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Little Milestones: A Note from the Top of Mt. St. Helens

Welcome MSN Money readers! There’s a whole lot of new folks around here since my recent interview with Liz Pulliam Weston. Riskology.co is all about getting more from life by taking bigger and better risks. Thanks for joining the movement.

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Earlier this week, I completed my very first mountain climb. Below is a quick, 1:30 minute video from the summit of what I learned. You’ll have to excuse my shortness of breath. The air up there is great, but there’s not a lot of it (story below if you can’t watch).

Click here to see the video if you’re reading via email or a feed reader.

In my quest to join the top 1% of the world, I plan to climb the highest peak on every continent. That’s seven incredibly challenging and, honestly, terrifying mountains.

When you look at a goal like that before you’ve even started, it can be completely overwhelming. How could I possibly think I could achieve such a thing when I’d never gone on more than a simple hike in the woods? I’m completely unqualified.

Of course, no one with a really great goal is ever truly qualified to complete it. That’s what makes it great. But each little milestone along the way gets you closer and closer to becoming “qualified.”

Earlier this week, I reached my own little milestone by climbing to the summit of Mt. St. Helens in SW Washington. It’s not on the 1% list, and to a lot of experienced climbers it’s hardly more than a walk in the park. But for me, it was a huge accomplishment because I proved to myself that I could actually get started.

I learned a lot about mountain climbing on my way to and up St. Helens. I learned a few things about little milestones and what it takes to achieve them, too.

I want to share them with you because I think they go well beyond mountain climbing and apply to any big goal you might be chasing.

Eliminate mental barriers

Every big goal, whether you’re climbing a mountain, running a marathon, starting a business, or any other crazy thing, comes with big mental barriers. There are all kinds of tricks your mind will play to keep you from even getting started.

Here are a few excuses that almost kept me from even attempting my first mountain climb:

  • I don’t have the best gear.
  • I don’t have enough experience.
  • Climbing is expensive.
  • The weather won’t be perfect.

All of those things conspired in my mind to make me forget about the whole idea. If you spend too much time dwelling on it, your lizard brain will always win.

You need to be aware of potential hazards, but only in order to maneuver around them. Don’t let them stop you. The most important thing you can ever do is simply get started.

What barriers are stopping you from taking on something big?

Take baby steps

The very best way I know to get past mental barriers is to take baby steps.

Most would agree it’s a lot more fun to dream about climbing Mt. Everest than to make a packing list for a tiny climb in your own backyard, but the simple truth is that without the packing list, the dream of Everest will always remain just that, a dream.

Every huge goal is no more than the sum of a million little ones.

For me, the first step towards summiting Mt. Everest was learning about mountain climbing, picking a practice mountain, and getting to the top (and back down, of course). Everest is still a very long way off, but St. Helens is my first baby step towards it.

Is it a crowning achievement? Not by most standards, but it’s a very important one as it’s the first in a series of many. I proved to myself that I could start, and that’s very powerful.

What’s something you can do right now to get one, tiny step closer to your big goals?

Keep your head down, but not too long

One of the most important things you can do while you’re pursuing a goal is to keep your head down and keep working. Coincidentally, it’s one of the worst things you can do, too.

Every big goal comes with difficulties. If you spend all your time with your head up in the air dreaming about what the end will look like, you’ll never get around to doing the grunt work on the ground to get there. Big goals take big effort.

At the same time, if your head is always down in the dirty work, it’s pretty dang hard to see where you’re going.

While I was climbing, there were some incredibly steep slopes to get up and others who’d gone before me had left deep footprints in the snow, making the trek easier for me. I put my head down and focused on each step, placing my foot in the footprint ahead of me.

Halfway up the hill, I finally looked up and noticed that the footprints had lead me completely off course. I had to make my own prints to get back where I needed to be.

Learn from others, but chart your own course.

Don’t expect that just because someone’s done it before, that they did it right or that their way is the best course for you. Focus on each step, but make sure you’re headed the right direction.

Final Thoughts

I learned a lot on my first mountain climb that applies to more than just mountaineering.

If you want to get started, you’ve got to get past your mental blocks and tame your lizard brain. If you want to finish, you’ve got to take a lot of baby steps. And, if you want to get the most from your journey, you should follow where it makes sense, but always look forward and don’t be afraid to lead when you need to.

What big goal are you chasing and what little milestone will get you closer?

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Side note: My friend Chris Guillebeau launched his Empire Building Kit for the 3rd and final time yesterday. It’s a course to help you build your own “empire” by reaching one little milestone every day for a year.

I’ve been using the EBK for 2 months now and can say it’s played a major role in how I’ve built Riskology.co. In fact, just one of Chris’ tips helped me increase AR’ s readership by more than 1,000% (and counting).

This course is amazing for anyone trying to start a business online that wants some help along the way. If that’s not you, I’d pass.

If you decide to pick up a copy, you’ll be supporting the great work of Chris as well as myself.

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