5 Steps To Achieve Something Great (From Zero)

Do you have a burning desire to accomplish something great in life? Are your role models Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Warren Buffet?

May be you’re not satisfied with just earning a living. You want to launch a viral product, write a bestselling book, be a celebrity or walk on the moon.

Many want to be or do something big but aren’t ready to pay the price. Only a handful will even dare to get out of their daily comfort zones and give it a real try. If you’re one of them, read on.

Step 1: Pick An Ambitious Goal

“Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous” – Jim Dator

Jane McGonigal, author of NYT bestseller Reality Is Broken, says that most revolutionary ideas will sound absurd to most people.

If what you are thinking about the future and what you are doing as a result seems reasonable to most, then you’re not taking adequate risk. You’re not being innovative and creative enough.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a great example of being able to see and work towards a future that didn’t sound reasonable to most people. His movies have grossed $3 billion+ worldwide.

But in his early days, it was only him who thought he could act in movies. He never auditioned as he believed in carving his own niche. He never went out for the regular parts because he was not a regular looking guy.

Plus, he had his share of rejections. Producers, managers and agents used to tell him, ‘The time for bodybuilders was 20 years ago. You look too big, you’re too monstrous, too muscular. Today’s idols are Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Woody Allen, all little guys.’

But eventually, the very things that people said would be a hurdle became an asset, and his career started taking off.

Yet another time, he wanted to do a comedy and was confident that he had a humorous side, and that if a director would be patient and willing to work with him on this, they would make a great movie.

Since most people felt a comedy with Schwarzenegger would flop, that was something they could take advantage of. Arnold and the director of Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman, made a deal with Tom Pollock, who was then running Universal Studios, that they won’t take any salaries.

Instead, they’ll get a percentage share of the profits. And what happened? Arnold made more money on that movie than any other movie.

Another proponent of the theory is is Marc Andreessen, a legend whose creations have changed the world. He co-founded Netscape, which was later sold to AOL for $4.2 billion, and is one of the dominant tech investors in the world.

“Most of us never really develop and voice strong views on things. We are more likely to go along with the consensus.” he says. But great opportunities lie in things that are against conventional wisdom.

However, keep in mind that having an ambitious goal and plan to achieve it doesn’t mean sticking to it no matter what.

When you are convinced of a future that others fail to see, believe in it and defend it. But you should also be able to change your mind and strategy quickly as soon as you know better. You must adapt in light of new facts.

“Many successful people will fight you tooth and nail over a topic,” says Marc. “But as soon as you cite better information or a better logic, they’ll concede, “You’re so right. I didn’t think of that.”

Step 2: Know What It Takes

When you are really honest with yourself, you’ll be able to correctly answer two important questions:

  • Where am I now
  • What needs to be done

The first question is not so comfortable to deal with because it wounds your ego. The second question even more so because it asks for a sacrifice of what you have now for what you want.

But as with a bad, abusive relationship, if you don’t stand up to it, nothing is going to change. No matter what or how much of that what you need to start working towards your big goal, ultimately it boils down to time.

You may think you need more money, skills or other things before you can start working on achieving the big outcome that you want, but all that can be translated to mean you need more time.

To start practicing to become a great piano player, for instance, requires that you have a piano first. If you don’t have the money to buy the piano, it seems like what you need is money. But what you actually need is to put more time in order to make that money.

From the time you are born to when you leave the world, all you have with you is time – a limited resource. And you exchange portions of it for other things you want.

You give 8-12 hours daily per week to a job and exchange that time for money, which you trade for other material things like house, car and food.

A big part of remaining hours goes to friends and family, an exchange which fulfills your need for love and companionship. And the last part is yours, exchanged for a good night’s sleep, a hobby you enjoy or something else.

In other words, whatever you get from the world has a price. And you pay not with money, but your time.

Even after you buy the piano and start practicing, how much effort you’re putting in the practice will again be a measure of time – how many hours are you investing to master it. Assuming, of course, that each hour has the same level of your focus and productivity.

So as you think about the preparation for your journey to accomplish something big, ask yourself not just what you need, but also how much time you need to get what you need.

Looking to write a best-selling book? About 500 hours seems like a good guess. Learning a musical instrument? A thousand hours may be. Becoming a billionaire? Think 10,000+.

Of course, your luck and level of creativity has a role to play, but we can’t count on it in the planning stage. We need to be ready for the worst. Hence these estimates may seem a bit conservative.

And what you’re good at also has a role to play. Because you’ll need to invest less time in learning and do something you’re already good at, as opposed to something you suck at.

But keeping all exceptions aside, the biggest wall between the land of success and that of failure is total amount of time invested in the goal.

If you’re not sure about how many hours it’ll take to accomplish what you have in mind, look for people who have accomplished the same before you. Seek them out for inspiration and advice.

Time is the price you pay for everything. If you’re willing to give the required time and figure out how much will you need, then go to the next step.

Step 3: Minimize Potential Risks

Now from what I have written so far, it seems pretty exciting to be able to imagine a future that no one else is seeing, invest in it and succeed. But it’s not done in isolation.

Arnold Schwarzenegger could patiently wait for the right roles to start, because he could bide his time and didn’t rely on his movie career to make a living.

He saw over the years that aspiring actors were very vulnerable because they had to take anything offered to them to keep bread on the table.

So Arnold saved money he made from bodybuilding, seminars and courses through the mail, and invested in an apartment building.

In the 1970s, the inflation rate was very high and therefore an investment like that was unbeatable. Buildings that he would buy for $500K turned to $800K in a year.

So he quickly developed and traded up his buildings and bought more apartments and offices, and so on.

Real estate was booming at that time and he became a millionaire. He could ignore tiny parts because he had cash flow coming from his investments.

That’s the kind of power and control you can have when you prepare for the worst in advance and reduce your risks.

When Tim Ferriss was about to interview Arnold Schwarzenegger for his podcast, he used a Zoom H6 recorder for primary audio, but he also had a backup recorder.

Arnold asked “What’s this for?” to which he replied, “Backup, in case the primary fails.” Arnold was impressed. Cal Fussman got the same response from Richard Branson.

Step 4: Do What It Takes

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln

As we discussed, having faith in your version of the future, and in your decisions to capitalize on it is important. But so is carrying out the action and execution it needs.

All of us have just 24 hours in a day. No more, no less. And here’s a snapshot of how most of us spend it:

  • 1-2 hours: Travelling to and back from work.
  • 2-3 hours: Daily chores – cooking, cleaning, eating etc.
  • 7-9 hours: Sleeping or trying to sleep
  • 8-9 hours: Work. 50% productive. Rest in the office black hole.
  • 2-3 hours: Watching the idiot box that is TV

Even if you can take out just one hour every day to invest towards accomplishing something big, you have 365 hours in a year.

That’s enough to write a best-selling book, lose weight, or make significant progress towards whatever you want to accomplish.

When you’re hustling for the big stuff, getting an hour to spare every now and then isn’t going to work. Discipline and consistency are the keys.

Doing something every day, no matter how little, will eventually add up. If your goal is even bigger and requires 10,000+ hours (like being a rocket scientist or billionaire), then you need to be even more stern with your fickle mind.

That much time won’t come from just finding an hour to spare every day. You’d have to go all in, being as early in life as possible and give as much time as you can.

7 hours a day for 5 days week, for instance, will get you 1820 hours in a year, and that much close you’ll be to your accomplishment.

Paul Levesque, more popularly known as Triple H, is a 14-time world champion in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). He once shared what happened when he went to a meet a friend, Floyd Mayweather, minutes before Floyd was about to enter the ring for a big fight.

Floyd was lying down on the couch watching a basketball game. He was completely relaxed. After some conversation, Paul said, ‘I’ll head out and come back later. I don’t wanna be in your way,’ and Floyd says, ‘Hunter, I’m telling you: You don’t have to leave. I’m just chilling, watching the game.’

‘You’re not worried about this at all?’ Paul Said. “Why would I be wound up? I’m either ready or I’m not. Worrying about it right now ain’t gonna change a damn thing. I’ve either done everything I can to be ready for this, or I haven’t.”

Whitney Cummings once said something similar, on big standup specials: “My work isn’t done tonight. My work was done 3 months ago, and I just have to show up.”

You reap what you sow. There are no shortcuts. You can pass an exam by studying just the night before, or win a battle with a bit of luck, but shortcuts don’t win wars.

You can’t become a doctor in just a year, or write a best-seller in a spare weekend. The price has to be paid day in and day out, and the process followed. Not easy, but simple.

The best way to get something done is to schedule it, like you would a dentist appointment. And then try to stick to is as much as you can. Without a firm schedule, any dream fizzles out eventually.

Discipline and will power doesn’t come easy to many. If you’re just starting and working on improving on that front, it may be a good idea to have a support partner or group.

Writing a book, or losing weight, is easier doing with someone who has similar goal. You can keep each other accountable. You can find someone to team up with or join a group. Or you could consider hiring a coach to keep you on track.

You’ll Know When You’re Close

The initial hours will be really hard. It’ll take a lot of will power and discipline to begin and carry out the steps day after day. But the good news is that it’ll get easier as you get in the optimal zone.

Ever tried to brush your teeth with the other hand? When you first start doing it, it’ll feel awkward and uncomfortable for the first few days.

But keep doing it for a month, and it becomes a habit. Doing the old way will now feel odd.

When you start paying the price for your goal, your efforts become the way of life. And this new routine breeds small successes that make way for the ultimate goal.

An writer aspiring to publish a bestseller, for instance, may start by publishing a blog post every day. Not only this gives him momentum to keep working on his book, but accomplishes small wins like growing readership and paid writing gigs.

Eventually your determination will snowball into such a force that you won’t need will power to carry on. Rather, you’d call upon it to stop and take a break.

You’ll be so engrossed in the love of your work that the distractions will start fading away. You’ll keep going without the need to externally motivate yourself.

Ask anyone who has put himself in his chosen zone, and you’ll know it’s true. Talk to someone with the habit of going to gym every day: how do they feel the day they don’t go? Like something is not right.

Discipline becomes habit. And habit breeds success.

Getting out of your present rut and changing a habit is a big price to pay. That’s why everyone isn’t ready or has the will to pay it. But that’s fine because everyone doesn’t dream of going big.

For those of us who do, I have shared this post. What you make of it is up to you.

No matter what the end goal, what many of us want is to reach the limit of our potential. Would you do what it takes to reach yours?


Hitesh Sahni

Hitesh Sahni is a freelance writer, educator, consultant, marketer, and web designer helping people and businesses grow.
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