Lessons From a San Francisco Sunrise: The Magic of Committing to a Specific Goal

In our noisy world of multitasking, always connected, and overstimulated work, it’s easy to live in a constant state of distraction.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Earlier this week, as I wrapped up a 5–day trip in San Francisco, I was reminded of the power of committing yourself to a single task.

I woke up a few hours before sunrise, drove through the darkness and out of the city, hiked for 30 minutes to the top of a hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and snapped this photo…

San Francisco Sunrise

san francisco california photos
The sun rises over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. (Photo by James Clear.)

As I stood there soaking in the early morning light, I was reminded of an important lesson that is dangerously easy to ignore: if you commit to a task rather than thinking about a desire, you get something done.

The Dangerous Mistake We All Make

When I arrived in San Francisco, I told myself, “Just take photos as you do other things.” My primary goal was to meet with friends and so I figured I could take pictures as we walked around the city. This resulted in exactly zero photos worth sharing.

I had vague ideas like, “I’d like to do some street photography,” but I never went out with the intent of photographing something specific. Finally, on the last morning, I went out with the intent of capturing a specific picture and I ended up with something worth sharing.

My mistake was that I assumed that because I wanted to take photos, I would end up getting a desirable result.

How often do you do this in your own life?

We think constantly about our vague desires without committing to a specific task. We go to the gym to “work out” without trying to become better at something specific. We want to “get stronger” without considering the exact muscle groups that we want to focus on. We wish that we were more creative, but never work on a particular project.

Clarity Leads to Direction

All of the broad questions we ask ourselves, like “What should I do with my life?” or “Will I ever find love?” or “Is there meaning to what I do?” … none of those questions make it clear about what you should do next.

When you commit to a task, however, then the next step is obvious. You want to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise? Next step: find a good spot. You’ve found a good spot? Next step: wake up early and drive there.

If you only think about what you want, then you’ll end up confused or frustrated with luke warm results at best.

Your choices will fall into place if you have a direction to move towards.

Commitment to performing a specific task is often the only difference between our results and our desires.

Begin It Now

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.
— W.H. Murray

So often, we avoid staking our claim to a specific goal out of fear that we choose the wrong one. It’s as if we forget that we can always adjust our decisions later on.

This is perhaps the most shocking thing about committing to a specific goal: if box yourself in, then you’ll begin to break out and achieve something greater than you ever imagined.

Commit to something and begin it now.

Once you fully decide to start, the world will find ways to help you finish.