Keeping your eyes on the goal. A strained analogy?

I don't know how strained this analogy is. I guess I'm looking for feedback.

Most of us probably remember from High School math that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. A common trick for drawing a straight line is to focus on where you visualize the line ending, rather than the on end of the pencil, and moving as quickly and surely as possible.

Of course when life throws you an obstacle you may need to draw a curve around it.


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Maybe very familiar, but not really strained

I think it is such a fundamental concept, that the analogy is not so much strained, but very familiar. All of us learn, and then re-learn the importance of focusing on the target. For every stage of life, every kind of job or task, there is a balance to be sought between staying goal-oriented and making sure all the detail work is taken care of.

When we get too bogged down in details, we say
we're too busy putting out fires to build the fire break
we can't see the forest for the trees
we've taken our eye off the ball
we spend all our time with administrivia
we can't see the big picture

When we spend too much time focusing on goals, we say
we're pie in the sky idealist
we're all talk
we've got paralysis by analysis
or we've got great ideas but can't follow through

I think the lesson gets re-learned because the two things are in dialectical tension. The correct synthesis between the two is going to vary by each project. And while in a given project my individual role may have been to be the big picture person, on the next project my role may need to be the detail oriented implementer.

So, a given analogy may strike me one moment as being a bit tired, the next minute, when I find the right balance for that task, it may strike me as an epiphany.

my two cents

Is the line the full picture

Yes, we learn the shortest distance between two points is a line. But we also learn that lines form interesting 'bigger pictures' like squares, cubes, circles, trapesiums, etc etc

So, the short distance between two points on a task may be a straight line.

But it takes planning and forethought to choose the most appropriate line first to get that square, cube, trapesium or whatever looking something like you aimed it to look like.

and another analogy from real life.

I want to drive from one city to another. I can't do it by driving in a straight line. Nor can I see my goal with my eyes. Hence, I have to take it one bend-in-the-road at a time. Most of life's projects are like bendy roads, and not straight lines. Now, when driving, one must keep his eye down the road, and not on the pavement directly in front, but worse, one can't do either, because there are cars behind, who may want to pass, cars coming the other direction. There may be somebody walking on the edge of the road, or a bicyclist, (or here in Poland, a horse pulling a buggy, or a bus picking up or letting off passengers).... lots of things to keep your attention from the road in front--but you are still moving toward your goal, and mindful of it. Now, if someone pulled off the road to look at a flower, and stayed there--that would be a problem, but the road of life is a bit more complicated than a straight line. :-)


Thanks for the input.

I suppose the other way of looking at it is that life is a series of straight and curved lines. The trick is to plot them out and optimize them while being ready, willing and able to re-direct them as necessary. To push the concept, I suppose that's where you get some of your trapezoids and unexpected shapes.

For me this analogy alludes to the tension between efficiency and effectiveness. And it's part of my fascination for Time Management quotations, aphorisms, proverbs, etc. Unfortunately at the end of the day they are kind of like junky carbs, they give you a quick motivational fix but individually they tend to be simplistic and don't adequately capture the essence of what drives people internally.

On the other hand, some of them are powerful. I think I am on a quest for the one that could serve as a personal productivity motto. My current favorite is Horace's "Dare to be wise; begin." partly because it really gets down to basics and because it has stood the test of time.

Although I did come across a new one I love but haven't had a chance to post yet. It goes something like: "Perfectionism is spelled P-A-R-A-L-Y-S-I-S." I'd be surprised if there isn't another version out there spelling it as P-R-O-C-R-A-S-T-I-N-A-T-I-O-N. I think Churchill was the original source.


Just remember that the

Just remember that the shortest route may be faster, but a circuitous route mught be easier, or more useful. Making the most of the journey is good as well.

Mountain Biking Zen

I actually gave some advice to a friend once that went something like this:

In mountain biking (and motorcycling), one of the main precepts is to look where you want to go. Once you focus on an obstacle, though, you're likely going to end up hitting it.

Looking where you want to go doesn't mean ignoring the obstacles. It means being aware of them, but finding your focus on the path around (or over!) them.

I think it's a pretty useful metaphor for life. Say ... I want to be a doctor. Keeping my eyes on that goal, I can say ok - here's my bachelor's degree (sweep to the left), pre-med (bunny-hop!), med school (climb the "elevator shaft" in granny gear) and residency (sprint to the finish!) or I can look at it and see a big boulder-like "OMG, 12 years of school! I'll never get through that!" and come crashing to a painful stop.

So I guess I don't see "Keeping your eyes on the prize" as a straight-line sort of endeavour, but rather a simple awareness of where you want to go, and what you need to deal with to get there ...

That sounds great, tootru

I have seen folks get so focused on the goal that they fail to perceive that the path they intend to take is impractical and/or impossible.
I saw an example recently where they were so intense on "where they want to get" that the "how to get there" totally eluded them to the point where they failed abysmally.

It is good to focus on a goal, but you cannot ignore the path and the obstacles.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

and in waitressing...

"In mountain biking (and motorcycling), one of the main precepts is to look where you want to go. Once you focus on an obstacle, though, you're likely going to end up hitting it."

When I was waitressing my way through college I learned the hard way that when you carry a tray of full coffee cups (or even one full cup) if you look at it, it will invariably spill. You have to look away from the cup/tray as you walk to keep from spilling.