A frequent question I ask when trying to improve some area of my life is: If I were to rate this area’s current performance on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the worst imaginable and 10 being the best imaginable, where am I right now?
Very often I find that areas get stuck somewhere in the 6-8 range, usually at a 7. A 7 seems very close to a 9 or 10, but often a 7 is a local maximum – you can’t get any higher by continuing to follow the same path that got you to that 7 in the first place. You’re already at a peak. The only way to reach a true 9 or 10 is to climb back down (sometimes back to a 2 or 3) and take a new path.
How many times do people get stuck at a 7 and remain there for years? Is your job a 7? Your health? Your relationship? Your family life? Your self-esteem? Is it likely to improve much if you keep heading down the same path you’ve been on for the past year?
A 7 is pretty good. At this level you feel generally content. It’s OK, fine, acceptable, satisfactory.
A 7 is above average. Compared to most people, you’d say your 7 isn’t bad at all. You feel like you’re ahead of the pack.
People often get to a 7 and then coast for a long time. At a 2 or 3, you know something is very wrong, and you’re probably driven to action. But a 7 is like a warm bath. It’s cozy and non-threatening. You feel fairly safe at a 7.
So why are you stuck there? Are you waiting for everyone else to catch up?
Getting past a 7 is hard. It can take more effort to get past a 7 than it takes to reach a 7 in the first place. Some people would complain that it takes too long to get past a 7. But the truth is that the time is going to pass anyway. Even if it takes 5-10 years, you might as well get yourself to a higher level within that time, since the years are going to pass anyway.
Whenever I feel I’ve gotten stuck at a 7, I stop and ask myself: What would a 10
It’s a simple question, but forcing myself to list the specific factors that would be part of a 10 and which differentiate a 10 from an 8 or 9 helps me get clear about my definition of the best.
Then I can start setting some clear goals to get me moving in that direction.
You might be able to go from a 6 to a 7 in a week or a month, perhaps even a day with conscious effort. A few tweaks here and there, and you’ve got it. But to go from a 7 to an 8 might take a year or two. 7 doesn’t always connect with 8. You might have to take a path like 7-6-4-2-3-4-5-6-5-4-6-7-8 to get there.
Sometimes getting to an 8+ requires a career change (it did for me). Or it may require a relationship change, a diet change, a location change, or re-education.
Escape the trap of 7
Don’t let yourself get stuck in the trap of 7. Define your 10 in writing, and ask yourself if you can transition smoothly from your 7 to that 10. Maybe you’re already on the right path and can see the trail ahead of you with great clarity. But for most people this isn’t the case. The path to a 10 may lead through the darkness of 2 or 3, maybe even 1. But you will eventually get through it and re-emerge on a new path. And even if the very next path you try doesn’t reach a 10, you’re still better off trying any other path than the one that dead-ends at 7.
However, some people become overly attached to their 7s. You may be afraid you won’t be able to get to an 8 or 9 or 10 even if you try. What if you go for it, and the best you ever see again is a 5? Wouldn’t that be foolish? A bird in the hand….
Guess what? You could be right.