Why ‘This’ Before ‘That’ Matters If You Want to Achieve Your Goals

UPDATED: June 26, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 11, 2016

It was a beautiful crisp June morning at the Grand Canyon. The sun beckoned a new day as my wife and I took our first steps down the winding path. Because we had one day to explore, we decided to descend the canyon for two hours before ascending to sightsee by car. As we began our descent, scores of hikers—sometimes in groups of 10 or more—made their way down the iconic pathways. Needless to say, the energy on the way down was electric. Strangers laughed and talked with each other. A few groups even sang to enhance the moment. Many hikers were decked out in new clothes from their favorite outdoor apparel stores. The descent was filled with a holiday-like cheer.

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When my wife and I began our ascent, and because we are in relatively good physical shape, we regularly passed other hikers. Many of them displayed a significantly different mood. The feeling of cheer had evaporated and dispositions were muted, to say the least. There were no cheery greetings or songs. Some people barked quick hellos in between heavy breathing; some bore a look of agony; most were simply silent.

Even with all their new gear, many hikers seemed unable to enjoy the upward journey. Winded and thirsty, it was obvious they were playing a part they had not prepared for. The hike down the canyon had not revealed this lack of ability and preparation. The trek back up, however, exposed their weakness and lack of capacity.

This Before That

I was reminded on that beautiful June day that preconditions matter. If we want to achieve a big result, we must first achieve a whole range of related results to prepare us for the big one. This before that. Do you want to enjoy hiking the Grand Canyon? If that is your big goal, then you’ll need to possess some important preliminary conditions to guarantee success. For example, before you hike down and back up the canyon, you would want the following preliminary conditions:

  • Significant aerobic capacity (you’ll need this for the incline and thinner air)
  • Strong and flexible muscles (you’ll need these to navigate terrain changes and endure long periods of hiking)
  • General health and well-being (you’ll need this to sustain physical, mental and emotional stamina)

Once you know what preliminary conditions you need for the desired result (hiking the canyon, in this case), then you can focus on the mindsets and actions to help you develop those preliminary conditions.

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Here’s a secret to achieving big results: You achieve a big result not by focusing your current action on the big result, but by focusing your current action on the preliminary conditions that get you ready for the big result.

If you don’t focus on the preliminary conditions, and instead head straight for the big result, you’ll be playing a part you didn’t prepare for. We all know “looking the part” usually doesn’t suffice. A new pair of the latest hiking boots won’t turn a couch potato into a canyon hiker. The decked out couch potato is still missing critical preconditions that make the trek possible. He’s simply playing a part. He’s a photo-op phony.

If you want a big result, focus your effort on related results to prepare you for the big one.

Ask yourself the following questions after identifying a big result you want to achieve:

  1. What result do I want?
  2. What preliminary preconditions must I possess in order to reach the big result?
  3. What skills/mindsets/actions will I need to develop in order to possess the preliminary conditions?

Once you’ve identified the answer to No. 3, focus your effort there. Focus your effort on developing the preliminary conditions. Once you’ve developed the preconditions, and can consistently achieve them, you’re ready for the big result.

We all have our own “Grand Canyon.” The irony is we are less likely to achieve the big result if we focus our current effort on it. Discover the preliminary conditions you’ll need to achieve the big result. Then put your effort on the actions that develop those preconditions and you’ll take a big step toward your big goal.

Related: 10 Tips to Achieve Anything You Want in Life

Dave Fleming is a highly sought-after keynote speaker who invigorates audiences with his thought-provoking lessons, gleaned from two decades of studying ingenuity and coaching some of the world’s most ingenious tribes. Dave’s scholarly and professional experiences led him to develop a framework for collective ingenuity. He speaks, writes and works with teams to help them transform what they have into what they need. Dave earned a doctor of management in organizational leadership and a Ph.D. in human and organizational systems. His latest book, Tribal Alchemy: Mining Your Team’s Collective Ingenuity, explores this framework. Learn more at DaveFleming.com.