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How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals | Stephen Duneier | TEDxTucson

How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals | Stephen Duneier | TEDxTucson


Translator: Oriel Yu
Reviewer: Queenie Lee By a show of hands. How many of you believe you
could replicate this image of Brad Pitt with just a pencil and piece of paper? Well, I’m going to show you
how to do this. And in so doing, I’m going to give you the skill necessary to become a world-class artist. And it shouldn’t take
more than about 15 seconds. But before I do that, how many of you believe
you could replicate this image of a solid gray square? (Laughter) Every one of us. And if you can make one gray square, you can make two, three, nine … Truth of the matter is, if you could made just one gray square, it’d be very difficult to argue that you couldn’t make
every gray square necessary to replicate the image in its entirety. And there you have it. I’ve just given you the skills necessary
to become a world-class artist. (Laughter) I know what you’re thinking. “That’s not real art, certainly wouldn’t make me
a world-class artist.” So let me introduce you to Chuck Close. He’s one of the highest-earning artists
in the entire world, for decades, he creates his art
using this exact technique. You see, what stands between us and achieving even
our most ambitious dreams has far less to do with possessing
some magical skill or talent, and far more to do with
how we approach problems and make decisions to solve them. And because of the continuous
and compounding nature of all those millions of decisions that we face on a regular basis, even a marginal improvement in our process can have a huge impact on our end results. And I’ll prove this to you by taking a look at
the career of Novak Djokovic. Back in 2004, when he first became
a professional tennis player, he was ranked 680th in the world. It wasn’t until the end of his third year that he jumped up
to be ranked third in the world. He went from making 250,000 a year
to 5 million a year, in prize money alone, and of course, he did this
by winning more matches. In 2011, he became the number one
ranked men’s tennis player in the world, started earning an average
of 14 million a year in prize money alone and winning a dominating
90% of his matches. Now, here’s what’s really interesting about all of these very
impressive statistics. Novak doesn’t control any of them. What he does control
are all the tiny little decisions that he needs to make
correctly along the way in order to move the probability in favor of him achieving
these types of results. And we can quantify and track
his progress in this area by taking a look at the percentage
of points that he wins. Because in tennis the typical point involves
one to maybe three decisions, I like to refer to this
as his decision success rate. So, back when he was winning
about 49% of the matches he was playing, he was winning about 49%
of the points he played. Then to jump up,
become number three in the world, and actually earn
five million dollars a year for swinging a racquet, he had to improve
his decision success rate to just 52 percent. Then to become not just number one but maybe one of the greatest players
to ever play the game, he had to improve
his decision success rate to just 55 percent. And I keep using this word “just.” I don’t want to imply this is easy to do, clearly, it’s not. But the type of marginal improvements
that I’m talking about are easily achievable
by every single one of us in this room. And I’ll show you what I mean. From kindergarten, all the way
through to my high school graduation – yes, that’s high school
graduation for me – (Laughter) every one of my report cards
basically said the same thing: Steven is a very bright young boy, if only he would just
settle down and focus. What they didn’t realize was I wanted that even more than they wanted it for me, I just couldn’t. And so, from kindergarten
straight through the 2nd year of college, I was a really consistent C, C- student. But then going into my junior year, I’d had enough. I thought I want to make a change. I’m going to make a marginal adjustment, and I’m going to stop being a spectator
of my decision-making and start becoming an active participant. And so, that year, instead of pretending, again, that I would suddenly be able
to settle down and focus on things for more than five
or ten minutes at a time, I decided to assume I wouldn’t. And so, if I wanted to achieve
the type of outcome that I desire – doing well in school – I was going to actually
have to change my approach. And so I made a marginal adjustment. If I would get an assignment,
let’s say, read five chapters in a book, I wouldn’t think of it as five chapters, I wouldn’t even think of it
as one chapter. I would break it down into these tasks
that I could achieve, that would require me to focus
for just five or ten minutes at a time. So, maybe three or four paragraphs. That’s it. I would do that and when I was done
with those five or ten minutes, I would get up. I’d go shoot some hoops,
do a little drawing, maybe play video games for a few minutes, and then I come back. Not necessarily to the same assignment, not even necessarily to the same subject, but just to another task that required
just five to ten minutes of my attention. From that point forward, all the way through to graduation, I was a straight-A student, Dean’s List, President’s Honor Roll, every semester. I then went on to one of the top
graduate programs in the world for finance and economics. Same approach, same results. So then, I graduate. I start my career and I’m thinking, this worked really well for me. You know, you take these big concepts, these complex ideas,
these big assignments, you break them down
too much more manageable tasks, and then along the way, you make a marginal
improvement to the process that ups the odds
of success in your favor. I’m going to try and do this in my career. So I did. I started out as an exotic
derivatives trader for credit Swiss. It then led me to be global head
of currency option trading for Bank of America, global head of emerging markets
for AIG international. It helped me deliver top-tier returns as a global macro hedge fund
manager for 12 years and to become founder and CIO
of two award-winning hedge funds. So it gets to 2001, and I’m thinking, this whole idea, it worked really well in school, it’s been serving me well
as a professional, why aren’t I applying this
in my personal life, like to all those big ambitious goals
I have for myself? So one day, I’m walking to work, and at the time my commute was a walk from one end
of Hyde Park to the other, in London. It took me about 45 minutes each way, an hour and a half a day,
seven and a half hours a week, 30 hours a month, 360 hours a year, when I was awake, aware,
basically wasting time, listening to music on my iPod. So on my way home from work that day
I stopped at the store. I picked up the first 33 CDs
in the Pimsleur German language program, ripped them and put them onto my iPod. But I didn’t stop there. Because the truth of the matter is,
I’m an undisciplined person. And I knew that at some point, I’d switch away from the language
and go back to the music. So I removed that temptation
by removing all of the music. That left me with just one option: listen to the language tapes. So ten months later,
I’d listened to all 99 CDs in the German language program, listened to each one three times each. And I went to Berlin for a 16-day
intensive German course. When I was done, I invited my wife
and kids to meet me. We walked around the city. I spoke German to the Germans,
they spoke German back to me. My kids were amazed. (Laughter) I mean they couldn’t close their jaws. But you and I, we know, there is actually nothing amazing
about what I’ve just done. I made this marginal adjustment
to my daily routine. This marginal adjustment to my process. (German) Und jetzt, ich spreche
ein bisschen Deutsch. And now I could speak some German. And so in that moment, I’m thinking, it’s not supposed to be this easy
for a guy like me – an old guy – to learn a new language. You’re supposed to do that
when you’re a kid. And yet here I had done it. This marginal adjustment. So what other big ambitious goals
I’ve been holding onto, putting off until retirement, that I could potentially achieve if I just made a marginal
adjustment to my routine? So I started doing them. I earned my auto racing license. I learned how to fly a helicopter, did rock-climbing, skydiving. I learned how to fly planes aerobatically. Well, if you’re like me, back in 2007, you might have the same goal I had. I was just moving back from London. I was about 25 pounds overweight
and out of shape, and I wanted to rectify that. So I could go to the typical route, you know, I could write a check
to a gym I’d never go to. Or I could swear to myself
that I will never again eat those foods that I love but are doing all the damage. And I knew that going that route
rarely results in the outcome you desire. So I decided to become
an active participant. I thought about the habits and passions
that I’ve developed in my life, and I thought, can I make just
a marginal adjustment to them so that they work in my favor
as opposed to against me? And so I did. I’ve got a habit where I’ve been walking an hour
and a half a day for the last seven years, and I’ve got this passion
for being in the outdoors. And so that year, I didn’t actually set the new year’s
resolution to lose 25 pounds. I set a resolution to hike all 33 trails in the front country
of Santa Barbara Mountains. And I’d never been on a hike
before in my life. (Laughter) But the truth of the matter is,
it’s not about the 33 trails. You have to break this big ambitious goal down into these more
manageable decisions – the types of decisions that need
to be made correctly along the way in order to improve the odds of achieving
the type of outcome you desire. It’s not about even one trail. It’s about those tiny little decisions, you know, like when you
are sitting at your desk, putting in just a little extra time
at the end of a day. Or you’re lying on your couch, clicking through the channels
on your remote control, or scrolling through your Facebook feed, and in that moment,
make the decision to put it down. You go put on your hiking clothes, you go walk outside your front door,
and you shut it behind you. You walk to your car, get in,
drive to the trailhead. You get out of the car at the trailhead, and you take one step,
you take two steps, three steps. Every one of those steps
that I have just described is a tiny little decision that needs
to be made correctly along the way in order to achieve the ultimate outcome. Now, when I say I want to hike
33 trails in the front country, people think about the decisions
at the top of the mountain. That’s not what it’s about. Because if you don’t make
the right decision when you’re on the couch, there is no decision that occurs
at the top of the mountain. So by the end of the year, I’d hiked all 33 trails
in the front country; I did them a couple of times each. I even did a few in the backcountry. I lost the 25 pounds,
and I capped the year off by doing the hardest
half marathon in the world – the Pier to Peak. In 2009, I got really ambitious, ambitious for a guy who still,
to this day, cannot settle down and focus on anything for more
than ten or ten minutes at a time, and that was to read 50 books. But again, it’s not
about reading 50 books. It’s not even about reading one book. It’s not about reading a chapter,
a paragraph, a sentence. It’s about that decision when you’re sitting at your desk
at the end of the day, or when you’re lying on the couch, or flicking through your Facebook feed, and you put down the phone. You pick up a book and you read one word. If you read one word,
you’ll read two words, three words; you’ll read a sentence, a paragraph,
a page, a chapter, a book; you’ll read ten books, 30 books, 50 books. In 2012, I got really ambitious. I set 24 new year’s resolutions. 12 of them were
what I call giving resolutions, where I did 12 charitable things
that didn’t involve writing a check. But it’s not without its failures. I tried to donate blood, and they rejected me
because I’d lived in the UK. I tried to donate my sperm;
they rejected me because I was too old. I tried to donate my hair, and it turns out nobody wants grey hair. (Laughter) So, here I was trying to do something
to make myself feel good, and it was having the opposite effect. So anyway, I’ve also had
these 12 learning resolutions, to learn 12 new skills. And when I was done with unicycling,
parkour, slacklining, jumping stilts and drumming, my wife suggested
that I learned how to knit. (Laughter) And I’ll be honest, I wasn’t all
that passionate about knitting. But one day, I’m sitting
under this 40-foot tall eucalyptus tree that’s 2.6 miles up the cold
spring trail in Santa Barbara, and I’m thinking, that tree would look
really cool if it were covered in yarn. (Laughter) And so I went home and Googled this, and it turns out it is a thing people do,
it’s called yarnbombing: you wrap these public
structures with yarn. And, the second annual
international yarn bombing day was just 82 days away. (Laughter) So for the next 82 days,
no matter where I was – (Laughter) if I was in a board meeting,
on the trading floor, in an airplane or in the hospital, I was knitting. One stitch at a time. And 82 days later, I had done my first ever yarnbomb. (Applause) And the response to it blew me away. So I kept going … (Laughter) with bigger, more ambitious projects that required more engineering skills. And in 2014, I set the goal
to wrap six massive boulders in Los Padres National Forest
at the top of the mountains. But if I was going to pull this off,
I’d need help. So at this point, I had a few
thousand followers on social media as “The Yarnbomber.” (Laughter) And I started getting packages –
lots of packages – 388 contributors
from 36 countries in all 50 states. In the end, I didn’t wrap
one massive boulder, I wrapped 18. (Applause) So I kept going with bigger, more ambitious projects that would require me
to work with new materials, like fiberglass, and wood, and metals, which culminates in a project
that is currently at TMC, here in Tucson, where I wrapped the Children’s Hospital. (Applause) Along the way, I stopped knitting. I never really liked it. (Laughter) But … I like crocheting. (Laughter) So, I started making these
seven-inch granny squares – because that’s
the standard granny square – and I thought along the way:
why am I stopping at seven inches? I need big stuff. So, I started making
bigger granny squares. So one day, I come home
from a business trip, and I’ve got this really large granny, and I went to the website of Guinness. I was curious what’s the world’s
largest granny square. And it turns out
there’s no category for it. (Laughter) So I applied, and they rejected me. So I appealed, and they rejected me. I appealed again, and they said fine, if you make it ten meters by ten meters,
we’ll create a new category, and you will be a Guinness
world record holder. So, for the next two years, seven months, 17 days, one stitch at a time, I finally reached more
than half a million stitches, incorporated more than 30 miles of yarn, and I am now the official
Guinness world record holder for the largest crocheted granny square. (Applause) (Cheering) Along the way, I’ve garnered an awful lot
of attention for my escapades. I’ve been featured in Newsweek magazine, Eric news, which is
kind of the Bible for artists. But what I want you to realize
when you hear these things: I’m still that C- student. I’m still that kid who can’t settle down or focus for more than five
or ten minutes at a time. And I remain a guy who possesses
no special gift of talent or skill. All I do is take really big,
ambitious projects that people seem to marvel at, break them down to their simplest form and then just make
marginal improvements along the way to improve my odds of achieving them. And so the whole reason
I’m giving this talk is I’m hoping to inspire several of you to pull some of those ambitious dreams
that you have for yourself off the bookshelf and start pursuing them by making
that marginal adjustment to your routine. Thank you. (Applause)


Reader Comments

  1. I watched hundreds of motivational videos but this is the one which I was looking for. Just another level 👌🏼👌🏼

  2. I want to learn a new language so I’m starting today one word a day and see how I get on , that’s 365 words and their meaning this time next year

  3. I watched this video to learn his secret and turned out that he likes crocheting – which I LOVE doing – and became a Guinness World record holder. Now I'm inspired to break the record. Stitch 1, 2, 3,….

  4. it was interesting no one told me or i had access to youtube, but learning the coding made me realize this method as well now any huge project of programming is just a bunch of procedures combined together… none the less wandering mind always bugging in back seat lol

  5. of all the youtube vidoes that I ever watched, this was best one. Salute to this marginal adjustment principle guy!

  6. One cup at a time, incremental improvement. I just did a sink full of dishes and cleaned half my house while watching this video.

  7. Break your goals into tiny achievable steps and get started .

    Dont force yourself, concentrate on the work for 20 mins and take breaks .

    Change your daily habits , replace entertainments with educational materials.

  8. I just got 5 poems selected for print publishing of magazine. I have regular writing success using the same methods he speaks of. I use the square method but with my poetry. I sketches the bones of each part first then I work on a part for while until it is mastered (it is vivid and original and profound). I do not move on to the next part until the last (stanza) is done.
    I also do the work leave return to work and leave the work again. I do this all day every day. I am a prolific original writer and this is how I do it even in studying the craft or brushing up on techniques. I now have 2 books done.

  9. I was a c grade student in high school yet I am a writer rising and achieving fast.

    How I became a great poet with a great publishing rate. Some of my process:

    I read 5 to 10 poems a day and translate several and dissect them and do an entire analysis on them. I remember that it adds up.

    I then echo two to 6 or them a week.
    I do old poetry exercises again and again (for programing my them in my mind)

    My goal is always to complete a Chapbook a month.

    I use outlines for all my poems, at least 50% of the outline is create before writing the poem. I don't write about anything I have just experienced. I don't count how many poems I mastered a day, but how many poems I actually edited and sketched. I know that one will always get mastered if I return to it and master each part of it, in steps.

  10. Thank you so much! I am one of those to whom you spoke to at the end. I am eternally thankful for the true gift you have shared with us all. You have undoubtedly helped change the world for the better.

  11. You think you've understood this the very first time?

    No, watch it twice

    cuz you couldn't focus the first time

    as you were in awe!

  12. This is me. Absolutely fantastic. I’ve achieved no where near the level of things Stephen has done however, for me, they were equally amazing. Thanks for breaking this down Stephen. It truly is an amazing thing and what’s funny is every now and then when I lose my way? I need to be reminded of this. Thank you so much.

  13. Halfway through this just seems like a rich and successful guy telling us about all the great things he's done. That felt a little counter productive for a motivational vid but the first 5-10mins was good and insightful.

  14. He lied when de said he has no special talent or special gift. Hard work and patience are the best gifts anyone could have, and he has both.

  15. Thank you for such inspiring speech! Hear more than once. Since I can relate with you as being a -C minus student struggling through life. Now I know how to break down the road ahead. Thanks. Peace

  16. I will become a badass Iike that man, and not the woman who Is stuck raising his children and offering advice of what HE should do. My life, my time. Not my mans life and my children’s time. No no, not for me.

  17. You are an incredible man! What great advice!! A little at a time. You motivate me to strive for my goals & I have a few. Will start in the morning! Awesome video & worth watching. Shared with a friend. Thank you

  18. Thanks a lot! I really enjoyed to watch the video.

    Set ambitious goals and break down into little managable tasks.

    Thank you again!

  19. I have had a big life change/transforming in the last year or so. Until about a week ago I was just sponging. Whats sponging u ask(or not, ha) ? Its my made up term for absorbing info from all over, whenever, however, and it was good. But now I need to act. Now I need to execute my sponge and transform it into a desirable, influential, and compassionate machine, that I can make a good living, and then pass it on. WOW, WTF does that have to do with anything discussed. haha
    I have heard this practical idea of just take it one at time, go one step and then another, and the classic just start! So i think its a universal sign telling me to get a ride! haha,
    To start moving(with sponge in pocket). Be well, Be Real, and BE YOU.

  20. It's funny man everything you're saying I'm actually applying it to my life right now and I have a gym membership to a gym I have not gone to and I am eating Yoshinoya brown rice and steamed vegetables instead of Pet Express because you get a bigger bang for your buck at Panda Express because you get free heart attack on the side lol

  21. This is the TED video I rewatch mostly. Thanks to Stephen Duneier for making me believe that everything is possible with practice and dedication!

  22. What a waste of resource would be more inspiring if he knitted the clothes for the poor. man of ambitious for publicity more likely

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