Few people realize that when climbing a mountain, the most dangerous part is not on the way up. It is on the way down.
It’s when your momentum — the momentum that you have been carefully cultivating — can make you over-balance and go tumbling, top to toe, down the mountain, painfully dashing you against its granite slopes.
But it’s not just momentum that can work against you. After reaching the top of the mountain, you are exhilarated. You feel like like there is nothing that can stop you. Just look at this marvelous thing you have achieved!
And so you are confident. But– you are confident about your abilities to climb UP the mountain. Climbing down the mountain is actually a very different thing. But you don’t realize it, and that’s what transforms confidence into overconfidence. It’s not that you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s that you don’t KNOW you don’t know what you’re doing.
Not only are you overconfident (which you might overcome if you were paying attention) but you are also tired.
The long slog to the top has been exhausting, and the exhilaration of accomplishment will only take you so far before the bone-deep weariness starts to make you stagger.
You start to make mistakes. You take stupid shortcuts you know better than to take. Sometimes you get away with it.
And sometimes you get a face full of gravel.
The Metaphor Explained:
People who are pushing their boundaries by definition don’t know what they are doing. However, at any given time, they are probably unaware of whether they are on their way up the mountain or on their way down. And you can’t expect them to know, because the whole way we learn is by association and by testing hypotheses. This thing is like that thing, the brain contends, and then it proceeds to test the theory. Until it is disproven, the hypothesis holds.
What this means is that you should take what you think you know about a given situation with a grain of salt. Reality is not nearly as stable as our brain encourages us to believe.
What does that look like in your life?
It looks like a perspective shift.
Perspective shifts are insanely valuable, because as a general rule, the reality you inhabit is inhabited ONLY by you. So you can use perspective to, temporarily at least, inhabit the realities of your clients, customers, and loved ones.
You can also shift your own perpective. For instance, once you see yourself as someone whose expertise is worth paying money for, that changes your reality permanently.
Those are all fairly straighforward concepts of perspective.
And then there’s meta perspectve.
The perspective you have in this moment is different than the perspective you will have next week, next year, next decade. That’s why people ask themselves questions like “What would Future Me do?” and “Is this going to matter in a year?”. You don’t know for sure which paradigms of yours will shift in the future, but you can shift from hyperfocus to panoramic.
Switching Paradigms Like a Boss
Although it is our default setting, hyperfocus is good for relatively few things.
Hyperfocus keeps you anchored in the moment. This is good for things like mindfulness training and concentrating on very small and specific things. Hyperfocus can certainly help you get things done.
It is less helpful for things like creativity, decision-making or general happiness.
Panorama views are where that stuff happens. When you can see the whole vista, you can see more than just a single piece. And if you concentrate, you can see how those pieces fit together.
It is challenging, but not impossible to use the best parts of both perspectives. I cover this in my free e-course Be The Boss, and more in depth in Your Next 6 Months Forever. The idea is that you want to spend time at both ends of the spectrum, and to build the structures into your life to help you do so, much like you ask yourself “What would Future Me do?”
What Shifting Perspective Actually Looks Like
But getting back to the face full of gravel. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid this. Occasional nose dives are the price one pays for courting the edges of your abilities. If you only did what you were good at, well, naturally you would fail far less.
Cultivating the skill of shifting your perspective, not only on command, but habitually, sorts out the worst problems associated with taking risks.
- Risk-takers tend to under-estimate the risks, because the hyperfocus makes the possibility of failure seem remote.
- Risk-takers also tend not to take common sense precautions because the hyperfocus makes them not want to concentrate on annoying things like contingency plans or reading the manual.
- When you’re focussed on a frontier project, they rest of your responsibilities tend to go into a slide. Broadening your perspective ensures that the rest of your life gets at least a little bit of the attention it needs.
- The discipline of habitually shifting your perspective is a very positive habit when you’re pushing the edges, because discipline is a good thing to have when risk is high.
Again, what does this shifting of perspective look like?
- It looks like weekly reviews
- It looks like daily reflection
- It looks like long term planning
- It looks like personal and professional development
It looks like a few less faces full of gravel.