A couple days ago, I looked back on all of my biggest accomplishments. I wondered what made those times different from many other moments in my life, when I took the easy road, pursued temporary instead of long-lasting pleasures, and kept putting tasks off until the next day.
I remembered the two weeks before 2012 sectionals, when I did sprints up and down my parents’ driveway every single morning, court conditioning in the evenings, and trained as hard as I could to help my team win and get to nationals. And those long summer nights preparing for the bar exam, when I left the law school library and headed straight to Starbucks to study my review books for a couple more hours.
I kept telling myself that I had to keep studying, because I never wanted to take the bar exam again. And I trained hard everyday before sectionals because I didn’t want to let my team down.
I prepared so intensely for those events in my life, and ended up going undefeated at sectionals (4-0 in singles), and passed the bar exam on my first attempt. But why was I able to achieve these results one moment, and not bring myself to finish a simple task like writing a two-sentence email the next?
Then it hit me. I realized the presence of an emotion that has helped me, and countless others, endure hours of hard work, preparation, and anything else it takes to perform at our best, without hesitation. It is the sense of urgency.
Below, I examine why the physiological and mental effects of the sense of urgency makes it one of the most powerful tools that mankind has to push it toward accomplishing goals, from the simplest to the most monumental.
The Power of the Sense of Urgency
A sense of urgency is a very powerful emotional motivation that translates into increased focus and optimal decision-making. Take a look at these two examples:
(1) “My tournament is 3 weeks away, so I better start training as hard as I can right now, otherwise I will not win the tournament.”
(2) “My tournament is 3 weeks away: I have plenty of time to practice, so I can relax today and will find someone to train with tomorrow.”
In example one, the player feels a sense of urgency that while she rests, someone else is out there training. The player knows that she needs to do everything she can to improve and be at the top of her game, otherwise she will lose. The player in example two does not feel a sense of urgency, so he does not have the same drive and motivation as player one. As a result, his preparation is suboptimal, and he will not perform his best when it counts.
Success is largely driven by a person’s sense of urgency. If you think that accomplishing something is vitally important, then come hell or high-water, you will find a way to get over any obstacles in your path to reach your goal.
Some common sense of urgency thought processes are as follows:
(1) If I don’t train my hardest, someone out there will train harder than me and beat me.
(2) If I don’t give it my all, I will let my team down.
(3) If i don’t study diligently, I will fail my exam.
(4) My family has poured a lot of time and effort into my tennis and education. If I don’t do my best, I will disappoint them.
(5) I want to be the best tennis player in the world, and I can’t do this without giving it everything I have.
Can you see how the sense of urgency thoughts above can drive you to perform your best?
How Does a Sense of Urgency Help You Crush Your Goals?
1. It Motivates You to Perform
What better motivation is there than to tell your mind and body that accomplishing your goal is critical? I liken the effect of a sense of urgency to “fight or flight” syndrome. Physiologically, you feel an increase in energy, your mental focus, and your determination to accomplish your goal. There is no time for laziness. There is no time to relax. There is only time to put in 110% because there is no other choice. You either perform or face the unimaginable consequences of failure.
2. It Makes You Focused and Consistent
The key to achieving a goal is motivation + consistency. As Jim Ryun says, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” There’s been so many times where I’ve gotten pumped to do something but never followed through with it. When you attach a sense of urgency to a goal, then you have to follow through. Accomplishing your goal becomes critical to your existence. You make it your first priority from the moment that you wake up to when you go to bed at night, and up until the job is done.
3. It Attaches Negative Consequences
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the sense of urgency is that it attaches negative consequences to your inaction. If I don’t train hard and think to myself “who cares, I can just train tomorrow!” then I will relax because no negative consequences, in my mind, will come to fruition.
However, once you attach a sense of urgency to non-action, that is when you realize that there are negative consequences if you do not follow through with the optimal choice for that situation. This thought is extremely powerful. It tells our mind and body that it is critical for us to take action. We can all use the sense of urgency and negative consequences to our advantage.
Legendary athletes like Michael Jordan and Lebron James have undoubtedly used the following sense of urgency reasons and corresponding negative consequences to motivate them: “If I don’t train my hardest, I will never become the greatest basketball player ever” and “If I don’t give it my all, I will let my team and the city of Chicago/Cleveland down.” This makes a monumental difference in the effort level and preparation for these athletes.
“WORK EXPANDS SO AS TO FILL THE TIME AVAILABLE FOR ITS COMPLETION”
Parkinson’s law directly relates to the sense of urgency concept because when you attach a time-restraint on your goal, you will increase or decrease your intensity and effort-level according to the period of time you allot to accomplish it.
For example, if I set a goal to hit 10 good kick serves in a row in 7 days, this short time period fosters a sense of urgency in me, and you bet your whip and buggy (do they still make those?) that I will be on the court every single day practicing my kick serve intensely to reach my goal.
Now what happens if I set a goal to hit 10 kick serves in a row in 3 months? I won’t feel the same sense of urgency to accomplish this goal because of the long time-period allotted, and will probably practice something else until it gets closer to the 3 month deadline before I practice my kick serves more intensely.
Do you see the difference? My intensity, frequency of training, and focus changes dramatically according to the time I designate to accomplish my goal. In the first instance, I set my goal to happen in 7 days, so I’m out practicing every day. In the latter case, I have 3 months, so I don’t practice with the same intensity and sense of urgency. The work expands to fit the time available for its completion.
Parkinson’s law illustrates that the sense of urgency greatly increases our work output and intensity in large part because we attach a deadline by which we have to accomplish our goal. I don’t know about you, but in school I usually felt in the zone a week or couple days before the exam, not a month out!
The time period you choose for your goal should be realistic but not too long, because you are capable of accomplishing tough tasks in less time than you give yourself credit for. You can increase your chances of accomplishing your goals if you attach a reasonable time-period to complete them.
How to Use a Sense of Urgency to Crush Your Goals
Follow the 3 steps below, and you will experience a huge increase in your performance and crush your goals:
(1) Write down your top 3 short-term goals in tennis and/or life (too many and you will won’t be able to accomplish any of them), and attach a reasonable time-period for accomplishing that goal.
(2) For each of your goals, write down why it is critical to you that you succeed in accomplishing that goal.
In other words, I want you to attach a sense of urgency reason to your goal.
Here is a list of common SOURs you can use:
If I don’t succeed with this priority, then:
- I will live the rest of my life with regret
- I will let down my family and friends who have supported me emotionally and financially
- I will fail to live up to my potential
- I will not become the best tennis player that I can be
- No one will respect me
- I will let my team down
- I will not accomplish what I want to so badly in life
(3) Think about the negative consequences of not accomplishing your goal (the sense of urgency reason, aka SOUR) and let that feeling sink in. Imagine yourself failing at the task and the negative emotions that you will feel. Then commit to doing everything you can to prevent this terrible feeling (aka feeling SOUR) from happening.
Example: In 3 weeks, I want to develop a consistent and reliable kick serve. If I don’t accomplish this goal now, I will never become the complete player that I’ve always wanted to be, and my chances of winning the tournament next month against top-level players will be slim to none. It will feel awful not to have a good kick serve knowing that I am very capable of having one if I just put the work in. I will lose a lot more matches without one, and I can’t let that happen. Result: 3 weeks of motivated, consistent hard work and a great kick serve.
A word of caution: As I and many of my podcast guests have mentioned, when you are actually playing a match or performing the action which you have prepared for, you must focus on the process. In other words, if you think about your sense of urgency reason during a match or when you are trying to accomplish a task, it can distract you.
For example, if you know you need to do on-court conditioning but feel lazy, that is the time you need to remember your sense of urgency reason. Repeating how you will disappoint your family if you lose at 6-all in the tiebreak of your match will probably not keep you very calm and focused during the point.
The key here is to use your sense of urgency reason to motivate you and foster a persistent feeling in your mind and body that you must accomplish your goal, optimize your performance, and succeed, because if you don’t there are hugely negative consequences that you must avoid at all costs.
Remember the acronym SOUR: if you don’t attach a Sense Of Urgency Reason to your goal, then you won’t achieve it and will end up feeling SOUR!
What If I Do My Best and Don’t Reach my Goal?
Easy answer here: you should be proud of yourself. If you wrote down a time-bound goal that is important to you, attached a sense of urgency reason, used it to prepare like you’ve never prepared before, and you came up short, this is an amazing thing. Because you will have performed so much better and accomplished so much more than if you had not given it your best. The solution is to get back up and go for your goal again. As Julie Andrews said, “Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.”
Obviously, we are all hoping you don’t have to fail 19 times first, but if you need to, so be it. Keep analyzing why you failed, what in your preparation and processes you can tweak to perform better next time, and when you finally reach your goal, it will be extra sweet.
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