Do Things You Can Sustain

In 1996, Southwest Airlines was faced with an interesting problem.

During the previous decade, the airline company had methodically expanded from being a small regional carrier to one with a more national presence. And now, more than 100 cities were calling for Southwest to expand service to their location. At a time when many airline companies were losing money or going bankrupt, Southwest was overflowing with opportunity.

So what did they do?

Southwest turned down over 95% of the offers and began serving just 4 new locations in 1996. They left significant growth on the table.

Why would a business turn down so much opportunity? And more important, what can we learn from this story and put to use in our own lives?

What Is Your Upper Bound?

Starting in the 1970s, Southwest was the only airline company that made a profit for nearly 30 consecutive years. In his book Great by Choice, author Jim Collins claims that one of the secrets to Southwest’s success was the willingness of company leaders to set an upper bound limit for growth.

Sure, Southwest executives wanted to grow the business each year. But they intentionally avoided growing too much. The company leaders chose a pace that they could sustain, so the business could grow while maintaining the culture and profitability. They set an upper bound limit for their growth.

This is an approach that can be applied to nearly any goal, business or otherwise. Most people, however, tend to do the opposite and focus only on the lower bound.

  • An individual might say, “I want to lose at least 5 pounds this month.”
  • An entrepreneur might say, “I want to make at least 10 sales calls today.”
  • An artist might say, “I want to write at least 500 words today.”
  • A basketball player might say, “I want to make at least 50 free throws today.”

We tend to focus only on the lower bound: the minimum threshold we want to hit. And the implicit assumption is, “Hey, if you can do more than the minimum, go for it.”

But what would it look like if we added an upper bound to our goals and behaviors?

  • “I want to lose at least 5 pounds this month, but not more than 10.”
  • “I want to make at least 10 sales calls today, but not more than 20.”
  • “I want to write at least 500 words today, but not more than 1,500.”
  • “I want to make at least 50 free throws today, but not more than 100.”

A Safety Margin for Growth

upper bound

In many areas of life, there is a magical zone of long-term growth: Pushing enough to make progress, but not so much that it is unsustainable.

Take, for example, weightlifting.

Over the past year, I have slowly added 5 pounds to my squat every few weeks. A year ago, I started with a weight that was too light: 200 lbs. for 5 sets of 5 reps. Last week, I did 300 lbs. for 5 sets of 5 reps. I never followed a magical program. I simply did the work and added 5 pounds every two weeks or so.

Sure, the lower limit was important. I had to keep adding weight in order to get stronger. But the upper limit was just as critical. I had to grow slowly and methodically if I wanted to prevent inflammation and injury. There were plenty of days when I could have added 10 pounds. Maybe even 15 pounds. But if I aggressively pursued growth I would have quickly hit a plateau (or worse, caused an injury).

Instead, I chose stay within a safety margin of growth and avoided going too fast. I wanted every set to feel easy.

The power of setting an upper limit is that it becomes easier for you to sustain your progress. And the power of sustaining your progress is that you end up blowing away everyone who chased success as quickly as possible.

Put another way: Average speed wins.

Do Things You Can Sustain

There is a very simple way to put this idea into practice: Let upper bound limits drive your behaviors in the beginning and then slowly increase your output.

Say you want to start working out. Most people would focus on the lower limit and say, “I have to start exercising for at least 45 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”

Instead, you could turn the problem upside down and say, “I am not allowed to exercise for more than 5 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

By setting an incredibly easy upper limit, you make the process of getting started and sustaining your behavior much simpler. Once you establish the routine of doing your behavior over and over again, you can raise the limit as needed.

It is better to make small progress every day than to do as much as humanly possible in one day. Do things you can sustain.

Thanks to Mitch for sharing the “5 minutes in the gym” idea with me and to Jake Taylor for telling me about Great by Choice.

124 Comments

  1. James,

    I’m so impressed at your ability to write articles like this so regularly. And then you have them posted multiple times around the web with Medium, Business Insider, Entrepreneur.

    Would love to know more about your writing/marketing habits. I’m just getting started over at OneHabit.net. Wrote my first longer post that I care about. I also saw that you were a Fizzler back in the day.

    It seems the going is slow for me, but I’m just trying to keep on going.

    Also curious, what made you choose your name over a separate brand for personal development?

    Talk soon,
    Rob Norback

    • Hi Rob,

      Congrats on launching your site. Keep working.

      I chose my name for a few reasons. 1) I’m not just writing about personal development (or fitness or photography or any other one subject). My name can grow with whatever topic I’m interested in. 2) I couldn’t decide on a brand name. 3) I’m not building a business, I’m trying to share my life’s work. I consider my work here to be mission first, business second. It’s more about my ideas, my work, and the type of value I’m bringing to the world. And for that reason, I’ve stuck with my name rather than turning it into a business.

      Hope that helps!

      p.s. I know the Fizzle guys, so they gave me an invite when it was launching. Great community!

      • James,

        Your explanation helps tremendously and is hugely inspiring. I’ve been thinking about that myself because a brand name really limits the kind of content that makes sense to share.

        I look forward to seeing more of your work, and given we are interested in the same area, behavior science, I’d definitely like to stay connected.

        What’s the best way to keep up and stay connected with you?

        Cheers,
        Rob

  2. This might be the single BEST insight into training…and life…I have read in a long time. Absolutely genius. May I steal it?

    • Thanks Dan! I really appreciate that and it’s an honor to have you reading.

      Oh, and it’s not stealing if I give permission. Feel free to share these ideas!

  3. About six weeks ago, I committed to learning a challenging piece of music on the piano.

    To stay on track, I set a timer each day to play for 30 minutes.

    I know if I play the half hour, I’m progressing at a rate I’m happy with.

    Some days I don’t play the whole 30 minutes.

    I’ll take your idea and say I’ll play for at least 15 minutes. Let’s see how that goes.

    Thanks.

    • Sounds like you have a solid process going already. Maybe this approach will help iron out any problems. Keep up the good work, Steve!

  4. I wish I read this post back in December. Towards the end of last year I was pushing myself by 10 to 15 lbs. a week and gave myself a herniated disk.

    Haven’t been able to work out for 5 months.

    Slow and steady wins the race.

    • Sorry to hear that! I hope you recover soon.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article though. Thanks for reading.

  5. Fantastic! I am using this strategy starting today.

    Your way of writing is simple and to the point, which makes the reader connect to it immediately.

    Thanks James.

  6. I am a professional procrastinator and articles like this help me very much to fight it back. Thanks for taking the time to write them and share them.

    • Is affirming yourself as a professional procrastinator helping your efforts to fight it back or holding you in that position. I see procrastination as a phase, when we pass through phases of losing our passion, we see ourselves as procrastinators. I also see the language we use as a means to stay there – or lift ourselves up from it …

  7. Great read! It’s good to have a fresh, new perspective, rather than the same old recycled “Stuff”!

    -Frank Z.

    • Thanks Frank! I try to actually say something with my writing rather than play to the lowest common denominator. It’s a struggle sometimes, but I appreciate your support.

  8. Hi James,

    Great post! This shifted my mindset from motivated to trying to do too much and then falling into overwhelm and procrastination to sustaining small easy steps first and then building it consistently and seeing success, feeling good about it.

    I started doing this with my children’s book.

    I signed up for your free workshop on gaining 100 subscribers per day — I’m planning for my blog, inspired by your work.

    Quick question — Will focusing on one project show and yield results for a more sustainable success like a similar formula of not trying to do too much that will translate into easier success? My gut says yes–focus on one writing project, but my head always is eager. I feel I could make my day job out of being an online entrepreneur and blogger, freelance writer, but I definitely want to write books. As a young girl I always wanted to write. I also have other future goals that include starting my own charity or small business, but I want to focus on building and sustaining my writing career first.

    Best regards,
    Jen

  9. Hi James,

    I’m not a weight lifter or a writer. I’m just a retired teacher with lots of time on my hands. I find your articles are so interesting. I’ve joined a health club this week and I’m trying to pace myself by doing at least one activity each day. So far I’ve succeeded. But now I’m going to tell myself I’m going to do no more than 2 hours a day. See if that works to keep the momentum going!

    • Sounds like solid plan, Pamela. Good luck!

      And no worries about writing or weightlifting, all are welcome on this team!

  10. James,

    You are fucking brilliant. Love all your stuff. Practical and to the point. Keep at it. Thanks for writing and sharing with all of us.

  11. Very thought provoking. As a consultant with only one full-time subcontractor to share the workload, I’m simultaneously in fear of having too little work and having too much work. I’m concerned about overcommitting but fearful to turn business away. The upper limit concept resonates with me and gives me a new way to look at why it might be in the best interest of my business if I turn down work. Thanks for the great article!

    • Yeah, this can be a hard thing to wrap your head around as a business owner because sometimes it’s a struggle to get enough work.

      But, it can be great to turn work down for two reasons:

      1) You don’t want every customer. You want good customers. By focusing on your ideal customers, you have less headaches and provide better service.

      2) When things are going well and you have plenty of work, you can set the upper limit to make life easy on yourself. (No need to work yourself into the ground just because more work is available. Decide what is “enough.”)

      By making it easier on yourself in the good times, you keep morale high and ensure that you’ll have enough energy and motivation to power through the more difficult periods.

      Good luck!

  12. As always, such simple, yet incredibly useful information. I look forward to your articles, thank you.

  13. I haven’t rechecked the facts, but I believe another part of Southwest’s success was their decision to keep it simple by using just one platform — the Boeing 737. That choice provided for a simpler repair and maintenance process that resulted in one of the best crash record in commercial aviation.

    • Good point, Kenneth. There were actually a wide range of reasons for Southwest’s success. I just covered one of them in this article.

      In addition to committing to one type of aircraft, they also saved a lot of money during certain years with aggressive fuel hedging. As usual, success can’t be boiled down to one thing. Culture, operations, strategy — it all played a role. That said, Southwest is a good example of applying sustainable growth practices to business, which made them a good fit for this article.

      Thanks for reading!

  14. Thank you for sharing this concept. I am encouraged by your posts. I am a fledgling blogger. I am not concerned about readership as far as numbers are concerned. I have no interest in generating income from the online work I am doing. I simply want to have my work out there so whoever is meant to read it can do so. At your example, I have set a goal to post on schedule. So far so good. Each Monday the piece gets published. Eighteen weeks so far.

    • Great work, Molly! Keep that consistency going and enjoy the ride. Thanks for reading.

  15. I totally agree with the article shared and it really makes activities consistent and increases the possibility to achieve targets in the long-term.

  16. This is a very interesting idea. We as humans always aim to push harder, reach higher, while forgetting how important it is to truly sustain and consistently progress. I will try applying this to my studies, and will observe as I go along. Thanks James. :)

  17. Thank you for the very worthwhile posts you provide. I have been following for about 2 months and everything is very useful to my life.

  18. A very powerful article indeed. I enjoy reading your articles and I usually wait for Mondays and Thursdays. They have helped me a lot in my personal development. I have got solutions to most of my problems. Thank you and keep writing.

  19. Hi James, totally dig your article. When I read that I could flip the problems upside down I could feel myself getting excited about them instead of the usual feeling of dread.

    I’ve only been following your articles for a couple of months but I’ve loved every one of them because you are always so clear and concise, no BS whatsoever. And best of all, because you break them down so well, I find it really easy to adopt or apply the ideas you shared. Bravo!

    • Thanks Sharon! I really appreciate that. It’s wonderful to have you reading.

      Good luck inverting your problems and making progress.

  20. Thanks for this email, James. I knew that I needed some new technique to help me progress in some things I had set out to do. Never before have I considered setting an upper limit. Zero is hard to find when you’re reaching for at least an average. Great brain hack!

  21. Along with being such solid advice, this approach is a quiet yet powerful way to build good discipline.

  22. Making sustainable growth is a very nice idea for individuals and the companies as well. Thank you very much James.

  23. Yes, and one thing that I did not notice your mention on a maximum, by limiting that, you can aim for QUALITY – ie in exercise, using more correct form, in writing perfecting the sense of the words, adding more meaning. In painting or other arts and crafts in which I indulge, just doing it BETTER, not necessarily any MORE.

    • Great point, Virginia. In the beginning, it’s important to simply focus on doing the work and getting in your repetitions — while still maintaining a basic level of quality/safety. (More on that here.)

      But once you commit to doing things on a consistent basis, it’s better to choose a sustainable pace that allows you to commit to quality work and more improvement.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  24. It seems I can easily apply to my life this lower limit method to create a routine for anything. I really like it. Many thanks.

  25. Dear James,

    Thank you very much for your “clear” and concise lessons. I have learnt and benefited much from it.

    With regards to your latest lesson on Do things you can sustain, this applies very much to investing too … invest in companies with sustainable growth.

    Regards,
    EK
    Singapore

  26. The ideas of Average Speed, Motion vs Action and Systems have completely changed my work habits!

  27. This is impressive! Why it didn’t dawned upon me earlier !!
    Actually, somewhere in our lives, we all have experienced the power of targeted growth, its just that we never realized it and completely failed to document it.
    Thanks a lot James for this brilliant post.

  28. WOW!!! what a brilliant idea. Its amazing what a simple switch of focus can make. Thank you. I teach meditation and the idea of saying, for example, to do no more than 2 minutes three days week is more empowering than saying 2 minutes every session. Gonna read blog again and I enjoy reading your comments and replies. Thank you.

  29. Hi, I’m a new subscriber and have really enjoyed your material.

    So true. But so succinctly put.

    Using your weightlifting example, at the Kieser ‘medical strengthening therapy’ the principle is, when you can do a certain weight for a certain muscle group more than X seconds, then put the weight up by 5%, no more.

    It’s the same principle as setting an upper limit. Very carefully calculated by what your muscles are capable of now, so it takes all the guesswork – and mistakes – out of it. Plus, being Swiss/German, it’s backed by lots of research so they know this proportion works (like losing 1 to 2 pounds a week ONLY keeps the weight off instead of yo-yo dieting.)

    Now if only there was a simple formula like that for life’s work … something like the Pareto 80/20 rule that ‘magically’ seems to apply as a ratio to many other things. Anyone come across a research-based formula for sustainable growth?

    Gwen

  30. Once again a Brilliant mail, loved the content and loved the negative limits – I am going t set a few in motion

  31. James, your work, your articles are simply superb :-) I share your articles on my Facebook wall to make my family and friends aware of your work.
    I have registered for the workshop and looking forward.
    3 months back I started exercising and kept upper limit and its been awesome. Never in my life I have exercised more than a week. Now will be for life time.

  32. James, hi,

    That is a terrific perspective, very insightful. Reminds me of the oriental approach to things.

    Is that where it stems from? Or just living the experience?

    I wonder.

    • Hi Martin,

      Great to have you reading.

      I thought of this particular example from a combination of life experience and the Southwest story, which was mentioned in the book Great by Choice.

      That said, I’m sure there is a lot of overlap with other approaches, lessons, and teachers. Pretty much everything I write about people figured out a long time ago … I just share the ideas with my own flavor and experiences.

  33. Your information has helped me reach my academic goals. I suffered from the worst case of math anxiety on the planet. I had to pass a college math class to graduate. One developmental math teacher said my math skills were “below zero,” and I was petrified with fright because the material was overwhelming. I read one of your posts that basically said “don’t look at the far away goal, learn to enjoy the daily process.” I started concentrating on my daily work and then I started liking it. I started looking forward to what was coming next as I mastered each skill. I passed the class with an A. The prof said “I can’t believe that you did so well.” Now I can graduate from college. Thank you!

    • Emelia, you just made my day. Congratulations, good luck with graduation, and keep up the great work!

      Thanks for reading.

  34. This is amazingly easy on my brain and body psych to imagine achieving and yet! And yet… it is the best advise on becoming consistent I have ever come across. You are AWESOME. Thank You.

  35. Incredible! Wish I’d known it before! Better late than never :D

    Makes so much sense. :) Thank you!

  36. I’ve been putting off getting back into running (I was at half marathon level, aiming for full marathon, but slipped…). But I “don’t have the time”… Been reading your blog for a few months now. Decided that I am allowed to run for 5 mins or 10 mins, it doesn’t have to be a minimum 5Km to be worth doing. So I took the dog out and did probably a couple of km, didn’t even bother turning the GPS on (I normally log ALL my runs) — I just ran what I had time for and then I went home. Even 10 mins is more than 0 mins, after all, and in fact it was about half an hour all in (I was going to say ‘about 28 mins’ but that sounds a bit too fussy!). Now I want to get that mini-workout habit going, with a small number of pushups (better than zero pushups).

    Thanks, James, your blog has really helped my thinking.

  37. This is a very important point that you made clear James. In my experience, many companies could use this strategy in their business too. Today we see many of them just expanding their numbers without sense about if that’s sustainable or not, then something happens and the company dies, and with it, their employees.

    Great topic James!

  38. Hello,

    I just want to thank you for your articles. I subscribed to your newsletter 2 weeks ago and I find your articles very interesting and helpful for me.

    Go ahead!

  39. Once again you hit the target square on. Also just finished “The Power of Habit.” Thanks for the marvelous referral. I look forward to Mondays and Thursdays. More often than not, you tell me what I need to hear.

    Gary

  40. I enjoy your tortoise versus the hare concept. I’m been a on/off again runner, but for the past year I have been using your weight training advice. I started at 180 in the bench, started at 3 sets of 8, then added a rep every month until I get to 12 reps. Then I would add 5 lbs, and start over again. I tried jumping to a higher weight more quickly, and plateaued out. I’m now can bench more than ever before 10 reps at 215. Next week I’ll bump it to 11 reps.

    I also have two teenage daughters who enjoy swimming, and been explaining some of your concepts to them as they prepare to compete in high school.

  41. Hey James,

    I’ve been reading your blog for about a month, and I look forward to your twice weekly emails. It’s strange, but I think setting an upper limit on your email frequency (2) makes me pay more attention to them, than the ones I get everyday or once a week. Just thought I’d give you some feedback.

    I’ve been having a tough time setting upper limits with my writing and project management – much like everyone else – because I want to DO ALL THE THINGS, but just this morning on the bike to work in Manhattan I remembered the simple consistency with which I bike to work every morning (even the ones when I’m tired and want to take the train).

    I never really noticed it, but I’ve gotten faster and stronger over the past few months, and pumping up the bridge isn’t really even pumping anymore. It’s actually a relaxed time when my mind wanders and I have some of my best ideas – like this very realization.

    Improvement in the aggregate is key, but the coolest part of that improvement is that you can’t predict all the benefits. I knew that consistent biking would make me fitter, but I never dreamed my new fitness level would lead to moments of quiet inspiration on my morning ride.

    It’s easy to get discouraged when we try to improve because improvement is a pain in the ass, and we weigh that effort – working out or writing when we’re exhausted – against what we think we’ll get in return – a better body or a book deal.

    But the coolest thing about improvement – especially in the aggregate – is that no improvement is singular. Sure, working out will make you look better, and writing more will lead to more opportunity than not writing, but each of these acts inevitably opens doors in a dozen other areas.

    And what happens then is almost always better than we imagined.

    Thanks, James.

    • MUST DO ALL THE THINGS!

      Seriously though, great job Shawn. And I love the idea of “improvement in the aggregate. Small wins add up by themselves, but they also add up with other small wins as well. (This is actually one of the driving forces behind keystone habits.)

  42. Pretty smart idea James, to add artificial limitations. It could be an awesome mental trick, I’m gonna test it with the writing limits. Keep up the great work!

  43. Great post! I have found that it’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement of starting a new project or goal and go way past my “speed limit” right away. Then after a week or two, I’m burnt out and can’t sustain that pace. I like the idea of putting an upper bound on the activity and then raising it methodically. Thanks James!

  44. James!

    I love love LOVE this! What a great perspective! …and I always appreciate the lifting examples. Thank you for sharing!

    L

  45. Thanks James and Mitch. Such a great insight and universal application for all of us.

  46. I’m training for a half marathon and this advice supports the approach I have been taking. Thank you!

    My training partners and I do our own short runs during the week, and long runs together on Sundays, increasing our distance by one mile each week. After we hit eight miles, I stopped increasing my distance because I knew I had reached a sweet spot. Anything more would do my body more harm than good until I improved my ability to run eight miles safely and well before increasing my distance.

    While my friends are knocking out 10-12 mile runs with walk breaks, I feel good about the foundation I’m building to run the entire half in my goal time, and not plateau.

  47. Wow James ! I am so amazed again and again by your articles. This one especially. What an idea to set an upper limit to growth. :-) Only someone who is totally amazing and intelligent could think of this. :-) This is so unconventional that I feel it has to work. I will now try out exactly this with my morning routine. Instead of having an hour long morning routine I make it 6 minutes long and afterwards I can do whatever I want to do.

    I already know that this will lead to greater sucess than if I would try to have an 60 minute ritual each morning.

    Thank you so much for these articles James. They help me so much and as I see from the comments I am not the only one. :-)

  48. Can you be more specific as to how you would word a habit change that involved drinking less alcohol or eating less?

  49. Hey James, great post!
    This is very valid. I first came across this concept from Dr. Robert Cialdini’s website. The following research paper concludes how setting a range for our goals leads to better results: he Effect of Goal Specificity on Goal Re-engagement. Journal of Consumer Research, Scott, M. L., & Nowlis, S. M.

    I have also written a blog post on setting a range for our targets. It would be great to have your thoughts. Here goes…
    http://freemindtraining.com/attain-your-sales-goals-quicker-using-this-surprising-new-research-finding/

  50. I worked for a company that referred to this approach as “Never steal more than you can carry.”

    Obviously, it wasn’t something we said to our customers, but it was a great reminder to not overreach or be greedy.

  51. I am a commercial banker and cannot emphasize enough that when lending money to a business that is looking to expand, we are looking for a business that can be sustainable. When we calculate how much we are willing to lend (our risk), we value providing the right amount of capital with the best product. When giving working capital we set an upper limit on what we think would cause the business and owners to be constrained from creating too much inventory, etc. relative to sales growth. which would cause them misallocate working capital and ultimately burn their company to the ground.

    This is a fantastic way to look at setting goals for fitness, reading or writing. I never thought of adding it to my personal life, but having a ceiling of growth or even amount of time spent in the gym will truly prevent me from burnout!

    Thanks James.

  52. Great idea, something I’ve noticed about my own habits: that just putting the system in place with an easy first or first few steps allows my energy to go to sustaining the system instead of both developing a habit and handling the extra work. Thanks so much.

  53. This is the approach I unconsciously used to lose 80 pounds over the course of a year, seemingly effortlessly. I’ve been trying to apply it to different areas of my life, but I’ve had a much harder time with consistency and not losing steam over time.

    Also a goal of writing x words doesn’t have to be representative of the mental energy it costs to pen them down. If you’re really struggling with a particular subject or idea, 500 words can be very draining. Another day 1500 words can flow easily and almost energize you rather than drain you. The other day I got about 3000 words done without breaking a mental sweat. The day before 500 words took me well over 3 hours.

    Maybe it’s this “invisible” or “hard to ascertain” cost of mental energy that makes it hard for me to stay consistent? Or maybe I’ve made it to “the dip” several times and just given in a little too early, haha.

    Any tips?

  54. Your work resonates with what I was missing in my formula of “how to get stuff done” — so much so that I shared it with my children, who have begun attaching new goals to established routines.

    Yhank you!

  55. Thanks for another great article. I guess, I was one of the procrastinators. I have heard of similar advise from others, yet, I was never convinced.

    It wasn’t until I read your post about “constraints” that got me to exercise again. LOL! This was also related to that.

    I put off exercising because I was lazy. But when I began to feel bloated all the time with frequent pain in my right flank, our doctor told me to exercise. I admit I gained weight (a lot).

    Now, I do those stepper thing (kind of like going up the stairs) for minimum of 5 minutes everyday while watching TV. I gradually increased it to 10 minutes a day. Now, I just noticed I did 15 minutes of stepping (excluding stretching exercise). Thanks for the inspiration.

    With this post, I feel I can sustain this exercise. Looking forward to your succeeding posts.

  56. I was just about to say how obvious that may sound before I stopped myself. What I should say is that it is very simple and yet sounds very effective. I’m going to try your idea out on my work habits to try and make sustainable improvements. Thanks again James.

  57. This is so true. Eye on the prize is important but overachieving all at once can lead to burn out and depression. Small goals combined with positive and reasonable expectations can help ensure success and happiness. Thank you for the insightful article!

    Diane

  58. Hi James

    I’ve registered for the workshop but not seen anything and really don’t want to miss it. When is it?

    Thanks

  59. I feel great because for every message, I get a positive impact in my life.

    Thank you so much James.

  60. Love this concept James! For me reading it takes the entire view of growth and makes it less overwhelming. Putting an upper limitation on it makes me more excited to “hit” that upper line…whereas having no barrier on the upside kind of paints this picture of a endless pursuit that can’t ever really be satisfied.

    Definitely going to pass this along to a few people!

    Cheers,
    Carter

  61. James,

    I really admire your writing. This is awesome stuff. Your articles have really helped me grow as person since I started reading them this year. Be blessed. Cheers.

  62. This is great stuff, James.

    I’ve been juggling too many things in my life, and it’s causing me to neglect the important in favor of the urgent.

    Part of the problem is I create overly ambitious goals for working on the important only to procrastinate or blow it off entirely. Your method of reducing these goals to a sustainable upper bound is a really smart way to do it.

    One more thing, I think you’d really enjoy Ryan Holiday’s new book The Obstacle Is The Way. It’s all about “turning problems upside down” as you teach.

  63. Good stuff. I really enjoy reading your articles. They are helpful and inspiring.

  64. Hi James,

    Thank you for this post. I am currently in a place with my work that is not sustainable. How to ramp down? Do you have ideas on how to get back to a reasonable upper limit?

    Thank you!

  65. Wow, James – this is an incredible concept of setting upper bounds. Awesome. I would love to cite your chart that you’ve shared here – I’m guessing you created that chart or is it from Great by Choice? It is profound and very helpful, particularly for my audience which is teachers in the classroom working to innovate without burning out.

    • Thanks Vicki! You guessed correctly: I drew the chart myself. You are welcome to share it! Thanks for the support and thanks for reading.

  66. Great article! I’m a Pastor and love weightlifting as well. Never really considered this approach. Most of what we hear has to do with taking off the limits!

    Thanks!

  67. This makes me think of Subway. As a company, they were so focused on acquiring new franchisees and growing the number of stores, all else seemed to be secondary (or lower). As a result, they ended up with lawsuits, complaints, quality concerns, and a barrage of problems stemming from having no temperance to their growth obsession.

  68. Interesting concept… I do find the ‘at least’ way of doing things leads to fast burnout. With anything. I’ll try the easy upper limit as you call it and see…

  69. Great article! Gives real concrete ideas about self improvement and job improvement — they both go together, I think?

  70. Dear James,

    Your way to sustain good habits really impressed me. I will use this for my IT Exam Preparation. Instead of studying 2 hours 5 day a week, I will make it 1 hour then I can increase when I sustain this routine habit.

    Thanks for helping.

    Mohamoud

  71. I realize this was the problem with trying to finish my doctorate directly after frontal lobe bypass surgery. I asked for additional time for me to continue knitting my brain, and my request was denied and needless to say, it blew up in my face.

    Glad to have read this great article and an interesting twist on goal setting. Thanks as usual!

  72. Hi James,

    Great article! I am definitely using this approach for my thesis. A different way of working. :)

  73. Hi James, This is the most fantastic idea I have ever heard. I will try to apply it to my life. Thank you so much. You have created an useful blog which I enjoy reading a lot.