meeting a goal you set? Thinking toward New Year’s resolutions, the answer is probably yes. Heck, I’ll be the first to raise my hand here. It took me like 8 or 9 “serious tries” before I finally lost 100 pounds. And even then, I’d sort of hem and haw about how many pounds I should try losing. (Should I go for the full 100 or start with just 25 pounds?)

The problem Alcoholics Anonymous looks to solve is pretty much a binary issue: Stop drinking. Period. And this is because they understand the power of how even a single drink can slip somebody in recovery right back into the habit, even if they’ve been sober for a year.

Whether they know it or not, Alcoholics Anonymous is encouraging two simultaneous, complementary mindsets related to goal setting: Zero to one, and one to infinity. Both of these are equally important, and I hope that becomes clear to you soon.

First, let’s talk about zero to one. There are several pieces to unpack here, but let me first state that it is probably the most difficult step you’ll take. Can you remember the first time you rode a bike? Drove a car? Interviewed for a job? The first step is always difficult, and sometimes, the first step isn’t even worth it, quite frankly. So the first part of this zero to one mindset is choosing whether or not to take that first step at all. You can’t say yes to everything, and if you feel like you’re going to half ass it in the long run, it’s probably better not to begin it at all.

On the other side of this zero to one coin, you have the acknowledgement that each step you take requires the same level of “nowness” as every other step. If that’s weirdly worded, think about what AA espouses of its members: you take one day at a time. It’s not worth worrying about tomorrow because tomorrow isn’t here. Worrying about tomorrow only detracts from you being concerned with today, and you should be concerned with today because you can only directly affect the present, not the future.

Okay, so that’s zero to one. Let’s move on now to one to infinity.

When I’m talking about infinity, I’m talking about the endgame. The light at the end of the tunnel. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Whatever colorful analogy you choose you use about reaching that final goal you’re hoping to reach.

The thing about setting a goal is that you end up chopping up that goal into pieces and focusing your energy into completing those pieces. “What’s so wrong with that?” you might be asking. Well, it’s inherently limiting. You’re setting a cap on yourself before you even know what you’re capable of. And with groups like AA in particular, they understand that one can’t simply try to wean himself off alcohol because of that person’s addictive personality.

It’s cliche as heck, but I do think there’s merit in the kitschy phrase, “Shoot for the moon, and you’ll land amongst the stars.”

Do you see why you need to adopt these mindsets simultaneously?

If you stick with a zero to one mentality, you risk spinning your wheels in the same place without actually making progress toward anything. Conversely, if you only hold to a one to infinity mentality, you risk spending so much time worrying about never reaching the end state that you give up on today.

(As you can guess, the latter is why so many people fail their New Year’s resolutions.)

Zero to one.

One to infinity.

Funny how two ideas that can seem so far apart actually hold equal weight, right? But it’s true. Tipping down the domino today tips the dominos in weeks, months, years from now, but if you don’t focus on tipping that domino today… then will those future dominos fall?

Let’s go ahead and wrap it here for today. I hope this gives you a new way to think about your goals and how to approach them moving forward. Best wishes in all your endeavors, friends.

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