Telegraphing Punches

Oh, how things change.

A few months ago I wrote a post here about “What I’m Working on in 2015.” Silly kid. I’d outlined a list of things that I’d be working on, what I hoped to achieve, and how others could help in that effort. Some of those things have become reality, others have waxed and waned away. What I learned, though, is to avoid telegraphing your punches.

Quite literally, that phrase means to let someone know where you’re going to strike and when. In a boxing match, you have no real competitive edge if your opponent knows where you’re going to strike next. Much in the same way, declaring what I was working on ended up being a mistake as it:

  • Made me falsely commit to things that I hadn’t fully committed to in my heart.
  • Caused me to worry about not fulfilling the “promises” I had publicly made.
  • Told those who had a vested interest in what I was working on where I was headed and how they could head me off at the pass.

Beyond these few unwanted outcomes, I also found myself sinking into the same trap that resulted in the downfall of Proper. I’ve entrapped myself in such a way that I’m not allowing any room for happenstance. If one idea seems to beat out another in respect to capturing my interest, I feel guilty exploring it as I’ve already pronounced my focus on something else.

This isn’t to say that committing to things is bad, just that in their infancy or “fuzzy state,” you should keep quiet. Derek Sivers gave a quick TED talk in 2010 about keeping your goals to yourself. He explains:

Repeated psychology tests have proven that telling someone your goal makes it less likely to happen.

It’s not just about the goals either, it’s about flexibility. When I screw up or make a bad decision, I work hard to acknowledge it and understand how I can improve later. When you telegraph your punches, it makes it difficult to say “yep, I was wrong” and change your mind because you feel beholden to making the original thing happen in exactly the way you outlined.

This is where I stand now. I was wrong. Not in that I don’t want to work on the things I suggested, but in how all of it would take shape. When I’d published those thoughts, all of the ideas I’d outlined were pretty fuzzy. What I hadn’t consider is what I’d learn in between then and now and how that would influence how those ideas came to fruition (and when).

On the other side, I’ve found that my goals and intentions exceed far beyond what I outlined. Since then they’ve taken a totally different shape. An entirely different meaning. What I thought I wanted back then is pretty far off from my current thinking. I’m okay with that. It’s a bit stressful to shift course midstream, but in order to actually get to what I have in mind it’s absolutely necessary.

Jason Fried from Basecamp shared some thoughts from Jeff Bezos speaking at their offices back in 2012:

He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.

Bully for me, I suppose.

The road is meandering. There will continue to be endless twists and turns, changes in thought, life events that railroad my plans. What I think is going to happen six months from now is likely to be quite different from what will actually happen.

Some things will stay the same, but the path between here and there is unknown. Instead of guessing where my fists are going next, I’ll just let them swing and be surprised when they land.